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6 Spectacular American Cities to Spend the Holidays

The enchanting sights, sounds, and aromatic smells of the holiday season come alive at these six cities across the United States that provide you with a fun and fabulous wintertime adventure that you’re sure to remember for a lifetime. Take a look at the breathtaking displays, spectacular shopping, and unique cultural events that make these locations a mecca for those who love to experience the season’s best celebrations.

‘Christmas town USA’: Best City for Holiday Lights

McAdenville, North Carolina epitomizes the giving spirit of the holidays with its spectacular month-long holiday lights display that showcases 160 festive homes, a fabulous downtown commons display, 265 evergreens featuring 500,000 lights, and spectacular lakeside scenery surrounded by beautifully-brightened spruce trees. The entire month-long extravaganza is free to the public, and the official lighting ceremony takes place on November 30th. The town is lit up every Monday through Friday from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and weekends from 5:30 to 11:00 p.m. through December 26th.
This small village just outside of Charlotte doesn’t stop there. Townsfolk also gifts the first 1,000 visitors to the Annual Christmas Town Festival with free cider and kettle corn to help usher in some holiday cheer. This fun family event takes place on December 13th and features a charming holiday parade, a stopover by Santa, a traditional yule log ceremony, and musical entertainment that captures the magic of the season.

New York City, New York: Best Center for Magical Ice Skating

New York’s Rockefeller Square is a cultural icon that stays true to its reputation for excellence with a whole host of holiday activities for yuletide-lovers who are both young and young-at-heart. The lighting of the iconic 75-foot tree takes place on the evening of November 28th and brightens the square every evening through January 7th with its 30,000 lights and Swarovski crystal star. The gigantic live spruce overlooks an intimate ice rink that gives skaters the impression of sliding through a mythical urban landscape dotted with giant forests, celebrated artwork, and twinkling lights. Visitors can also enjoy magical horse and buggy rides that take you on a tour of the area’s most famous attractions, such as Radio City Music Hall. Here you can enjoy all the pomp and spectacle of the Radio City Rockette’s Christmas Spectacular. 

Branson, Missouri: Best Place to Catch the Polar Express Train

Best known as the Live Music Capital of the World, this quaint mountain town of about 10,000 people sits against the spectacular backdrop of the pine-covered Ozark Mountains. Every holiday season it lights up the region with a wide array of events that have collectively come to be known as the Ozark Mountain Christmas Festival. By far the unique and eagerly anticipated of these experiences is the Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express Ride that showcases the natural wonders along the area’s snow-capped peaks. Just outside the train’s windows visitors can witness amazing scenes recreated from the enchanting film ‘The Polar Express.’
For more great seasonal entertainment, check out the city’s world-renowned live holiday shows featuring many talented musical legends. You can also enjoy some antique and holiday gift shopping in the historic downtown district, or take a driving tour of the holiday lights at the Promised Land Zoo and Gift of Lights Trail. The fun-filled Silver Dollar City Amusement Park’s Old Time Christmas festival runs from November 3rd through December 30th. It has an astounding 6.5 million sparkling lights–and some of the season’s best children’s plays and sing-a-longs.

Frankenmuth, Michigan: Best Town for an Authentic European Christkindlmarkt

Popularly known as “Little Bavaria” because of its historic German heritage, this town of 5,000 residents in central Michigan boasts 2 million annual visitors, a breathtaking Christmas Lane filled with 100,000 lights, and the quaint Old Christmas Station Restaurant that sits on sight of a former 1920’s train station. Perhaps its most beloved tradition is the European-style ‘Christkindlmarkt‘ featuring mouthwatering delights such as their fresh, locally sourced apple cider, open-fire roasted chestnuts, and delectable holiday pastries.
This enticing European-style market isn’t the only big draw for holiday lovers. Frankenmuth holds bragging rights to the world’s largest store dedicated exclusively to all things Christmas. The family owned and operated Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland was opened in 1945 and features 100,000 twinkling lights, 2.2 acres of indoor displays, 27 acres of outdoor landscapes, and 50,000 unique gifts and trims. It even has a replica of Salzburg, Austria’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel complete with a breathtaking walking path and quaint educational signposts. For dedicated Christmas fans who like to start the season early and extend the holiday spirit into the warmer months, you’re in luck. The store is open 365 days a year!

