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5 Cities to experience Christmas

Corie Russell is a Midwest-born writer living in New York City. After dabbling in the office life as an editor, she joined the ranks of full-time freelancers and writes about everything from home decor to the recession.

Holiday escape

Rather than visiting a tropical paradise for the holidays, consider planning a destination Christmas in a city that embraces the true winter wonderland theme. From drive-through light displays, to world-renowned shopping, to the North Pole, these five cities are great for the entire family.

NYC Christmas Time

Santa Claus, IN

It doesn't get more holiday appropriate than visiting a city with the name Santa Claus. This city in Indiana is hosting the newly expanded five-weekend Santa Claus Christmas Celebration every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Dec. 20.

'With the newly expanded five-weekend Santa Claus Christmas Celebration, the town is a great destination for families from all over the country to visit and experience a traditional Christmas unlike any other,' says Philip Koch, chairperson of the Santa Claus Christmas Celebration.

Visitors can experience a traditional Christmas with Santa Claus' pre-Christmas dinner followed by carols with Santa and the lighting of America's Hometown Christmas Tree.

Drive through Lake Rudolph's 1.2-mile 'Santa Claus Land of Lights' to learn the magical story of Rudolph, plus watch 'Santa's Great Big LED Tree of Lights' come to life hourly with a choreographed light show to holiday music.

Watch or participate in family-friendly contests such as fruitcake eating, gingerbread-house building, gift wrapping and Christmas-tree decorating.

More information is available at www.LegendaryPlaces.org.

Bethlehem, PA

Another appropriately named Christmas destination, Bethlehem, PA, is a 268-year-old city full of holiday traditions.

Founded by Moravians on Christmas Eve 1741, Bethlehem is known for celebrations including the world-renowned holiday marketplace, Christkindlmarkt Bethlehem. The marketplace is recognized as one of the top holiday markets in the world by Travel and Leisure Magazine and offers handmade works by popular artisans, as well as Christmas music and food, according to Bethlehem's Web site.

Other events in the city include First Night Bethlehem on Dec. 31. Families can enjoy folk, choral and instrumental music; jazz, blues and rock bands; magicians; clowns; arts and crafts; children's performances; snowman building; ice skating and more.

Branson, MO

'Hands down, Branson is one of the most beautiful places -- especially Silver Dollar City theme park," says David Wayne, who worked in the city in the 1990s. "It's a turn-of-the century park where they have millions of lights … There's also an extensive drive-through display in town.'

The Branson Area Festival of Lights is just one of many holiday events. The drive-through festival, which runs through Dec. 31, is a one-mile drive along a path illuminated with more than 120 displays.

Many shows are dedicated to the holidays, and nearly every theater incorporates music into at least half of the performance.

Branson offers more than 100 shows, theme parks, tons of attractions, lakes, mountains, shopping and world-class golf, according to the Branson Tourism Center.

New York, NY

Between the giant Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center and the Radio City Christmas Spectacular, the Big Apple remains a classic hotspot during the holidays.

This year, the famous tree will be lit from Dec. 2 until early January 2010. The tree is illuminated with 30,000 multicolored lights strung on more than five miles of electrical wire and topped with a Swarovski crystal star, according to NYCTrip.com.

Visitors can also join the NYC Rockettes, Santa Claus and the Toy Soldiers for a celebration at Radio City Music Hall. The show includes spectacles like Santa flying above the stage through a winter blizzard and a 25-foot toy warehouse.

The Holiday Lights Motorcoach Sightseeing Tour is another great option, available through Jan. 2 Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. This 3.5- to 4-hour tour highlights Broadway, window displays of famous stores like Macy's (traffic permitting), famous boutiques and more. Tours are unavailable Dec. 24, 25 and 31, according to the NYCTrip Web site.

Cascade, CO

What better place to spend your Christmas than at the North Pole?

Santa's Workshop/North Pole is a Christmas-themed family amusement park in Cascade, CO established in the 1950s and located just a few minutes west of Colorado Springs.

'The area offers perfect mountain charm,' says Chelsy Murphy, public relations manager for Experience Colorado Springs, The Convention & Visitors Bureau. 'Surrounded by forest, the community is considered the entryway to America's Mountain -- Pikes Peak, accessed via the Pikes Peak Highway. There's no better place to celebrate the holidays, considering the North Pole and Santa's Workshop are located here.'

The North Pole, in true Christmas fashion, is covered in ice and never melts. A U.S. Post Office is also located on the grounds, so letters can be sent there and returned with a "North Pole" stamp, Murphy says.

Visitors can frequent the surrounding gift shops, more than 25 rides, magic shows and more attractions, and Santa's house, according to the park's Web site.

Holiday events can also be enjoyed in nearby Manitou Springs, Old Colorado City and Colorado Springs, Murphy says.

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