Frosty temps, the chance of snow, peppermint mochas, 24/7 holiday music, Hallmark movie marathons, shopping deals, parties, sugar cookies, hot cocoa…While all these things signal the start of the holidays, to many, the holiday season officially kicks off with the lighting of a gorgeous Christmas tree.

According to The History Channel, the beginnings of the Christmas tree dates back to ancient Egypt and Rome. The tradition continued on in Germany with candlelight evergreen trees in the 16th century. In the 1800’s, the tradition arrived in the US, with the first recorded tree displayed in the 1830’s by German Pennsylvania settlers. By the 20th century most American homes had a Christmas tree as their living room centerpiece each holiday season.

The most famous Christmas tree in the country is most definitely the tree at Rockefeller Center in NYC. The timeless tradition of lighting up a magnificent real tree in the biggest and most influential city has been going strong since 1931. As beautiful as this tree remains, many cities and small towns across the US kick off the holiday season with a lighting of their annual tree in the city’s downtown or town square. No matter where you travel, you can count on a festive holiday display from coast to coast.

Below are a few photos of incredible Christmas trees I have encountered in my travels across the US

Rockefeller Center – NYC

Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center in New York City

The Rockefeller Center tree lighting tradition began during the Depression Era. The lighting ceremony started in 1933 and continues to become a more dazzling star-studded event each year. The tree arrives in the city in early November and is lit the Wednesday following Thanksgiving. Visitors come from around the world (125+ million on average) to marvel at the grandest Christmas tree of them all. A different tree (usually a Norway spruce) is selected each year. This article details the process of selecting the tree. New for 2019 was a dazzling 900 lb Swarovski crystal topper.

What to do nearby: Ice skate at the world famous Rockefeller Center rink. Also check out my list of the top things to do in NYC for Christmas

Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge – Orlando, Florida

Disney theme parks look absolutely gorgeous decked out for the holidays, and so do the resorts. While the resorts are quite pricey to stay at during this busy period, you can still plan for a festive dinner or simply take a browse around to enjoy the holiday cheer. Note – free shuttle service is available from Disney Springs. Pictured above is the gorgeous tree at Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, a unique African safari themed resort. Festive authentic African themed ornaments adorn the massive tree. Gorgeous garland and wreaths abound throughout the lobby.

What to do nearby: Dine at Sanaa, an amazing Indian/African themed restaurant – do try the Indian Bread app!

City Hall – Center City Philadelphia

Center City is the place to be in Philadelphia. A bustling place all year-round, especially in the weeks leading up to Christmas. The annual tree lighting ceremony kicks off a long lineup of festive activities. The beautiful tree goes up early December at Wawa Plaza adjacent to City Hall. The festive event includes live entertainment, a German inspired Christmas market, hot cocoa stands, and Ferris Wheel and holiday train rides. Besides the gorgeous urban setting, the highlight of this tree is the unique Liberty Bell topper. As the “birthplace of our nation” is home to the Liberty Bell, this dazzling topper adds a touch of unique historical charm not found elsewhere.

More Christmas fun in the Philly metro area

Disney’s Grand Floridian – Orlando, Florida

Another gorgeous Disney resort to visit over the holidays is the impressive Grand Floridian. This is easily Disney’s most romantic, exclusive, and luxurious resort. The decor here is elegant, simple, and timeless. The main lobby tree is classy and gorgeous. Also, their extravagant gingerbread display is a whimsical sight for both the young and young at heart. The fabulous work of art has been spotlighted by the Travel Channel as well as many other prestigious travel publications. The 2021 display celebrated Disney’s 50th anniversary. Live holiday piano music and gingerbread treats add to the excitement.

What to do nearby: Make reservations for dinner at Victoria & Albert’s – one of Orlando’s top rated restaurants

Disney’s Wilderness Lodge – Orlando, Florida

Yet another gorgeous Disney resort, the Wilderness Lodge is the coziest and most festive of them all. This resort was modeled after National Park Lodges in the Pacific Northwest. The vibe is quiet and cozy, making it the perfect escape after a busy day at the parks. The rustic ambiance of this lodge really adds to the holiday vibe. With a grand fireplace and gorgeous decor everywhere, it’s no wonder this is one of the most popular Disney resorts come Christmas. Florida locals love escaping here for a few days to enjoy a more traditional Christmas experience. Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is by far the best place to stay if you are seeking a cozy mountain-like getaway.

What to do nearby: Enjoy a drink in the rustic Territory Lounge

Disney Springs – Orlando, Florida

Disney Springs, the premier shopping/entertainment district of the theme parks, is the place to go on your off days from the park. In addition to shops, a theater, plenty of dining options, and live entertainment, the complex is totally decked out in holiday cheer. Lots of great photo opps just about everywhere you look. Be on the lookout for special seasonal entertainment. Enjoy a character art latte at Joffrey’s and pick up a delicious treat at Erin McKenna’s. And don’t forget about the free shuttle transportation to Disney resorts!

What to do nearby: Enjoy dinner at Raglan Road, an amazing Irish Pub featuring live step dancing performances

Bellagio Conservatory – Las Vegas, Nevada

Gorgeous Bellagio Christmas display in Vegas

The magnificent Bellagio atrium is one of the top free sights to check out on your Vegas vacation. The incredible display is open to both resort guests and visitors. The theme of the 14,000 square foot garden changes throughout the year, although it’s gorgeous any season. The extravagant Christmas display features an incredible 42 foot fir tree with thousands of lights and over 20,000 colorful poinsettias. As one of the best holiday displays in Vegas, it’s well worth a spot on your bucket list.

