Events to Fill Your Heart with Holiday Joy
By Tara Gary
My daughter, who will be turning 21 soon, and 19-year-old son remind me how much they love the holidays—the beautiful lights, the smell of a fresh Christmas tree, the joy of being around family and friends, and the special memories we’ve created throughout the years here in Atlanta during this special time of year. Even at their age it’s easy for me to understand their excitement when I’m surrounded by the many reminders of the season. In fact, there are so many events available in our area that it’s difficult to decide which ones to attend. It all depends on your interests, and despite your age, there is something for everyone this holiday season.
Need a little decorating inspiration, or do you appreciate strolling through an impeccably designed Christmas mansion, envisioning you’re hosting the perfect party, only to realize you don’t live there and you’ll eventually have to go home to the decorations you tolerate or just like? Then let your imagination run wild as you visit The Christmas at Callanwolde Designer Show House and Holiday Market—a holiday tradition for over 40 years now. It will kick off the holiday season December 1-7, just in time for you to run home and use some of the amazing ideas you’ve seen. Historically the 27,000 square-foot mansion is decorated by top Atlanta interior designers, which is magnificent. This year they will freshen things up a bit by sharing the designing of the mansion with five top design programs from metro Atlanta schools, competing to win a grand prize of $1,000. It should be refreshing to see what these teams bring to the halls of Callanwolde.
Nothing is more magical than Christmas lights. I’m not talking about the ones you see down the street where someone has literally taken a string of white lights and thrown them into a tree that resembles the Christmas tree in A Charlie Brown Christmas. Then, for some reason, they throw a string of colored lights into the closest bush to their front door. It hurts my eyes. If you appreciate well-placed, thoughtfully choreographed music and lights, take a drive to Callaway Resort & Gardens for Fantasy In Lights. It has been rated by National Geographic as one of the top ten light displays—in the world! The five-mile, eight million holiday lights spectacular is whimsically and musically themed. You have the option to ride the open-air tram packed with riders or drive your own car through the display. My advice, drive your own vehicle. There’s a lot to be said about being able to turn on the heater, in the comfort of your own car, and avoid the long line of tram riders. Just my personal opinion. Be sure to visit the Christmas Village for hot chocolate and nibble on funnel cakes, Christmas cookies, and other carnival-like offerings. Santa will be there to accept Christmas list wishes from good boys and girls. Peruse the holiday gifts and collectibles from vendors, while the children amuse themselves making a variety of arts and crafts. I also suggest trying to visit Fantasy In Lights on a weeknight, at the earliest reservation time possible. It truly is a spectacular event, but once you’ve seen it, you’ve seen it. It hasn’t changed in the past 15 years, but why fix something when it’s not broken. Fantasy In Lights runs November 15- January 4 in Pine Mountain, Georgia. Find out more at callawaygardens.com.
With over 25 years of growing the holiday spirit, Lake Lanier’s Magical Nights of Lights has exploded with merriment and cheer. This year, enjoy your drive through the magic November 22-January 5. Be sure everyone in your car visits the little boys or little girls room prior to the truly impressive seven-mile display of twinkling and animated lights. There should be no explanation needed. As if the lights aren’t enough to get you into the magical spirit of the season, try losing yourself in the wintery wonderland of License to Chill Snow Island. The fun runs November 22-February 23. Snow tube down the fastest, longest snow tubing hill in Georgia (I would do that again and again), go ice skating, or make snow angels in the snow play area. Let’s not forget the carnival rides—I love carnival rides! However, consider indulging in the hot chocolate and treats after the rides please. You’ll most likely find yourself, and your cohorts in fun, tuckered out from all the activities you’ve participated in. Consider prolonging your visit by staying at one of the many accommodations available on-site. Whether you enjoy a cozy lodge, lakeside villa, camping, or many other options, you have every reason to create holiday memories at Lake Lanier. For more information, visit lanierislands.com.