Taos, New Mexico: Best Locale to Experience Cultural Unity

This vibrant desert city offers a unique holiday experience that blends different cultural practices to showcase a beautiful pageantry of unity. On Christmas Eve, the Christian and Native American communities come together at the 1,000-year-old Taos Pueblos adobe settlement for the Procession of the Virgin. This unique event is open to the public and includes the lighting of ‘farolitos’ or paper lanterns, massive bonfires that are part of a blended Catholic and Native ceremony, and celebratory gunfire salutes along the parade route at this UNESCO World Heritage site.
Within the architecturally unique city limits, you’ll find a vibrant artistic community that plays host to the annual Yuletide Arts and Crafts Fair from November 23rd through the 25th. There is also a one-of-a-kind ‘pop-up, pop-down’ Taos Folk Store which appears at the Stables Gallery every November 25th through December 24th, and includes an incredible array of locally crafted items, from jewelry and journals to tea sets and totem poles. Here you’ll find unforgettable gifts for even the most discerning people on your holiday list, and beautiful items for yourself as well!

Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii: Best City for an Eco-Holiday in Paradise

The small island hamlet of Lihue hosts an awe-inspiring December-long Festival of Lights that takes place at the Historic 1913 County Building located on Hawaii’s ‘Garden Isle.’ Its grand scope belies its humble beginnings as a recycling project by a local artist who decided to turn other people’s trash into gifted treasures at her home, which came to be known as ‘The Christmas House.’
In 1997 her treasured creations came into the hands of her niece, also an artist, who chose to donate them to the county. The mayor asked her to create a fun-filled holiday display from them that has since transformed into a colorful celebration which draws international visitors and community members alike. Here you’ll find magical indoor and outdoor light displays, interactive installations featuring out-of-this-world artist-designed recyclables, and fun photos with Santa set against a panorama of eco-inspired design.
If you’re ready to raise a glass of cheer to a new adventure filled with time-honored traditions, head on out to one of these lively yuletide destinations this holiday season!
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5 Historic Homes of Famous American Authors

Visiting the homes and places where America’s literary luminaries lived and worked can give new insight into a favorite author’s work –or just deepen your understanding of another culture and another time. Here are several places that honor U.S. authors’ literary heritage.

Emily Dickinson Museum–Amherst, Massachusetts

280 Main Street

The museum includes two historic homes and gardens where this reclusive poet spent most of her days: the Homestead where she was born and lived most of her life and the neighboring Evergreens, home to her brother and his family.
The Homestead, probably the first brick house in Amherst, remained in the family until 1916. While many of the poet’s belongings and family furnishings are lost, the museum has faithfully recreated rooms so visitors can sense the environment in which the poet found her voice. The Evergreens is one of the earliest and best-preserved examples of Italianate domestic architecture in Amherst. The house is complete with Dickinson family furniture, household items, and decor selected and displayed by the family during the 19th Century.
A path described by Emily as “just wide enough for two who love” links the two houses. The landscaped grounds give further insight into this poet who assured us “Success is counted sweetest by those who n’er succeed.”

Robert Frost Stone House Museum–Shaftsbury, Vermont

121 Historic Route 7A

Open on Wednesday through Sunday in June through October from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Robert Frost’s 1769 Stone House Museum was his home for nine years during which he wrote his first Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of poetry. He composed “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” at the dining room table on a hot, summer day. Situated on seven acres, visitors can see diverging paths and yellow woods that inspired him. Rugged, stone fences are still standing. But which neighbor inspired the line “Good fences make good neighbors?”
Walking trails around the property spark the imaginations of would-be poets. For those looking for a healthy snack, Frost’s apple trees still yield fruit. There are apple trees throughout the property as frost planned to be an apple farmer, not a poet.
The museum expects to have poetry readings at the house and bluegrass concerts on the grounds, so check before you go if you would like your visit to be enhanced by a performance.