More holiday fun in Vegas

The Riverwalk – Tampa, Florida

While Tampa may not seem like the ideal Christmas city due to the absence of snow, white sand beaches, and sunny skies, the city puts on a number of festive events. Among these is the annual Christmas tree lighting at Curtis Hixon Park. The park is located along the Riverwalk, a beautiful 2.5 mile urban path downtown which connects many tourist attractions. The annual festival includes a parade and Santa Fest (featuring live entertainment) prior to the lighting.

More Christmas fun in the Tampa metro

Longwood Gardens – Kennett Square, Pennsylvania

Longwood Gardens is one of the country’s most stunning botanical gardens. The massive space includes over 1000 acres of indoor and outdoor gardens including the most beautiful 4 acre conservatory. Each year, they host “A Longwood Christmas” featuring both indoor and outdoor holiday light displays, thousands of colorful poinsettias, over 150 decorated Christmas trees, plus holiday fountain shows and live entertainment. The highlight here is the amazing Christmas tree in the gardens pictured above. If you love everything Christmas, you will definitely want to put this one on your bucket list. An easy drive from Philly, Longwood Gardens is worthy of both your time and money.

More info on “A Longwood Christmas”

Sponge docks – Tarpon Springs, Florida

Tarpon Springs is a quaint Florida Gulf Coast community, most known for its’ strong Greek culture. The annual Christmas on the Sponge docks festival features live entertainment, festive treats, and the annual tree lighting. The beautiful waterfront setting really makes this one stand out. After checking out the tree, there are plenty of authentic Greek restaurants to check out in the “Greek capital of the US.”

More holiday fun in the Tampa metro

Edgewater Park – Dunedin, Florida

One of the most unique looking Christmas trees in the Tampa metro area is found in Dunedin, a beautiful coastal city which is home to a charming Main Street. To kick off the holiday season, a festive boat parade accompanies the annual tree lighting ceremony. Lighted boat parades are quite a fun holiday tradition on the Gulf coast. Do make sure to check at least one off your bucket list while you are in the area (there are plenty to choose amongst!).

A guide to exploring downtown Dunedin

Millennium Park – Chicago, Illinois

The annual City of Chicago tree lighting ceremony takes place in late November in a festive event which includes live entertainment. 2021 marked the 108th anniversary of the city’s kickoff to Christmas. The first official tree was lit in Grant Park back in 1913. On an interesting historical note, the first tree was only 35 feet tall! Compare this to the 51 foot Blue Spruce which decorated the plaza in 2021. The tallest tree was an 85 footer in 2008! Stay after the lighting for a free fireworks display and a festive live concert.

More Christmas fun in Chicago

Village of Tlaquepaque – Sedona, Arizona

Beautiful Sedona Arizona is home to marvelous 250 million year old red rock formations. While there is plenty of hiking to do year-round, during the month of December you will want to enjoy the seasonal festivities as well. The gorgeous tree at the Village of Tlaquepaque provides a wonderful festive backdrop for local dining and shopping. Visits with Santa and live entertainment accompany this free event. Also look into the annual lighting of the luminaries event held mid December. During this 48+ year old tradition, more than 6000 luminaries are lit.

29 must-dos in Sedona

Uptown Sedona – Sedona, Arizona

Sedona, Arizona is easily one of the most gorgeous vacation destinations in the US. If you love hiking, the outdoors, and healthy food, you will love it here. Winter is actually a great time to visit as the tourist crowds have finally disappeared, leaving you alone with awe-inspiring red rock views. If you are lucky enough, you may just get to see the red rocks dusted with rare snow. Do stop by Uptown Sedona to enjoy some holiday shopping and dining. The tree is beautiful as are all the lovely decorations. The annual tree lighting includes live music and festive treats.

Sedona in the winter

Boston Common – Boston, Massachusetts

Every year, the first week of December, the City of Boston (plus guests from Nova Scotia) light the annual Christmas tree. Accompanying the lighting are stage performances plus the unveiling of the lights at Boston Common and Public Garden. 2021 marked the 80th anniversary of the tradition with appearances by Santa Claus and Rudolph, performances by Darlene Love, and a special appearance by the cast of A Christmas Story: The Musical. On an interesting side note, every year the people of Nova Scotia give the city a tree as a thank you for their assistance following the Halifax Explosion of 1917.

More Christmas fun in Boston

Heritage Square – Downtown Flagstaff, Arizona

Flagstaff is a gorgeous mountain town in Northern Arizona. With over 200 inches of snow per year, this high altitude winter wonderland is a popular escape for Southern Arizona residents seeking a traditional wintry Christmas ambiance. The small town offers a lot in terms of winter activities including a ski resort, miles of snowshoeing trails, and snow tubing. Check out the gorgeous tree downtown in Heritage Square. A fresh dusting of snow adds to the ambiance. While you are in the vicinity, there are many local coffeehouses and restaurants to enjoy.

More winter fun in Flagstaff

Downtown Chandler – Chandler, Arizona

One of the most unique Christmas trees in the country is the tumbleweed tree in Chandler. This eclectic holiday tradition takes place in a beautiful suburb just outside of Phoenix, Arizona. One thousand tumbleweeds are collected outside the city, spray painted, and dusted with glitter. The ending result is quite unusual and strikingly beautiful. The tradition, which began n 1957, continues to be one of the metro area’s most interesting holiday events. A festive Parade of Lights, visits with Santa, and musical performances add to the holiday excitement.

More fun in the Phoenix metro