An Arizona Holiday

By Nora Heston Tarte

The holidays are upon us and it’s time to celebrate! Some of Arizona’s biggest family-friendly holiday events include the Phoenix Zoo’s Zoolights and the Grand Canyon Polar Express. But in addition to these attention grabbers are several other programs aimed at spreading holiday cheer this season, from menorah lightings to brightly lit parades, shopping excursions to Santa visits.

Local Events

Parades are a big part of the holiday season, and there is no shortage of them lighting up Arizona this month. On December 7 stop by the APS Electric Light Parade. For more than 30 years, Arizona Parks & Recreation has hosted the APS Electric Light Parade to kick off the holiday season. The event, with high-caliber sponsors including the Arizona Cardinals and Phoenix Suns, draws large crowds annually as businesses, families and even neighborhood groups come together to watch or participate in the parade with a theme only Arizona would dream up—walking through a desert wonderland. If you go: The parade kicks off at 7 p.m. at Central and Montebello avenues. Check it out on Instagram using #phxlightparade. Central and Montebello avenues to 7th Street and Indian School Road, Phoenix.

On the same day, December 7, Chandler will host its own lighted parade. The City of Chandler’s Annual Tumbleweed Tree Lighting and Parade of Lights is no small affair. It’s an event only Arizona could host, with a giant tree made of tumbleweeds taking center stage, and primed for family photos. If you go: Enjoy a parade of festive floats and over-the-top lights at 6:45 p.m. before watching the tumbleweed tree lighting at 8 p.m. Event festivities run from 4:30-9 p.m. Event is free and open to the public. Downtown Chandler

Much like the Polar Express, The Magical Christmas Journey to the North Pole, which runs December 6-28, offers a magical train ride to the North Pole on the Verde Canyon Railroad. And it doesn’t take as long to get there as you’d think. After touring a Christmas village, kids will explore before boarding the train—with indoor and outdoor seating—and head to the North Pole through a magical tunnel, with a real-life bald eagle and a princess as their guide. If you go: Rides take place every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 5:30 p.m. 300 N. Broadway, Clarkdale

You’ll undoubtedly need to do a little shopping this time of year, and the mall is a fine place to find gifts, but for a little more holiday flair try the Holiday Sweet Stroll on December 21 in Sedona. For one day only Tlaquepaque Shopping Village will transform into a scene out of a Dickens’ novel, featuring carolers dressed in old-timey garb, Santa Claus and area shops bursting with sweet treats and decorations. If you go: The fun lasts 4-7 p.m. 336 State Route 179, Sedona.

Last but certainly not least, don’t forget the other holidays that make up the season. While the majority of people living in Arizona celebrate Christmas, it isn’t the only festivity worth our time. Whether you are Jewish or just curious to learn more about Chanukkah, the Chanukkah Menorah Lighting is a good place to start. On December 22, Chabad of Sedona is helping put on a cultural event for families. Come to watch a menorah lighting ceremony while munching on latkes, donuts and hot chocolate. Instead of Santa Claus, kids can meet Judah and receive Chanukkah gelt (coins, often chocolate). If you go: Event is held 5:30-6:30 p.m. in Patio del Norte at Tlaquepaque Shopping Village. 336 AZ-179, Sedon

Free Everyday Celebrations

Local events are a great way to spend your free time during the holidays, and some events offer multiple opportunities to enjoy. Not only are these events occurring every day, or at least every weekend, they are free to enjoy.

Through December 22, those of all ages can enjoy the Rawhide Snowy Christmas. Every Friday to Sunday, Arizonians can head to Chandler for a snowy Christmas event with a western flair. For the event, Rawhide Western Town is decorated for the holidays, including snow and thousands of Christmas lights. If you go: Takes place from 5-10 p.m. The event features specials such as visits from Santa, a tree lighting ceremony, and photo ops. 5700 W. North Loop Rd., Chandler

In Phoenix there is the Nightly Shows & Snow through December 31. During the event the Desert Ridge Marketplace is transformed into a living snow globe. If you go: Every night (except Christmas), snow falls at 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. and on Christmas Eve snow will fall every hour 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Plus, local groups provide nightly entertainment. 21001 N. Tatum Blvd., Phoenix

 Keep the magic alive for your kids by doing more than just writing letters to Santa. Instead, make sure they get delivered by dropping them in an exclusive Santa mailbox around town. Arizona has a few drop-off locations for official letters to Santa. If you leave one at Rawhide Western Town, Santa will write back. If you’re taking a ride on the Verde Canyon Railroad, letters can be dropped in a bag before departure.

Keep it Local

Many neighborhoods around the valley have festive get-togethers during the holiday season. Some put together ATV light parades and cruise throughout the neighborhood on a specific night. Others carol or set up projection screens and have a holiday movie night. It can be a great way to connect with your neighbors and spread holiday cheer. Check your local community board on Facebook or NextDoor—they can be a great source to find out what’s happening in your neighborhood

Day of Giving

Remind your children of the true meaning of the holiday season by getting involved with give back events such as A Day of Giving in Peoria. The one-day event takes donated items from the community—toys, gifts, food, clothes, etc.—to distribute to families in need. The goal is to provide gifts for 800 to 1,000 children and meals for 300 families. On the actual Day of Giving, gifts are given out to kids at a community center where they enjoy presents, food, Santa visits, games, crafts, entertainment, and more. To get involved or make a donation contact David or Kristi Bell at Advant-Edge Decorative Curbing & Landscaping at 623-398-6319 or follow the “Holiday Squad” on Facebook. Donations can be made at several locations in the West Valley.

Do it at Home

Celebrating Christmas (and the other winter holidays) doesn’t have to mean attending events. Dedicate some time this holiday season to hanging out indoors and making memories with your loved ones.

  • Create and send Christmas cards to family and friends
  • Make sugar cooks shaped like snowflakes and snowmen…
  • …Then give a batch to your local firehouse
  • Empty old closets and donate used coats, blankets, mittens, and other items to a local shelter
  • DIY holiday gifts at home
  • Learn how to play driedel
  • Read a festive book, such as A Christmas Carol, as a family
  • Host a holiday-themed movie night complete with popcorn and candy.
  • Deck the halls to your favorite Christmas tunes
  • Learn how to play a holiday song on a new instrument—from a piano to a recorder



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