It may be chilly out, but that doesn’t stop those with serious holiday spirit from celebrating the season with Christmas parades, winter markets, tree lightings, visits with Santa and more.
Throughout the Northeast — which can feel remarkably like the North Pole once that snow starts coming down! — are many charming downtowns that go all-out for the holidays by hosting town-wide events, reports the Bridgewater Courier News, which is part of the USA TODAY Network.
Ready to get in the Christmas spirit? Pack up the sled — err, car — and head to these Northeast towns that know how to celebrate one of our favorite times of the year with style.
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Armonk, New York
Starting on Dec. 1, Armonk will recognize its holiday history by hosting nationally-known Frosty Day. That’s the day when the hamlet celebrates the song “Frosty The Snowman,” which was written in 1950 by Walter “Jack” Rollins and Steve Nelson, the latter of whom lived in Armonk at the time it was penned.
The 10th annual celebration will include kids’ activities such as face painting, train rides, cookie and ornament decorating; the only holiday-themed parade in the area with 40 local groups and organizations inviting Frosty home, and a tree lighting ceremony and sing-a-long at the gazebo in Wampus Brook Park.
Friends of Frosty Inc., a nonprofit group of local volunteers formed to oversee the day’s events, also encourage visitors to Armonk to contribute to its “Help Frosty Help Others” campaign by donating winter jackets, hats, mittens and scarves as part of its Winter Warmth project. Clothing bins can be found around town during the Frosty Day festivities.
What’s known as “Christmas City” isn’t anywhere near the North Pole — instead, it’s Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, which was established on Christmas Eve in 1741. Each year, thousands of travelers trek to its National Historic Landmark District for the holiday festivities.
Historic Bethlehem hosts an array of holiday tours including Trees of Historic Bethlehem, to see gilded Christmas trees from around the world across six historic sites; Christmas City Stroll, about Bethlehem’s beginning, architecture and history; and Bethlehem by Night, where the city is lit with Christmas lights. Visitors also can take a horse-drawn carriage ride through the area’s downtown.
Plus, Bethlehem is also home to Christkindlmarkt, a 27-year-old Christmas market recognized as one of the best American holiday markets by Travel + Leisure. Shoppers can explore three heated tents filled with more than 150 artisans from across the nation offering handmade German nutcrackers, artwork and photography, organic food products and more as Christmas music plays. Ice carving and glassblowing demonstrations, kids’ crafts and food and bar vendors add to the cheer.
Cape May, New Jersey
Summertime visitors may believe Cape May, a city known for its beaches and serene vibes, is only for the warm weather months, but this charming downtown is bustling all year round.
The city’s signature Victorian homes and Washington Street Mall are adorned with lights, greenery and decorations during the holidays.
West Cape May will host an annual Christmas parade on Dec. 7.
A tree-lighting ceremony is on tap for Dec. 6 and Hospitality Nights will be held on Washington Street Mall Dec. 12 to 13. Merchants will open their doors and offer shoppers refreshments while they browse.
In addition, through the end of December, Congress Hall will hold a Winter Wonderland celebration which includes rides on the Congress Hall Express and Carousel, arts and crafts for kids and a Vendor Village featuring 18 specialty artisans.
The Emlen Physick Estate, a Victorian house museum, also will host holiday events through the month, including an Evening Yuletide Tour, Physick Family Christmas House Tour and Santa’s Trolley Rides.
It’s no surprise that a country town reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting with a charming downtown and iconic Red Mill also is one of the top sites for holiday spirit in the Garden State. One of Hunterdon County’s most beautiful spots is gearing up for Christmas with a full calendar of events.
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The town will be full-speed-ahead after Thanksgiving, with several events planned from Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 including Winter Village at The Red Mill, a three-day German-style outdoor winter craft market; the 10th annual Festival of Trees, a decorated tree and wreath silent auction fundraiser; ‘Dickens Days,’ when the town is filled with horse-drawn carriage rides and carolers, and a tree lighting. Plus, Clinton will hold a Christmas parade on Dec. 6 and a night of shopping as the town is filled with luminaries on Dec. 12.
Then, Clinton will conclude its town-wide Christmas festivities on Sunday, Dec. 15 with a visit from Santa, as well as the second annual Run Before Christmas Santa Con 8k on Dec. 21.
Montclair, New Jersey
Montclair, a township with a constant schedule of events and a downtown area packed with shops and restaurants, hosts a slew of holiday events every December.
Festivities begin with Montclair’s holiday tree lighting in Church Street Plaza, which will take place on Dec. 6 and include holiday music by the Montclair Community Band, carolers, a giant snow globe, an ice sculpture and a visit with Santa. The following day, Santa will return on a Montclair Fire Department fire truck with gifts for children.
Local hotspots also get in on the festivities with events such as the Candlelight Tour of the Crane House and Historic YWCA, which shares the history of holidays past from the 1700s to the 20th century throughout the month.
New Castle, Delaware
Established in 1652, New Castle channels its historic past during the holidays as its cobblestone streets, still home to period buildings and a center square, host a town-wide celebration. It will all begin Dec. 13 when landmark building The Arsenal transforms into the Fezziwig house from “A Christmas Carol” for one night as it hosts a Victorian ball, followed by Victorian tea on Dec. 14.
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The Spirit of Christmas begins Dec. 14, with characters in costume roaming the downtown; performances of “A Christmas Carol;” private homes, historic properties and churches decorated for the season, and musical events throughout the day. Festivities conclude with a tree lighting ceremony on the Green.
For the event, the Amstel House also will be decorated for a traditional Colonial holiday celebration featuring traditional 18th-century customs during the period of Governor Nicholas Van Dyke’s residency. And the Dutch House offers an experience of St. Nichol’s Eve, a tribute to the legend of Saint Nicholas, Dutch patron saint.
Princeton, New Jersey
A simple stroll through the serene Princeton University campus, featuring historic buildings such as landmark Nassau Hall and the Princeton University Chapel, is probably enough to get you in the holiday spirit, but that’s not all that this area has to offer.
One of New Jersey’s favorite towns for cultural activities is, of course, also one the region’s favorite towns for holiday things-to-do with events including the McCarter Theater’s production of “A Christmas Carol” through Dec. 29; the Morven Museum’s Festival of Trees; holiday weekends at Terhune Orchards Dec. 7 to 8, which include wreath decorating workshops, visits with Santa and wagon rides around the farm; and holiday trolley tours on December Saturdays with Princeton Tour Company.
However, if you don’t feel like committing to an event, a visit to Palmer Square to see the 65-foot-tall Norwegian Spruce, which will be lit with 32,000 lights on Nov. 29, will be more than enough to get you geared up for Christmas. While here, check out Princeton’s mix of national chain stores, boutique shops, renowned restaurants and casual eateries to get your holiday shopping done with a tasty break.
Red Bank, New Jersey
During the summer months, Red Bank is a hot spot for tourists, attracting those headed to the beach with its renowned restaurants and boutique shopping. However, this two-square-mile borough also has tons of holiday activities for its December visitors.
It all begins on Nov. 29 when the annual Holiday Express Concert and Town Lighting takes place through the streets. The event will include a visit from Santa after he arrives from the Red Bank train station. Then, Saturdays through Dec. 21, visitors can hop on a free horse-and-carriage ride through town so they can check out the holiday ambiance of Red Bank.
For the second year, Winter on Broad Street is returns to Red Bank on Dec. 9, with an ice rink, a life-size snow globe, a scavenger hunt and a holiday bazaar.