As Christmas approaches, the holiday spirit begins to seep into every aspect of life, truly creating the most wonderful time of the year for those who love to celebrate. Buying presents, receiving gifts, putting up the tree, seeing Christmas lights, sharing quality time with friends and family, and participating in family and community traditions are a few of the fabulous things people love to do.
Many communities create special spaces and events to facilitate all the fabulous things we love about Christmas, but some towns pull out all the stops. Here are some small towns in Iowa that go all out for Christmas.
The Amana Colonies are a group of several small villages settled by German immigrants. Residents have preserved the authentic German traditions, food, and atmosphere from the Old World, which carries into the holiday season. Visitors will find that Amana is decked out with Christmas decor and lighting. The main event of the season is the Tannenbaum Forest—a forest of Christmas trees at Festhalle Barn.
In addition to more than 60 trees decorated by different organizations or families, Tannenbaum Forest also houses a 17-foot German Christmas Pyramid. They have a special Children’s Weekend from Dec. 9 through Dec. 11 and the Holiday Traditions Weekend runs from Dec. 16 through Dec. 18, as well as other events. Don’t forget to visit The General Store to check out the International Christmas Room with holiday decor from throughout the world.
Located in Cass County, the small town of Atlantic oozes Christmas spirit. Christmas in Atlantic comes with decorated storefronts, dazzling light displays, and a whole lot of Christmas cheer. The town welcomes people to its “City of Lights,” with more than 200,000 LED lights decorating Atlantic’s historic buildings that house charming shops and boutiques.
Christmas in Atlantic kicks off right after Thanksgiving, but it also hosts many events throughout December. Taking a horse and carriage ride is a favorite and everyone loves a visit to Santa’s cabin. Christmas in Atlantic also includes a Holiday Market on Dec. 22 at Cass County Community Center.
Although Keokuk is on the big side for a small town, it’s a must-visit during the holiday season because of its massive City of Christmas holiday display. Keokuk established the City of Christmas in 1989 and put together a Christmas scene in Rand Park lasting for the entire month of December. The city includes Toyland, Santa’s Barn to house the reindeer, Santa’s Workshop, a nativity scene, and an international Christmas display.
Each year, approximately 20,000 vehicles drive through Rand Park to gaze at the stunning City of Christmas displays. Today, the City of Christmas features more than 150 light displays with more than one million holiday lights, showing that Keokuk goes all out for Christmas.
Remember the massive amount of light Clark Griswold put on his house in “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation?” Imagine the same amount on every building in town and you’ll have a good idea about how Oskaloosa goes all out for Christmas. Each year, Oskaloosa sets a theme, and Christmas Canvas is this year’s theme. It goes nicely with the annual Painting with Lights event to light up its charming and historic downtown.
Painting with Lights is the kick-off to several related holiday events like carriage rides and Santa visits. Although many of the events for 2022 have passed, you can still visit, see the stunning downtown, enjoy hot cocoa at the local coffee shop, and take advantage of some of the holiday sales in the local shops and boutiques.
Many think about a romantic trip to Madison County and Winterset to view the famous bridges during the summer or fall. However, Winterset’s Christmas atmosphere comes right out of a Hallmark holiday movie set. There is sure to be some handsome dude in a plaid shirt or an attractive middle-aged woman running away from her problems in the big city. They meet, stroll along the charming streets as light snow falls upon them, and fall in love after they kiss under a mistletoe.
Your trip to Winterset may or may not end with a love connection, but you can shop for locally made gifts at the Winter Solstice Market and the market at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. Christmas in Winterset is kid-friendly too. You’ll find various opportunities to engage with Santa throughout December after the town kicks off the holiday season with their Festival of Lights Parade.
Also known as “Christmas City,” Wyoming goes over the top for Christmas. Each year, this Iowa town with only about 500 residents creates a picturesque and magical canopy of Christmas lights that covers the entirety of the small town’s four-block downtown. In total, about 2,500 lights cover Wyoming’s downtown creating a Christmas ambiance, unlike most places.
Visitors will also find 40 Christmas trees lining Wyoming’s downtown streets as they check out the local shops. The town also has an annual Christmas City Celebration the first weekend in December that includes various events, many of which are hosted by the Wyoming Historical Museum.
By Jessica Lee
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