Christmas Vacations

Have a holly jolly holiday at these destinations throughout the South

Bilt for the Holidays

A century of Christmas traditions are on display at the Biltmore

Thousands travel to the Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, each December to take part in the historic estate’s grand holiday traditions. During Candlelight Christmas Evenings, tour the George Vanderbilt–planned home under the glow of flickering candlelight. You’ll be awed by the thirty-five-foot Fraser fir in the Banquet Hall and charmed by the carolers stationed throughout the house. With more than sixty decorated trees, thousands of poinsettias, and miles of garland, it’s the perfect place to catch the Christmas spirit. If the decor inspires you to deck your own halls, attend a gardening seminar on wreath making (held daily), where you’ll learn how to craft your own holiday wreath with pinecones, pine tree branches, and holly. After a day of exploring, make a short drive to Antler Hill Village to visit with Santa Claus himself. –B.H.

Oh, Christmas Tree

Chop, chop—it’s time to visit the South’s most fetching tree farms –E.F.

Boyd Mountains Christmas Tree Farm and Log Cabins
Boyd Mountains Christmas Tree Farm and Log Cabins

Dan Boyd

Boyd Mountain Christmas Tree Farm and Log Cabins
Waynesville, North Carolina

Make a weekend out of finding the perfect Fraser fir, which grows only in the Southern Appalachians above 3,000 feet. Besides trees, this postcard-pretty operation (pictured) offers seven historical log cabins for rent, each relocated from the surrounding countryside and thoughtfully restored by proprietor Dan Boyd.

Southern Tree Plantation
Blairsville, Georgia

North Georgia’s largest Christmas tree farm is home to sixty rolling acres of Fraser fir, balsam fir, Norway spruce, and Colorado blue spruce. Don’t fault the kids if they’re more interested in the hayrides, pony rides, and marshmallow roasting than in sawing down a coveted conifer.

Sycamore Springs Farm
Jamestown, Tennessee

In addition to Christmas cheer, this certified American Tree Farm spreads the gospel of conservation through guided wildlife walks and swag-making lessons using recycled tree trimmings. After cutting your Scotch or white pine, Norway spruce, or Leyland cypress, hike the Gingerbread Trail in search of giant gingerbread houses. (Pre-cut Fraser and Canaan firs are also available.)

Hollow Creek Tree Farm
Gilbert, South Carolina

“Real trees make scents” is the slogan of this congenial family operation outside Columbia (if you repeat it at the register, you’ll get $3 off). Customers choose from nine chop-ready varieties or buy pre-cut Fraser firs shipped in weekly from North Carolina. Weekend hayrides and free hot cocoa keep the atmosphere jolly.


Have Yourself a Maritime Christmas

From Chattanooga to Lake Charles, holiday boat parades abound in the South

Winterfest in Fort Lauderdale draws more than one million spectators to “The Greatest Show on H2O”

Judy Garland never sang about neon-lit yachts, but in waterside towns across the South, it’s not Christmas without a flotilla of twinkling boats. Chattanooga, Tennessee, marks the start of Christmas season with the Lighted Boat Parade (November 29), which culminates in the illumination of buildings and bridges across downtown. A few days later, the city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, sets its namesake aglow with a boat parade and fireworks show (December 2). Over in Florida—home to more than seventy holiday boat parades—Fort Lauderdale’s Winterfest (December 9) remains the granddaddy, with more than 200 boats lighting up the Intracoastal Waterway. Participants spend months decorating their boats, and the likes of Kim Kardashian and Brooke Burke have presided as grand marshal. For a dash of history with your merriment, check out the Regatta of Lights (December 9) in St. Augustine, Florida, where vessels cruise the Matanzas Bay between the circa-1927 Bridge of Lions and the Castillo de San Marcos, built by Spain in the 1600s. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Lighted Boat Parade (December 9) along the Intracoastal Waterway in Gulf Shores, Alabama, where you can charter a boat and take part in the spectacle (how’s that for a holiday party?). –E.F.


This article was originally published in October 2015. Dates have been updated to reflect 2017 holiday events.