This small town celebrates the holidays with millions of lights

During the holiday season in Branson, Mo., nearly 10 million lights adorn the small town.  (Photos: Carly Caramanna)

During the holiday season in Branson, Mo., nearly 10 million lights adorn the small town. (Photos: Carly Caramanna)

New York City and Walt Disney World may be at the top of everyone’s beautiful list this holiday season, but the historic town of Branson, Mo. also creates Christmas spirit – and in high doses. It welcomes more than 10 million visitors a year and it is estimated that about 20% of them visit in the months of November and December alone. Tucked away in the Ozark Mountains, the tourist destination of just 12,000 residents is perhaps (and literally) the brightest hidden gem.

As a lifelong travel junkie with an affinity for theme parks, I first learned of the small town because of the award-winning Silver Dollar City theme park. While the temperate summers might be a perfect time to visit this rollercoaster mecca, the holidays are where it’s really at sleighing — and the festivities extend far beyond the theme park.

I recently made the trip to the affordable Midwestern location to see what all the festive fuss was about. The party stretches all over the city with thousands of trees and millions of lights, and I couldn’t wait to experience my impending fruitcake coma. I loved every minute of the candy cane-laden adventure. It was visually beautiful, oh so tasty and put a smile on my resting Grinch face.

Planning your own trip to the Ozarks for the holidays? These are the four Christmas activities in Branson, Mo. which really got me in the Christmas spirit.

Silver Dollar City is an old Christmas

The roots of all things holiday in Branson go back to the Herschend family, the visionaries behind the city’s biggest attraction, the Silver Dollar City (SDC) theme park. Inspired by a large-scale light show in Wheeling, W. Va., the park owners wanted to create something that would extend the tourist season beyond the traditional Memorial Day to Labor Day period. SDC’s holiday events officially started in the 1980s and get bigger and better every year.

Making seasons bright takes on a whole new meaning here, as more than 6.5 million lights envelop the award-winning Midwest Park, with more than 1.5 million additional lights used in a display in downtown Branson. There are over 1,000 decorated trees in the theme park, including an eight-story tree in the town square that lights up with colors and lights synchronized to music. Rounding out the event is several live stage productions, a parade, and plenty of holiday-themed snacks and sips that had me singing oh, how nice.

Millions and millions of lights cover the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Mo.  during the holidays.  (Photo: Carly Caramanna)

Millions and millions of lights cover the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Mo. during the holidays. (Photo: Carly Caramanna)

Without a doubt, my favorite part was the park’s culinary offerings, including an annual traditional holiday buffet featuring all of my childhood favorites, from hickory-smoked turkey to green bean casserole. It is clear that the park appeals to all five senses as it invites guests to make beautiful holiday memories.

Food kiosks are located throughout the park offering a festive food festival. Adding even more merry vibes, the park encourages its employees to submit their own family recipes for possible inclusion in the festival menu.

Live stage productions

Branson has been known for decades as the live entertainment capital of the world, with dozens of theaters and more than 100 live shows at any one time. During the holiday season, these productions are full-fledged spectacles with high-quality costumes and special effects such as real snow.

One of the largest productions, Miracle of Christmas at Branson’s Sight and Sound theater is a Broadway-style musical that tells the biblical story of Christmas. The show is epic in nature and takes place on a 26,000 square foot stage with a 300 foot wraparound platform for performers. This unique vantage point provides optimal viewing for 2,000 guests to witness the state-of-the-art production using pyrotechnic technique. Talent comes from big cities and the level of excellence and quality was seriously impressive.

The holiday show aboard Showboat Branson Belle.  (Photo: Carly Caramanna)

The holiday show aboard Showboat Branson Belle. (Photo: Carly Caramanna)

I also loved the Showboat Branson Belle, a “Christmas Cruise” dinner show on beautiful Table Rock Lake that featured a performance of Christmas music favorites with a live band and vocalists. Surprisingly, the food blew my mind, like a super tender and flavorful 21 day dry aged angus ribeye. The whole experience, which takes place aboard a turn-of-the-century inspired paddle wheel boat, evoked a sense of yesteryear and nostalgia that was effortlessly in keeping with the holiday spirit.

America’s Christmas Tree City

Who will keep the merriment and cheer intact throughout the season? It’s not Santa himself or his mischievous elves – it’s a Christmas coalition in town that acts as something of a holiday cheerleader for the local businesses. Their goal? To get businesses all over the city on board to display large, themed Christmas trees… and the result of their hard work is making Branson America’s Christmas Tree City.

Trees made from vintage wine bottles are the Branson Convention Center's contribution to the city's holiday tree display.  (Photo: Carly Caramanna)

Trees made from vintage wine bottles are the Branson Convention Center’s contribution to the city’s party tree display. (Photo: Carly Caramanna)

During my drive through the city it became clear that this initiative is a great success. Stunning light displays graced nearly every business, and many featured large, uniquely themed Christmas trees as the centerpiece. And there were more than 700 trees in total during the tour. My favorites included Branson Landing’s offerings of shopping, dining and entertainment, brought to life daily by bright LEDs and holiday favorite music (Cue: Mariah Carey). At the Branson Convention Center, three unique trees were designed using hundreds of vintage bottles just steps away from a festive lounge.

A giant gingerbread house

Standing three feet tall, this handcrafted gingerbread house brings guests to the lakefront Chateau on the Lake resort every holiday season.  (Photo: Explore Branson)

Standing three feet tall, this handcrafted gingerbread house brings guests to the lakefront Chateau on the Lake resort every holiday season. (Photo: Explore Branson)

Branson’s premier lakefront resort puts a uniquely indulgent spin on the holiday season. Chateau on the Lake’s culinary team spends hundreds of hours (and uses more than 300 pounds of powdered sugar) creating the hotel’s gingerbread village, an annual event that draws crowds for a highlight at this chocolate marvel. The creation is completely edible and is almost a meter long.

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