Magical Colorado Family Holiday Ideas
By Emily Krempholtz
The holiday season has officially begun, and here in Colorado that means plenty of family friendly activities to keep everyone happy and feeling festive through these cold December nights. All across the state, Colorado has a wealth of options for families of all ages to get everyone into the holiday spirit and keep you feeling the magic of the season.
Tree Lightings and Festivals
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, town lightings and tree lightings abound, with the cities, and towns of Colorado going all out to light their homes, businesses, and streets in colorful, beautiful displays. In Greeley, the Festival of Trees is an annual event where businesses compete for the most festive and decked out Christmas trees, and visitors can vote for their favorites and win prizes while they’re at it. At the Gunnison Night of Lights, Santa Claus himself joins in on the action, helping to light the big Christmas tree before settling down to take photos and visit with children. The Little Nell Hotel in Aspen hosts an annual tree lighting that features free hot cocoa and cookies, gorgeous gingerbread houses on display, and even appearances by special ‘reindeer pups’ who need homes from the Aspen Animal Shelter. In one of the more unique tree and town lightings in Colorado, the annual Lighting of Breckenridge is a full day-long festival which features a parade of festively-decked holiday dogs, caroling, a craft market, and the annual “Race of the Santas”, in which hundreds of people dressed like Santa and his elves race down Main Street in a festive and spectator-friendly competition.
These types of festivals are common leading up to Christmas, and the kids will love taking part in craft-making, cookie decorating, face painting, reindeer games, and more. Other festivals include Freezie Fest in Boulder, where kids can head out on a scavenger hunt for Freezie the Snowman to win great prizes, or the Steamboat Holiday Festival, where participants can watch Santa gallop down the mountain slopes on horseback before they meet him for a photo opportunity with some of his live reindeer. At the Berthoud Snowfest, visitors can watch as participants in the Colorado Snow Sculpting Championship create massive pieces of art out of snow, and kids can even get in on the action with a kids’ snow sculpting contest. In Aspen, the festivities go on for nearly two weeks during the 12 Days of Aspen, with daily events like story hours for kids, musical performances, ice skating, cookie decorating, a fire truck ride with Santa Claus, film screenings, cirque performances, bonfires, fireworks, and more.
During the evenings in December, Colorado lights up with not just stationary lights but also spectacular parades as well. This year, Denver is hosting its 43rd annual Parade of Lights on November 30 and December 1, an amazing and beautiful production that transforms the streets of the state capital into one full of colorful floats, huge floating helium balloons, dancers, marching bands, horse-drawn carriages, and more. Of course, all of them are brightly lit, and centered around the City and County Building, which is spectacularly lit in bright and beautiful colors. But Denver’s not the only place to catch a parade; plenty of other towns and cities host their own festive holiday parades as well, including the Leadville Parade of Lights (Nov 30), Grand Junction Parade of Lights (Dec. 1), Festival of Lights parade in Colorado Springs (Dec. 1), Lights of December Parade in Boulder (Dec. 1), Holyoke County Christmas: Parade of Lights (Dec. 3), and the Alamosa Parade of Lights (Dec. 22).
At ski resorts around Colorado, parades occur as well, though these ones look a lot different than the standard floats and marching bands you’ll see elsewhere. In Telluride Ski Area on Christmas Eve, hundreds of skiers and snowboarders head down the Coonskin and Telluride Trail with vividly blazing torches in their hands. Accompanied by fireworks, the result is a beautiful and unique torchlight procession down the mountain, a sight you won’t want to miss. Other Colorado resorts also hold this beautiful tradition, so if you can’t make it to Telluride, you can head to Copper Mountain or Winter Park on Christmas Eve, and Snowmass or Steamboat on New Year’s Eve to see similar events.
Events and Shows
While there are a lot of free events in Colorado during the holidays that are perfect for a spontaneous trip when the kids clearly need to get out of the house, some require a bit of forethought and planning. This year - as with every year - there are a ton of great ticketed events and happenings around the state that will make for some great memories.
At the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, theater-lovers can enjoy a stage production of A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ famous novel, which follows the infamous Ebenezer Scrooge through one long night and the visits of three ghosts as he discovered the spirit of Christmas and his own redemption. The show is suitable for kids ages 4 and up. There are also several productions of The Nutcracker showing throughout the state over the next month or so in Denver, Niwot, Aspen, or as a philharmonic show in Colorado Springs or Fort Collins.
If stage shows aren’t your thing, no worries, because other ticketed events in Colorado include Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens, a spectacular winter wonderland featuring thousands of beautiful, colorful lights woven through the trees, plants, and displays. Guests can wander the paths, listen to music, and drink hot cocoa as they marvel over the lighted displays. At the Gardens’ other location in Chatfield, visitors can explore the magic of Santa’s Village, where they can take a hayride, watch a short film in Santa’s Cinema, meet live reindeer, take pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and shop for gifts at Santa’s workshop.
In Colorado Springs, the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo puts on its annual Electric Safari during the holiday season, a festive event featuring light sculptures that look like animals, illuminated in brightly lit colors. Each night, visitors can take part in special animal encounters to learn and interact with some of the zoo’s residents, including otters, reptiles, and more, and in the Santa Zone, kids can meet with ol’ Saint Nick in the Safari Lodge.
And if you feel like you just can’t get into the Christmas spirit until you’ve gotten your tree, then book your tickets to take the Durango & Silverton Cascade Canyon Train for an incredible experience you and your family will never forget. The Cascade Canyon Train is a beautiful and historic steam train that takes riders on a scenic ride through the mountains year-round, but during the holiday season, guests can take the train to the beautiful San Juan National Forest, where they can choose and cut down their Christmas tree, which will be loaded into a special train car for the ride home. Tree permits are required and can be purchased through the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.
Christmas Eve Events
Some families adhere to certain traditions on Christmas Eve, but others look at the day in dread, knowing their kids will be too excited for Christmas to sleep or sit still for even a moment. For these families, many of the events listed above are open and ready to help provide family fun and entertainment on Christmas Eve. And who knows? After an evening spent ice skating at the Longmont Ice Pavilion, or drinking Mexican Hot Chocolate and eating biscochitos at Las Posadas celebrations around Colorado, or watching fireworks and taking part in the kids’ Glow Stick Pageant at Copper Mountain’s Christmas at Copper event, you might just start a brand new holiday tradition for your family.