The Steinbeck House–Salinas, California

132 Central Avenue

The birthplace and boyhood home of John Steinbeck is a Queen Anne style Victorian house built in 1897 and occupied by the Steinbeck family in 1900. It opened to the public as a restaurant in 1974 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The menu makes a few nods to Steinbeck’s novels such as East of Eden pasta, and Steinbeck photos and memorabilia cover the walls. It is open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday.
The National Steinbeck Center is just a two-block walk from the home and houses the largest archive of the writer’s work. The museum, divided into sections, tells the story and the history of his most famous novels. The visuals help visitors picture key fictional scenes and historical eras in the author’s life. Using his words as the narrative, the exhibit navigates guests through theatrical sets and displays so they can step into Cannery Row, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, and more.

Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum–Key West, Florida,

907 Whitehead Street

Open every day including holidays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Hemingway called Key West the “San Tropez of the Poor,” and lived for ten years in the heart of the city’s old town. His French Colonial house, built in 1851, has many of Hemingway’s furnishings and artworks. Visitors can see where he wrote To Have and Have Not, The Green Hills of Africa, and other important works. The lush grounds are home to more than 40 cats, some descendants of the six-toed cats the novelist nurtured. A urinal Hemingway yanked from Sloppy Joes, a favorite bar, still waters the cats.
Sloppy Joes is the bar made famous by the hard-working, hard-drinking writer. There is a long curving bar inside with scars from generations of visitors and Hemingway fans. Open 365 days a year, Sloppy Joe’s offers food, drinks, live music and dancing, all with that offbeat, Key West ambiance. Each summer, the bar hosts a Hemingway look-alike contest where more than 100 men grow beards and do their best to dress like the Nobel winning author.
Key West’s Hemingway Days Festival coincide with his birthday in July and is a moveable feast of hard-driving activities including a mock bullfight. Sloppy Joes is the epicenter of the festival.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum–Mansfield, Missouri

Rocky Ridge Farm, 3060 Highway A

Open March 1 to November 15: Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The author of the beloved “Little House” books did most of her writing as an adult reflecting on her childhood in a pioneering family. She and her husband Almanzo lived in a one-room cabin on the 200-acre Rocky Ridge Farm until the completion of their farmhouse in 1913. Today the farmhouse is a museum and visitors can tour her home, see her study and writing desk, and view many of Laura’s treasures that remain exactly how she left them.
The museum contains the most comprehensive Ingalls and Wilder family collections in the world. It includes Pa’s fiddle that accompanied the Ingalls family on their homesteading adventures and set Laura off on her married life with the song “These Happy Golden Years.”
Christmas at Laura’s is a favorite tradition. The house is festive with vintage decorations and Kids can have their photos taken with Santa by Laura’s fireplace. Guests can taste a sample of Laura’s recipes and take a copy of the recipe home. The bookstore in the house museum is a good place to find a quaint, unusual holiday gift. This is the only time the museum is open in winter.
It is wise to check the website of these literary homes before you make plans. Most are ran by small groups of volunteers, so times can change.

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The Best Halloween Events in The U.S.

From haunted hikes to terrifying hay-rides, here are some of the best halloween events across the U.S. sure to give you a scare.

Sleepy Hollow, New York

Sleepy Hollow commemorates Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow with scary events occurring year round. But during October, the legend rises to its spookiest heights. Hear a dramatic reading of the tale of the Headless Horseman accompanied by eerie organ music in the Old Dutch Church or grab a seat on the “hair raising” Haunted Hayride. The wagon rolls through forests filled with spooky sights and a frighteningly close encounter with the Headless Horseman. A block party lets revelers gear up to be spooked or wind down from being terrified. The premiere haunted town and house attraction is so realistically portrayed that you may want to leave the kids at home. Costumes are encouraged, and screams are heard nonstop all over town.

 The Great Jack-o-Lantern Blaze, New York

Billed as the tristate’s largest Halloween event, the Blaze features 7,000 intricately hand-carved pumpkins in amazing configurations that form incredible displays in an 18th Century landscape. The grandfather clock and windmill actually work, and T-Rex is poised to attack.
Wander around new medieval castle guarded by jack o’ lantern owls, see the pumpkin carousel twirl, thrill at the sight of a giant sea serpent. With synchronized lighting and soundtrack, the color-changing star show and the all-pumpkin Statue of Liberty come alive.
There’s plenty of snacks and drinks including seasonal favorites such as pumpkin beer, cider, candy apples, and pumpkin spice treats.

