Christmas is Hot in the Southwest

christmas in southwest

So you want to get away for Christmas this year . You’re in luck!

The Southwest is full of great vacation destinations that offer a unique Southwestern Christmas experience.

Warm temperatures, homes decorated with ristras (red pepper bundles), and chili sauce in the food add up to a hot Christmas in the Southwest.

The Southwest balances the heat with the peaceful Los Pastores (the Pastors) and Luminarias or Farolitos. The Pastores is a nativity play.

Luminarias are paper lanterns lining pathways to lead the spirit of the Christ child to the home.

People enjoy tamales, enchiladas, and empanadas during the holiday season. For fun, they decorate with lighted Cacti and barbed wire wreaths.

We have selected some destinations with special holiday events. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon turns its year-round railroad excursion into the Polar Express during the holiday season.

You board the train in Williams, Arizona, and ride through pine trees to the North Pole. On the train, you hear the story of the Polar Express, sing, and enjoy hot chocolate.

Upon arrival at Santa’s village, the jolly man himself boards the train and visits with the passengers.

Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff offers a North Pole Experience.

You can tour Santa’s Workshop, stop in Santa’s office, visit Santa, view the toy factory, and help the elves build toys.

Then, explore Santa’s Toy Hall of Fame, attend Elf University, enjoy hot chocolate and cookies from Mrs. Claus’s bakery, and get a sneak peek at Area 47, where Santa keeps his sleigh.

Stop by the Flagstaff visitor center in the old train station to marvel at the light display and visit Old Two Spot, a 1911 Baldwin Steam locomotive.

Visit the Riordan Mansion State Historic Park, a 1911 arts-and-crafts-style mansion, and see it decorated for Christmas.

In Flagstaff, you can also relish in a white Christmas. Winter sports enthusiasts can go sledding, tubing, downhill skiing, and cross-country skiing.

Lake Havasu City, Arizona

Lake Havasu City features the London Bridge Yacht Club’s (LBYC) Boat Parade of Lights.

Appreciate the lights of the English Village at the London Bridge and view the Festival of Lights. There are also lights on a cruise of the Bridgewater Channel.

Phoenix, Arizona

Phoenix features Las Noches de las Luminarias at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.

Come see their beautiful display of over 8,000 luminarias! It’s a sight you won’t want to miss.

It also offers a sculpture garden, music, and refreshments. Check out the electric light parade and ice skating here too.

Tumacácori, Arizona

The Fiesta de Tumacácori at the Tumacácori National Historic Park celebrates the cultural history of the Santa Cruz Valley.

Looking for some holiday fun? Head to the Tumacácori National Historic Park on Christmas Eve, where you can enjoy a craft fair, entertainment, and delicious food. Plus, you’ll get to see over 2,500 luminarias lining the park’s walkways – a truly magical sight!

Tucson, Arizona

In Tucson, you must visit the Winterhaven Festival of Lights. The residents of the Winterhaven neighborhood have been presenting this light show since the 1960s.

You can drive through the display or get a better look by walking.

But want to see the lights without all the walking? Why not try it on a trolley, hayride, or pedal-powered group bike?

The Tucson Botanical Gardens presents the Luminaria Nights display with 22 Korean lanterns and 3,000 luminarias. They decorate the trees with hand-crafted ornaments.

Moreover, there are good music and food. But let’s be honest, what’s really important is the wine. And luckily, there’s plenty of that.

Tohono Chul Park lights up the Sonoran Desert for Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul Park. The festivities include a Southwestern snowman, music, treats, and shopping.

Another must-visit place is the Tucson Museum of Art and Historic Block, which features El Nacimiento (The Birth). This nativity scene portrays a hillside with multiple buildings, angels, trees, and lights.

Henderson, Nevada

Henderson features the 3-acre Holiday Cactus Garden light display at the Ethel M. Chocolate Company.

You will see over 300 lighted cacti, and the kids can visit with Santa.

Ready for more winter fun?

Look no further than Henderson’s Winterfest! With lights in the Water Street district, music, toy trains, a carousel, a Ferris wheel, a toboggan slide, and a pony ride, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

So bundle up and come on down!

Las Vegas, Nevada

Las Vegas christmas

Las Vegas hosts the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo and the Cowboy Christmas Gift Show.

