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winter wonderland

Winter Wonderlands Out Here

These five holiday destinations offer ample incentive to go dashing through the snow

By Erin Brereton

Thanks to a number of Christmas-centric events, towns, and other attractions across the country, families don’t have to wait until Dec. 25 to celebrate the holiday season.

From commemorating traditions to turning tree shopping into an all-day adventure, these destinations offer a decidedly unique yuletide experience.

1. Hann’s Christmas Farm
Oregon, Wisconsin
Nov. 1 to Dec. 24

At this farm, a tractor-pulled wagon takes visitors out to the field to view the year’s Frasier and balsam fir, blue spruce, scotch, and white pine harvest. The trees span 7 to 22 feet tall, according to owner Greg Hann.

In addition to welcoming visitors of all ages, Hann’s allows canine guests too, as long as they’re on a leash and friendly.

“People bring their dogs; they can run around and enjoy [themselves],” Greg says. “We try to include the whole family.”

To keep kids entertained, Hann’s builds a holiday haystack out of 250 bales of hay arranged around plywood tunnels for children to climb through.

All of the farm’s holiday festivities are free. A 1,500-square-foot store located in the large barn offers hand-painted nativity sets and other distinctive items for purchase.

“A lot of people just come for a day in the country,” Greg says. “People can ride in the wagon, shop, and see Santa; it’s a great time.”

2. Koziar’s Christmas Village
Bernville, Pennsylvania
Nov. 2 to Jan. 1

In the late 1940s, local farmers would park in a nearby field and wait for Sonia Koziar’s parents to turn on the family’s stone farmhouse’s Christmas lights, shortly after they finished milking their cows.

“They kept telling friends in neighboring villages,” Sonia says. “People would knock on the door and say, ‘Can I come in for a closer look?’ and my mother would say ‘No, this is our home!’”

Eventually, after adding lights to the chicken coops, trees, and other areas of the farm, Sonia’s father started charging 50 cents per car to visit. Today admission costs $10 to $12 for kids and adults, and admission is free for those 3 and under. More than two dozen small buildings display items ranging from model trains to nutcrackers and have exhibits featuring creative themes, such as Christmas in the jungle.

Guests hear holiday music as they wander the village’s walkways, and on chilly nights, a number opt to purchase apple cider and hot chocolate to keep warm, according to Sonia.

“It’s a beautiful setting; when you come over the hill, in darkness, you see all the lights,” she says. “We have many generations that come. Some of the people [who came as children] are grandparents now—it just keeps growing every year.”

3. Hensler Nursery’s Christmas Fest
Hamlet, Indiana
Nov. 30 to Dec. 24

The 300-acre farm has held this free holiday celebration every year for more than 20 years. While the first year included a handful of caribou to serve as reindeer, today, Christmas Fest guests can view pheasants, peacocks, fallow deer, and other animals. Homemade cookies and kettle corn are sold, and visitors can peruse the selection of Fraser fir, scotch, and white pine trees—available pre-cut, or you can borrow a saw to chop one down.

Guests can also rent one of the nursery’s firepits, which accommodate groups of up to about 25 to linger and enjoy each other’s company.

“Families are looking for an experience,” says Manager Joe Hensler. “People can spend the whole day here, [instead of] just getting a tree and leaving.”

4. Christmas Town USA, aka McAdenville
McAdenville, North Carolina
Dec. 2 to 26

McAdenville calls itself Christmas Town USA, and with good reason. According to Steve Rankin, a member of the town’s Christmas committee, nearly all residents have decorated their homes during the holiday season since the mid-1950s.

“It’s a community effort,” Steve says. “The tradition brings a lot of [people] back, and new folks come every year.”

At the town’s lighting ceremony, scheduled for Dec. 2 this year, a local elementary school student will flip a giant switch, triggering 500,000 lights in public areas throughout the town to turn on for the season.

On Dec. 12, during the Yule Log Parade, McAdenville children will pull a log on a sled from the center of town to a park, where it’ll be lit in a fireplace. The parade will be followed by a festival with musical performances and free hot chocolate.

There’s no charge to attend any of the holiday events. “We’re not in the business of making money,” Steve says, adding that McAdenville has had to shoo away vendors trying to sell things like cotton candy. “We want people to come and have a good time.”

5. The Santa Claus Christmas Celebration
Santa Claus, Indiana
Dec. 6 to 22

According to legend, in the 1850s, during a meeting held on a Christmas Eve to name the town, wind blew the door open and children playing nearby yelled, “Santa!” And thus, the town’s name was chosen, according to Melissa Arnold, Spencer County Visitors Bureau executive director.

You can stop by Santa Claus year-round for some holiday cheer; nearly 20 Santa statues are sprinkled throughout the town, including one that’s 22 feet high. During the first three weekends in December, though, the yuletide focus goes full throttle.

Complimentary chestnuts are roasted over an open fire at Santa’s Candy Castle, visitors can drive through a Rudolph-themed lights display for $15, and kids can stop by the Santa Claus Museum & Village—which is free to visit but appreciates donations—to write a letter to Santa. The town receives more than 10,000 letters each year from around the world, and every one with a legible return address receives a reply, according to Melissa.

Ready to visit one of these holiday destinations? Visit your local Tractor Supply, where a friendly associate can help you choose all the right gear for a winter road trip.

Erin Brereton has written about travel and other topics for magazines, newspapers, and other publications for more than 20 years.