Celebration Swings, Celebration Plaza, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo
Often thought of as winter events, most holiday light festivals actually begin in autumn. They’ve become increasingly elaborate, to the point that neighborhood holiday displays and Christmas trees, parades, caroling and ice rinks in town squares now are comparatively small and quaint.
Snowflake Lake at Columbia, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo
Mistletones, Hometown Square, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo
Tree Lighting Ceremony, Celebration Plaza, California’s Great America, Santa Clara (12/3/16) John Poimiroo
This holiday season, California’s Great America in Santa Clara holds Winterfest, and Knott’s Berry Farm in Buena Park becomes Knott’s Merry Farm. Both are elaborate holiday-themed shows that cover up to two-thirds of the parks with every imaginable icon of the season.
At Great America, ice skaters swirl in front of the double-decked Carousel Columbia on Snowflake Lake. Snow machines blow flakes into the chill night air; St. Nick is there for family photos; there are live reindeer to pet; Mrs. Claus is in the kitchen preparing cookies; craftsmen create one-of-a-kind gifts; and Charlie Brown’s Tree Lot is just as imagined on TV Christmas specials.
The park is filled with thrills (10 major thrill and children’s rides areas operate) and music… not just the Christmas songs amplified through the park’s sound system, but at performances throughout California’s Great America, with a company of singers and dancers serenading a tree lighting that occurs several times nightly and in festive stage and street shows, called Cool Yule, Holly Jolly Trolly, Jingle Jazz, Mistletones and It’s Christmas Snoopy.
But then Great America and Knott’s are not alone. The Roaring Camp Railroads operates Holiday Lights Trains from the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk on Dec. weekends and daily, Dec. 17 – 23. As the trains’ vintage railroad cars, adorned with thousands of colorful lights, roll along the streets of Victorian Santa Cruz, passengers sing holiday carols, sip hot spiced cider and listen to live music as Santa visits. A Chanukah Train leaves on Dec. 29.
The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim holds a number of holiday-themed happenings: the Christmas Fantasy Parade, World of Color, Disney !Viva Natividad!, Santa’s Holiday Visit, many holiday themed shows and (need I say?) Holiday Magic Fireworks.
At the San Diego Zoo, there’s Jungle Bells with millions of twinkling lights and carolers singing above the roars and cries of zoo animals. Even Sea World lights up at Christmas and is home to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and yes, you can compete in reindeer games.
Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia and Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo are transformed into winter wonderlands lit with millions of lights and thrills to scare the jelly right out of Santa’s belly.
In the Central Valley, Global Winter Wonderland at Sacramento’s CalExpo and the Tulare County Fairgrounds are mind-boggling displays of fantasy lands set in lights, plus carnival rides, ice skating and parades.
So, just because little natural fall color remains on the trees (it’s transitioning from peak to past peak along the coast), animated, cheery shows of manmade color are lighting the last days of autumn to the first days of winter, across California.
Holiday Lights Festivals, Statewide – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!