The season’s top 15 money-winners from the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association compete in the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. This is a trade show with special events and booths where vendors can sell their wares.

Next, travel to the  14,000-square-foot Bellagio Conservatory & Botanical Gardens, which features a gigantic 40-foot decorated Christmas tree.

You can also view elves, snow fairies, polar bears, gifts, and horse-drawn carriages as part of the horticultural displays.

The Winter Parq at Linq Promenade features an outdoor live entertainment area with carolers and other performers.

This free event is your chance to experience snowfall every night! Come and enjoy the magical atmosphere as the flakes fall gently from the sky.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

Albuquerque presents the River of Lights at the ABQ Biopark. The botanical garden offers 600 lighted displays, a Polar Bear Express train ride, a Holiday Nature Crafts program, a holiday G-Scale Model Railroad, and a visit with Santa.

Also, stroll around the decorated Old Town Plaza, see the tumbleweed snowman, and take the Christmas Eve luminaria trolley tour.

Winter sports enthusiasts can hit the slopes, shred the half-pipe, and trudge through the snow on a snowshoe.

Carlsbad, New Mexico

wildlights giraffe

Carlsbad offers Christmas on the Pecos.

As you float down the Pecos River, you’ll see 100 light displays.

Or, if you’re looking for even more lights, check out Carlsbad’s Living Desert Zoo WildLights event.

Gallup, New Mexico

For the holiday season, Gallup is the home of the Red Rock Balloon Festival.

You will see 200 hot-air balloons flying around the Red Rock State Park canyon walls. What a sight!

It is an invitation-only event for the pilots. So, these are among the top hot-air balloonists. Be sure to have your camera ready.

Taos, New Mexico

In Taos, Yuletide festivities include bonfires and lights.

The street of Bent is lined with bonfires, and the street of Ledoux is illuminated with luminaries.

Enjoy the Pueblo Matachinas or Deer Dance at the Plaza on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Planning on doing some holiday shopping?

Why not support local businesses and check out the CAV Taos Holiday Market Arts and Crafts Fair? You’ll find a great selection of unique gifts, all while helping out your community!

On Christmas Eve, Taos presents the Procession of the Virgin at Taos Pueblo, bonfires, and mass. The festivities include food and fireworks, and the ski resorts again hold torchlight processions and add fireworks.

Then on New Year’s Eve, join the Celebration on the Plaza. Food and fireworks are part of the festivities. The ski resorts hold torchlight processions once more, this time with fireworks.

All in all, it’s shaping up to be a pretty festive season.

Ogden, Utah

Ogden features the downtown Christmas Village. The small cottages depict Santa’s village at the North Pole.

Visit the Municipal Gardens to see the lighted displays, ride the Polar Express train, and meet Santa.

It is very possible to see the snow on the Wasatch Range when you are in Ogden.

Salt Lake City, Utah

Salt Lake City lights up the 35-acre Temple Square and displays multiple nativities with different cultural influences.

Bring your kids to Grand America hotel this holiday season for a 15-foot-tall gingerbread house, multiple Christmas trees, and a Grand Christmas Holiday Window Stroll.

There are 14 window displays available. At Gallivan Plaza, you may ice skate, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, and visit Santa at City Creek.

Then, visit City Creek Center to see the Macy’s candy window displays. Interestingly, like in fairy tales, candies are used to make the displays.

West Jordan, Utah

West Jordan features Gardner Village, a historic shopping plaza. With cobblestone streets and cute shops, it is oozing with charm.

When you’re feeling peckish, you can hit up the stores and enjoy the bakery and the chocolate shop. Yum.

Without a doubt, Gardner Village is a magical place during the holidays. You can find elves hiding around every corner, and there’s even a scavenger hunt to find them all.

Santa is also in residence, and you can even visit the Grinch-themed Escape room.

There’s something for everyone at Gardner Village!

Final Thoughts

Santa Clause Christmas Tree

If you’re looking for an adventure-filled holiday, then the Southwest is definitely the place to be.

Whether you’re in Las Vegas, Phoenix, or Tucson, there are plenty of fun things to do and see.

So pack your bags and come on over! Santa’s waiting.

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