Terror on Tillson Street, Michigan

Romeo is a small, quaint village of historic homes dating back to the mid-1800s in and around Tillson street. Homeowners decorate for Halloween as if their frightening decorations and elaborate graveyard displays will keep their demons away.
The trick or treating takes place Halloween evening from 6 to 8 is so popular that the 30 participating homes usually distribute 60,000 pieces of candy in two hours. It is safe with the Romeo High School football team patrolling the streets with flashlights and on the lookout for troublemakers and lost little witches and vampires. But Tillson Street becomes frightening on Halloween night with elaborately decorated homes trying to outdo each other on the scary scale. Many people avoid the Halloween crowds by viewing the decorations after dark before the big night.

Erebus, Michigan

This half-mile horror hike goes up and down a four-story parking garage and is in the Guinness World Records as the largest walk-through haunted attraction. In Erebus, walls move in to crush you, lasers and mirrors disorient you, demonic monkeys and a T-Rex attempt to make you their dinner. The bottomless pit, spike spindle, and buried-alive rooms may make your life flash before your eyes. The screams are real and the creatures know how to evoke them. The 100 actors on fright duty each night have all graduated from boo school. But who knows where the corpse of Uncle Freddy learned to lurch.
The experience takes under an hour and may shave a decade off your life, but be assured no human will touch you. Erebus’s policy demands that visitors can be touched only with props. Roaming spooks that may be in the area cannot be made to honor the policy.

Screams Halloween Theme Park, Texas

Just 30 miles south of Dallas in the town of Waxahachie, the world’s largest Halloween theme park is a delightful, frightful place with five seriously haunted houses. The witches of Terra Mythica Castle lead you on a terrifying trip through the scariest medieval myths. A cursed pirate village spills gallons of blood during looting, murder, and magic. At Hotel D’Feers, meet the creepy creatures who are sticking around for eternity and want you to know it. The Zombie Apocalypse will test your ability to muffle your screams. Creepy people only will want this circus to dance through children’s dreams.
Roaming characters frighten at random and face painters will give you the most gruesome look you can imagine. Shiver through horror movies and sing your worst at the Scary-oke. The main stage hosts live music and entertainment, and the food court serves traditional trade fair food with slices of worry: do the zombies eat here, too?

The House of The Occult at Lemp Brewery, Missouri

The basement of the 1864 Lemp Brewery becomes a terrifying abyss for the Halloween season. With just a candle, find your way through tunnels that are five stories underground and filled with mutilated bodies and real-life spirits.
Paranormal investigators have discovered authentic signs of hauntings by members of the disturbed Lemp family and even Indians cursed these caves centuries ago. The spook you encounter may not be rehearsed. Will you be in the tunnel on the one night in the history of the Abyss when not one person screams the safe word?

C – K Autumn Fest, West Virginia

If pumpkins are more your style than ghosts, don’t miss the Ultimate Pumpkin Experience in the quaint West Virginia communities of Ceredo and Kenova. The Pumpkin House is a Victorian mansion displaying 3,000 hand-carved pumpkins for what is known as the Ultimate Pumpkin Experience. The Great Scarecrow hunt is fun for kids without being too scary, and the tractor show draws a crowd. An arts and crafts show, bake-offs, canning competitions, and food vendors make this a full day of seasonal fun and discovery. The festival’s “Introduction to the Paranormal” will pique your Halloween spirit.

Cool Patch Pumpkins Corn Maze, California

The Cool Patch corn maze is the world’s largest according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Each year the maze design is unique and it just keeps growing. After dark maze explorers are welcome (as rescued as needed), and a smaller maze is just the right size for kids. Hayrides and pumpkin splatting opportunities add to the fun. Concession stands open October 6 on Friday nights and weekends.
While you are there, pick out your pumpkins and decorative gourds.
However you plan to celebrate Halloween, there are several frightening events that take place each year throughout the country. Just look up your city and see what events tickle your interest.