10 reasons why Branson is worth a visit during the holiday season


Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar City

Branson, nestled in the scenic Missouri Ozarks, pulls out all the stops when it comes to Christmas. From the first week in November, the entire town lights up with decorations virtually everywhere you look, including more than 1,500 decorated trees and drive-through lighting displays. The biggest show in town is Silver Dollar City, a re-created 1880s Ozarks town featuring millions of lights, live holiday entertainment, seasonal foods, thrill rides and craftsmen demonstrating their skills.
Many of Branson’s 100 live shows, performed at 40 theaters, offer special productions just for the holidays. Other family favorites include a skating rink that rivals the one at New York City’s Rockefeller Center, the annual Adoration Parade celebrating the birth of Christ, a ride on Branson Scenic Railway’s Polar Express and shopping (including the best fruitcake you’ll ever taste, made by students at the College of the Ozarks).
Add Branson’s small-town friendliness, lodging options in all price ranges and the fact that Branson is within a day’s drive of one-third the US.. population, and it’s easy to see why November through December is one of Branson’s most popular seasons.

More than 1,500 Christmas trees
Christmas trees have a long tradition, but Branson kicks it up a notch with 1,500 trees greeting visitors at shops, restaurants, hotels and attractions, earning it the nickname “America’s Christmas Tree City.”  Many are conventional with the usual lights and assortment of ornaments, but others are as imaginative as the creators who built them, such as the giant centerpiece at Branson Landing with its animated lights set to music.
Recycling takes on a new meaning with “trees” made from more than 500 go-kart tires (at The Track Family Fun Parks) and wine bottles (at the Hilton Branson Convention Center). The Branson Community Tree, on 76 Country Boulevard next to the Ferris Wheel, is adorned with nearly 10,000 genuine cut crystals taken from a former theater’s 16-foot chandelier. But the most awesome spectacle is at Silver Dollar City, where an 8-story tree serves as a canvas for an animated music and light show – so high-tech it boggles the mind.

Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Silver Dollar City
This recreation of an 1880s Ozarks town celebrates the season with “An Old Time Christmas,” hands down the most spectacular holiday destination in the region. A dazzling 6.5 million colorful lights – the equivalent of almost 700 miles of strung lights – fill every nook and cranny of the Silver Dollar City theme park, creating fairy tale magic everywhere you look.
In addition to its 8-story tree that’s a high-tech wonder, there’s a Christmas parade, a living nativity, a Broadway-style Christmas variety show, a re-staging of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” a steam train that invites sing-alongs, Santa’s cottage and seasonal foods that include glazed ham, prime rib and smoked turkey. And that’s in addition to Silver Dollar City’s usual offerings, including more than 40 rides and attractions geared to all ages, Marvel Cave (the site’s original attraction), craftsmen demonstrating their skills and shops, all in a lovely wooded setting. There’s so much to do, you’ll want to spend an entire day here.

Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Drive-through Christmas displays
Several drive-through Christmas displays light up the season, making this safe, social-distanced adventure a favorite with carloads of families. The Trail of Lights at Shepherd of the Hills has been lighting up the night for more than 30 years as it winds through 160 acres, culminating in a cup of hot cocoa.
Lights of Joy is a 1.5-mile journey with 250 displays on both sides that include a tunnel of light and a nativity scene, with Santa making an appearance on weekends.
Let There be Lights at Promised Land Zoo features lit displays of secular and religious figures, including animals ranging from monkeys to reptiles, which isn’t surprising considering that this is an actual zoo. If you get there before dark, you can see some of the live animals in their enclosures, but in any case be sure to check out the real, live reindeer.

Photo courtesy of Dolly Parton’s Stampede
Christmas shows
Shows are huge in Branson, so it’s little wonder that its 40 theaters offering 100 different live shows make a big deal of Christmas. Many theaters create special productions just for the holidays, like Silver Dollar City’s take on Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” or The Hughes Brothers Christmas Show.
Other shows add seasonal tunes to their regular lineup, including the Presleys’ Country Jubilee and Baldknobbers Jamboree Show, both credited with launching Branson into the entertainment business more than 60 years ago. There are dinner shows (like Dolly Parton’s Stampede), tribute bands, magicians and illusionists, comedy acts, acrobatics and music ranging from gospel to hot hits of the 1950s though ’80s.
There are so many families and siblings that perform together, it sometimes seems the whole town must be talented, like the six brothers in SIX who sing a cappella but also produce sounds of a band with their own voices. “Jesus,” at Sight and Sound Theatre, is a musical epic that seems especially relevant this time of the year.

Photo courtesy of ExploreBranson.com
A ride on the Polar Express
All aboard for a train trip to the North Pole, on a journey that recreates the magic of “The Polar Express” movie and children’s book. Departing from the depot in historic downtown Branson, the Branson Scenic Railway treats passengers to a reading of the book and a snack of cookies and hot chocolate.
Santa boards the train at the North Pole and then visits each car to give passengers a special gift. To get in the spirit, families are encouraged to wear pajamas, just like in the make-believe Polar Express.

Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Christmas shopping
Branson is a shopping destination any time of the year, which is why it’s also popular for Christmas gifts. Tanger Outlets offers deals at stores ranging from Chico’s and Helzberg Diamonds to Disney, while Silver Dollar City features artisans at work and handmade wares ranging from blown glass to leather goods.
Downtown, Branson Landing offers specialty stores, restaurants, experiences (a zipline over Lake Taneycomo, anyone?) and Santa’s Wonderland at Bass Pro Shops. No visit to Branson would be complete without popping into Dick’s Oldtime 5 & 10, in business for 60 years and packed to the rafters with everything you can imagine and plenty that you can’t.
At The Grand Village Shops on 76 Country Boulevard, it’s Christmas all year at Kringles Christmas Shop with its well-known collections (like Christopher Radko) and ornaments for every interest and hobby, from fishing to music to sports.
Nearby is Sugar Leaf Bakery & Café, which offers a scrumptious chocolate yule log, but if you love fruitcake, you owe it to yourself to visit College of the Ozarks, where students turn out 25,000 fruitcakes every year in addition to jellies.

Photo courtesy of Big Cedar Lodge
Skating rinks and snow tubing
It doesn’t snow or freeze much in Branson, but that doesn’t mean you can’t glide figure eights on a skating rink. Ice Skating at The Wheel partners with The Holidays on Ice to create a real ice skating experience. Located beside the Branson Ferris Wheel and Community Christmas Trees, the rink is the same size as The Rink at New York City’s Rockefeller Center.
At Big Cedar Lodge, the synthetic Winter Wonderland Ice Rink has a bucolic setting above Table Rock Lake. If skating isn’t your thing, try Snowflex tubing at Wolfe Mountain, where you can fly down a 400-foot series of hills on a synthetic run.

Photo courtesy of ExploreBranson.com
Adoration Parade
Branson isn’t shy about keeping “Christ” in Christmas, especially when it comes to its annual Adoration Parade, now in its 72nd year. Held the first Sunday in December, the evening event begins with a lighting ceremony of a 28-foot-tall nativity scene, the largest in the region.
The Adoration Parade is an old-fashioned, non-commercial procession of high school marching bands and floats sponsored by area churches, clubs and organizations, bringing together locals and visitors alike as it winds through historic Downtown Branson.
Can’t make it? The Adoration Nativity Scene shines like a beacon atop a bluff overlooking Lake Taneycomo and Branson Landing throughout the season, reminding viewers of the meaning of Christmas.

Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
Lodging decked out for Christmas
Branson has accommodations to meet all budgets and interests, from hotels and motels to resorts, cabins, cottages, condos and even campgrounds. Christmas decorations and experiences highlight the festive season, with some lodgings offering the chance to meet Santa.
Silver Dollar City’s Wilderness features rustic log cabins and a free shuttle to its theme park. Chateau on the Lake, a resort perched on a hill above Table Rock Lake, proudly displays a nativity scene by famed wood carver Emanuele Fontanini, as well as a gingerbread village that includes the Chateau, a church and three houses, all made by staff.
But Big Cedar Lodge is probably the most enthusiastic promoter of cheer, with 2 million holiday lights, an outdoor skating rink, a drive-through display, visits from St. Nick, ornament making, family campfires and story time with Mrs. Claus.

Photo courtesy of Beth Reiber
All those other reasons Branson is fun
Branson’s improbable pairing of scenic beauty and big-time entertainment makes this Missouri town an irresistible lure. Winters are mild, so even in December there’s a good chance visitors can take advantage of the region’s three pristine lakes, 80-some hiking and mountain biking trails, 10 golf courses, mini golf, ziplines and mountain coasters (like the new  3,350-foot Copperhead Mountain Coaster at Shepherd’s Adventure Park).
You can visit Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, a 10,000-acre slice of Ozark paradise that offers hiking, biking and tram rides past buffalo, or zip around in golf carts at the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail.
If the weather isn’t cooperating, Fritz’s Adventure is an indoor park with climbing walls, ziplines, slides, aerial bridges and tree houses, while Fun Mountain at Big Cedar Lodge offers bumper cars, bowling, laser tag, climbing walls and a kids’ area. There’s plenty for animal lovers, too. Branson’s Wild World is home to rescue alligators and wolves, as well as stingrays, sharks, macaws, tarantulas, snakes, and a puma. The Aquarium at the Boardwalk provides close-up views of a variety of fish, jellyfish, octopi, eels and sharks, while The Butterfly House delights visitors with thousands of fluttering species from around the world.
There are so many museums, you could visit one every day of the week, including those devoted to the Titanic, veterans, vintage cars and toys. The eclectic, one-of-a-kind Ralph Foster Museum has everything from the original truck used in The Beverly Hillbillies TV show to an impressive collection of old firearms, while the impressive Ancient Ozarks Natural History Museum showcases prehistoric creatures and American West and Native American art and artifacts. And what child isn’t captivated by Ripley’s Believe it or Not!?



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