Arizona’s Christmas Town

Its storybook setting makes Prescott, Arizona a magical destination anytime of year. But the city really rocks the glitter come December, showing the entire world what it means to really celebrate. So fantastically imaginative are the decorations and events around Christmastime that Gov. Rose Perico Mofford in December 1989 declared Prescott “Arizona’s Christmas City.”

Probably the town’s most famous holiday tradition is the World’s Largest Gingerbread Village, which opens every year in late November. More than 100 gingerbread houses made by residents, businesses, and the occasional celebrity vie for the most imaginative interpretation of this old-fashioned custom. Of course, a toy train circles the edible display, which is viewed each year by some 50,000 people, open daily free of charge. Donations raise money for the Yavapai Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Another feast for the eyes is the annual Holiday Light Parade, which begins at the Courthouse Plaza. A parade of floats festooned with lights animates the square, many of them fanciful or outlandish. The festive atmosphere leads many homeowners to go all out in their own yards, so touring the neighborhoods at night is a must at this time of year. There’s also a Saturday afternoon parade in early December that brings out the whole town for two hours of marching bands, vintage cars, and wacky costumes.

The lighting of the Courthouse is another eagerly awaited ceremony. Children’s choirs sing on the steps as the governor reads the story of the first Christmas. Then the plaza explodes in a dazzling show of nearly a million lights, before an enthusiastic crowd of tens of thousands. The lights are on display throughout the season.

Of course, businesses and organizations around Prescott contribute their own cheerful events, including Sharlot Hall Museum’s Frontier Christmas Open House, and the Acker Music Festival, when businesses downtown stay open for a night of caroling and holiday shopping. Dickens of a Holiday is another old-fashioned event featuring a toy workshop for children. Dickens himself would have been right at home in Prescott, where nothing says tradition like a performance of A Christmas Carol at the historic Elks Opera House.

When the presents have been unwrapped and Christmas dinner cleared away, Prescott turns its attention to the party of the year, New Year’s Eve at the Elks Opera House, with the Prescott Pops Symphony, a Grande Buffet at the Hassayampa Inn, and lodging packages that include breakfast in the Peacock Dining Room—a perfectly cozy way to ring in the new year.