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Holidays Across the South

The South is filled with festive, holiday attractions this time of year. Beautifully decorated plantations, lighted tours, a variety of winter wonderlands and even a few tacky lights stretch across the region, welcoming visitors with heaping doses of Southern hospitality and, if you’re lucky, a cup of hot chocolate or cider.

In Georgia, get into the holiday spirit of Christmas Past on December 15 at the Atlanta History Center. The annual holiday program includes the 1861 Smith Family Farm and Swan House, dating to 1930. At the farm, guests can discover the beginning of modern holiday traditions in antebellum Atlanta, such as how the first Christmas trees were decorated. Inside Swan House, see the grand foyer Christmas tree, hear sounds of the season from a cathedral-style radio and discover how the family and servants who lived there celebrated the holidays in the midst of The Great Depression. Tours from 10:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. are free for members of the center and are included in the general admission prices of $16.50 for adults, $13 for seniors and students and $11 for youth. (Photo above courtesy of Atlanta History Center.)

Driving North to Asheville, North Carolina, you’ll find Biltmore Estate, America’s largest home completely decked for Christmas through January 1 (photo below courtesy of Biltmore Estate). Nestled on 8,000 elaborate acres, this 1895 masterpiece includes four acres of floor space, 250 rooms, 34 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms and 65 fireplaces. George Vanderbilt introduced his new home to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895 with a wonderful celebration that continues today. Miles of Christmas decor engulf the home and grounds at Biltmore, including a 35-foot Christmas tree in the banquet hall and more poinsettias, lights and garland than you could dream up. Visitors can also taste some of Biltmore’s own wines paired with decadent handmade truffles or perhaps sit in on a decorating session. Shopping, dining, live music and vintage ballroom dancers are just a few more reasons to visit this historic estate for Christmas. Tickets are $59 at the gate, half-price for children, and kids 9 and younger get in free.

As the sun sets at Biltmore, reunite with old friends at Candlelight Christmas Evenings, complete with live music, choirs and beautiful Christmas decorations through December 31. Ticket prices vary depending on the date, but adult prices range from $69 to $79, youth ages 10-16 from $35.50 to $39, and children 9 and younger are free.

Journey down along the coast, stopping by Charleston, South Carolina, for a Holiday Walking Tour from Charleston Strolls. Tours include historic highlights like St. Michael’s Church as well as private neighborhoods dressed in their holiday best, complete with stories and traditions that recreate Charleston’s rich history. Tours starts at Mills House Hotel at 10 a.m. daily through December 31. Adult tickets are $18, youth ages 7-12 are $10, and children ages 3-6 are $3. The city also holds an annual Holiday Progressive Dinner, where diners journey by carriage to three locations.

From Charleston, skip over to Savannah for the city’s first Pajama Shop Hop, inviting visitors to get a passport and eat, drink and shop while wearing their pajamas. Read Sherry Jackson’s story on this new event in our Travel section.

For a family friendly jaunt, pile in the car and coast through Santa Land in Lindale, Texas (just north of Tyler). This trail of twinkling lights and Christmas displays stretches through 24 acres that can be viewed from the warmth of your own vehicle or by catching a ride on Santa’s Trailer. Approximately 2.5 million lights are used to create 12-Foot Saluting Soldiers, Cowboy Country, the Poinsettia Patch, Santa’s Village, Yellow Rose of Elfland and the return of the Dancing Christmas Trees. Remembering the reason for the season, Santa Land even has a religious section complete with life-sized displays of Bible scenes, including the Nativity. Souvenirs and hot chocolate can be purchased at the gift shop, and admission is $20 per car. Santa Land is open nightly rain or shine from 6-10:30 p.m. through December 26.

While you’re in Texas, head toward the Louisiana border and keep an eye out for the Holiday Trail of Lights. This annual event spans both Louisiana and Texas and includes six glittering cities:. Natchitoches, Shreveport-Bossier City, Minden, Monroe-West Monroe and Alexandria-Pineville. Main attractions on the tour include Natchitoches’ annual Christmas Festival of Lights, featured in the movie “Steel Magnolias,” the Red Fireworks Festival in Shreveport-Bossier City, and Dancing Lights on Antique Alley in West Monroe. Don’t miss the Holiday Light Safari at the Alexandria Zoo, glowing through December 23.

Over in Louisiana, New Orleans’ holiday traditions abound, including the culinary one of réveillon dinners served after midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. In the 1990s, the city reawakened the tradition by asking local restaurants to promote holiday menus. This year, réveillon menus from 42 start at $30 a person and include everything from old-style restaurants like Galatoire’s to Emeril’s and John Besh’s groups of eateries. After dinner, take a stroll through City Park’s lighted Celebration in the Oaks and don’t miss the free holiday concerts at St. Louis Cathedral.

Visitors and residents of the Mississippi Gulf Coast can partake in an elegant evening in the luxurious Estates of Penny Lane during its fifth annual Holiday Light Show. Running through New Year’s Day, the gala includes elaborate Christmas displays synchronized to holiday music and horsedrawn carriage rides through the upscale Penny Lane neighborhood in Long Beach. Carriage rides, home tours and refreshments are available Saturdays from 2-6 p.m. and Sundays from 1-5 p.m. with light shows nightly. While on the coast, stop by the last home of Jefferson Davis for Christmas at Beauvoir. The home will be lit up and celebrating with an 1889 theme Thursday through Sunday until January 6.

For a different kind of experience, Richmond, Virginia’s Tacky Lights Tour offers door-to-door driving directions to the most decked out houses in town. Be prepared for millions of lights, often set to music, and plenty of homemade decorations.

In Alabama, the capital city of Montgomery opens its Governor’s Mansion December 10 and 17 for candlelight tours from 5-7 p.m. Guests should pick up their free tickets at the Governor’s Mansion Gift shop across the street on Finley Ave.  In Birmingham, see Dolores Hydock perform Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory” at the public library December 11. And December 21-25, don’t miss Point Clear’s Grand Hotel family celebration with arts and crafts, Christmas movies, a fireside reading with Mrs. Claus and the hanging of the stockings.

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