For a botanically blissful stroll a little closer to home, plan a visit to Atlanta Botanical Garden for Garden Lights, Holiday Nights, and see Nature’s Wonders in a whole new light. Yes, pun intended. A tornado, snowfall, rainstorm, fire, and outer space are some of the natural phenomena depicted in the high-tech illusion of thousands of lights, synchronized with music and sound effects. Be hypnotized by larger-than-life plant giants from Imaginary Worlds: Alice’s Wonderland. For the young at heart, a favorite of mine has always been the model train display. When my kids were little, we would stand there forever pointing out to each other the tiny details that made it so lifelike. You just want to shrink yourself, and ride the train. St. Nicholas also visits the garden—dressed in gorgeous green, with the most beautiful outdoor backdrop. I used to have the entire family sit with him for a memory worthy photo. The Garden Lights, Holiday Nights display will please everyone in the family. It’s also a wonderful place for a romantic evening for you and your other half. Have your picture taken under the giant mistletoe or snuggle next to the fire while roasting marshmallows and making smores. The Atlanta skyline is the perfect complement to the romantic setting. Wear walking shoes (I rarely take my own advice on that one), and dress appropriately for those chilly nights. The celebration runs November 16-January 11. Plan accordingly by visiting the garden website atlantabg.org for tickets and parking information.
One of our family’s all-time favorite Christmas movies is Elf. We can recite every scene—verbatim. Do you remember the scene in the movie when Jovie takes Buddy’s hand to lead him to the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree, and his face lights up in awe? A similar reaction will occur when you visit the International Winter Wonderland in Centennial Olympic Park. This year’s Chinese Lantern Festival theme is “Into the Wild,” featuring lanterns handcrafted by Chinese artisans depicting over 25 various animals, including endangered species. The festival will also include live entertainment and interactive activities—such as lanterns that can be viewed up close and touched—(no “ancient Chinese secret, huh?” here), as well as cultural foods. This not to be missed light extravaganza and foreign festival of fun runs November 22-January 5. Visit the Georgia World Congress Center Authority at gwcca.org for details and ticket information.
One of Atlanta’s sister cities, Nuremberg, Germany hosts one of the largest and most famous Christkindl Markets in the world. If your travel plans don’t include a visit to Nuremberg in lederhosen this season, look no further than Centennial Olympic Park which will also host the Atlanta Christkindl Market. Enjoy the aroma and tastes of traditional German foods like bratwurst, gingerbread, beer, and hot glühwein (one of my favorites!). Glühwein is mulled wine, traditionally red, mixed with spices, and served hot—to keep you nice and warm from the inside out. While sipping your glühwein, find great holiday gifts from a variety of traditional German, Austrian, and Swiss products and craftsmen. Activities for the kids include cultural workshops, storytelling, and more. Don’t miss the live entertainment and cultural experiences of this 700-year-old tradition November 21-December 24. For more information, visit christkindlmarket.org.
While in the vicinity of Centennial Olympic Park, plan on visiting the Georgia Aquarium which will transform into a Winter Waterland from November 23-December 31. Guests can expect to see a spectacular light show, live holiday themed entertainment, tree lighting ceremonies, and visits from Santa and SCUBA Claus—I wonder if his sled will be led by seahorses? Visit georgiaaquarium.org for tickets and details.
What’s Christmas without the story of a little girl named Clara who receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift? The beloved The Nutcracker ballet is a must-see. The Atlanta Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker December 7-24 at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. If you wish to see it performed by a local dance studio, you have many options to choose from—Roswell Dance Theatre in Sandy Springs November 29-December 8, Gwinnett Ballet Theatre in Duluth December 6-22, Atlanta Dance Theatre in Roswell December 13-15, and Metropolitan Ballet Theatre in Roswell December 20-22, just to name a few. I do love The Nutcracker, however, I chuckle when I envision a child receiving a nutcracker as a gift in this day and age. Can you imagine? The magic of this ballet is synonymous with Christmas, I know. Though, I may have to gift a few nutcrackers to the younger family members this Christmas just to see their reactions.
Every city has a major list of events this season. From the lighting of Christmas trees and menorahs, home tours, workshops, parades, shows, concerts—you name it, we’ve got it. Holiday to-do’s to keep you busy and entertained, as if you’re not busy enough. So, let’s just say, “events to fill your heart with holiday joy and keep your mind off of your to-do list.” I can’t do all of the research for you. You’re not a “cotton-headed ninny-muggins.” Just pass “through the seven levels of the Candy Cane forest, through the sea of swirly twirly gum drops, and then…” you’re sure to find something to fill you with the holiday spirit.
When not writing, Roswell resident Tara Gary is busy making industrial furniture, charcuterie boards, and local art. Most nights she can be found with her friends at local breweries and pubs drinking craft beer.