Christmas comes early in Branson, Missouri—almost a month before Thanksgiving. “Christmas runs for two months because we have so much to celebrate!” says Martha Bohner, the publicist at Silver Dollar City. No place in the Midwest, perhaps in the entire United States, celebrates the holiday quite like Branson.
Silver Dollar City, an 1880s-style theme park, is Branson’s holiday centerpiece, with a celebration acclaimed by USA Today, CNN Travel, the Travel Channel, Good Morning America, AOL Travel, Yahoo Travel, and MSN.com. More than 350 miles of twinkling lights, plus 1,000 decorated Christmas trees, transform the park into an old-fashioned Christmas card. Lighted trees line the walkways around the city square, creating a magical backdrop for the “Christmas on Main Street” light and sound show. Thousands of white lights define rooflines along the streets and walkways. Native Ozark trees reach as high as 40 feet in the darkened winter sky, glowing with blue, red and green lights encircling tree trunks and limbs.
The five-story Special Effects Christmas Tree towers over the square and blazes to life at dusk with 6,000 dazzling light changes per minute synchronized to music. Lights on buildings around the square flash in rhythm with the massive tree. Surround-sound immerses guests in the magical experience. The tree is more than “green” in color, operating with 350,000 energy-saving LED lights.
For the second season, Silver Dollar City will present an original musical production of It’s a Wonderful Life. Silver Dollar City’s director of entertainment and events, Brad Schroeder, says: “Telling this classic story with music emotionally impacts audiences that love the movie.” The theme park also offers a musical adaptation of another enduring classic with an acclaimed Broadway-style production of A Dickens’ Christmas Carol. Additional shows include a musical presentation of The Living Nativity, the interactive kids’ show Frosty, Sounds of Christmas, Holiday Hearthside Harmonies, Christmas on the Bayou, and the comedy Frontier Fa-la-la Follies in the Silver Dollar Saloon.
One-of-a-kind handmade holiday items, created by Silver Dollar City’s master craftsmen, range from blown glass ornaments to pottery dessert platters and Scotch-pine scented candles. Scrumptious holiday foods put the finishing touch on any Christmas event. Prime rib and traditional favorites such as turkey with apple-raisin dressing are options for a sit-down meal. Throughout the park, vendors offer apple dumplings, make-your-own s’mores, hot wassail, and warm sugary funnel cakes. Tantalizing aromas of homemade fruitcakes, cookies and breads waft from the bakery over the lighted Christmas trees. The Midwest Living Culinary & Craft School offers classes with plenty of sampling. The 60-minute sessions taught by the entertaining Debbie Dance Uhrig take place in an old-fashioned 1880s-style timber-frame farmhouse. Guests must register for the classes.
Every evening at 6 and 9 p.m., the Gifts of Christmas Holiday Light Parade winds through Silver Dollar City’s streets. Eight musical floats sparkle with 100,000 twinkling lights depicting scenes, including a sleigh with Santa, a gingerbread house, a snow globe, and the Nativity. The Silver Dollar Steam Train rolls around the Ozarks hillside, passing lighted displays while passengers sing Christmas carols.
During its presentation of “An Old Time Christmas,” Silver Dollar City will be open Thursdays through Sundays from November 2 through December 23, plus Wednesday, Nov. 24, and from December 26 to 30. Hours are 1 to 9 p.m. most days, with extended hours on Saturdays. The park will be closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
In the town of Branson, every stage is set for Christmas and every entertainer comes gift wrapped in holiday glitz. Some theaters, including those featuring Jim Stafford, Presleys’ Country Jubilee and the Baldknobbers, present their regular shows for half the evening, and go to a Christmas theme after intermission. At his theater, Shoji Tabuchi sets the Christmas mood early on with elves tumbling down tinsel ropes hanging from the theater’s ceiling. A master entertainer, Tabuchi intersperses his violin renditions with dazzling—and even comical—dance acts.
At the Hughes Brothers Theatre, there are two Christmas shows. One called AYO features a trio of siblings who use their magnificent voices and polished choreography to entertain and at the same time, touch heartstrings. In the second show, the Hughes Brothers and their families—boasting the largest family cast in Branson—create memorable holiday entertainment with vocal harmonies, toe-tapping dances, rousing tones from various instrumentals, and dozens of Hughes children decorating the stage. “We’ve always had a Hughes baby for our live Nativity scene,” Marty Hughes says. Beside the Nativity, Santa (perhaps Papa Hughes?) explains the symbols of Christmas.
The Duttons, SIX, and the Haygoods also produce shows with a family cast. While numerous Dutton children delight audiences with their talents, their parents—the Dutton siblings—dance, sing, and perform symphony-quality music on numerous instruments. Dominique Haygood brings his audiences to the brink of tears with his rendition of “Mary, Did You Know?” while his brothers and sister, Catherine, switch tempos for fast-paced dancing and fiddling, intertwined with family harmonies. SIX has no need for an orchestra; they make their own with unbelievable musical sounds. Up and down the Branson strip, show after show celebrates the most wonderful time of the year with top-notch talent and sensitivity to the holiness of the season.
In Branson at all seasons, there is something for every visitor’s taste—from the magic of Kirby Van Burch to the aerial performances and gravity defying feats of the Chinese Acrobats to the Russian humor of Yakov Smirnoff. Legends in Concert hosts tributes to musical icons, and the Redneck Tenors juxtapose classically trained operatic voices against the zany antics of three Texas rednecks.
Showboat Branson Belle offers a festive celebration of the holiday season with an early winter cruise on Table Rock Lake, a delicious dinner, and an outstanding stage show. Cruises are scheduled in November and December through New Year’s Eve, excepting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Dixie Stampede creates a merry Christmas with a live nativity complete with three kings atop camels. Because Christmas is a magical time, Dixie also presents a new musical fantasy, “The Magic of Toys,” highlighted by a stunning aerial display set to music of the Nutcracker. Show times through November and December are 5:30 and 8 p.m. with select matinees at 12:30 and 3 p.m. For the cowboy at heart, Shepherd of the Hills hosts “Christmas on the Trail Chuckwagon Dinner Show” at the Shepherd of the Hills Pavilion Theatre. Lights illuminate the Southwest Missouri area with a special drive-through trail at Shepherd of the Hills, featuring animated scenes.
Each visitor’s idea of celebrating Christmas comes together at Branson. For adventuresome souls, Branson Zipline Canopy Tours at Wolfe Creek Preserve offers a soar through the Ozarks woods on guided canopy tours. During November and December, the tour traverses a series of ziplines, sky bridges and platforms, ending with a seat around a campfire with hot cider and snacks. Tours are daily through December 31.
Christmas in Branson is fun…magical…a place for families to gather. Yet, along with the glitter, the smell of gingerbread mixed with evergreens, and “Merry Christmas” on everyone’s lips, the true Spirit of Christmas shines in every venue.
Arline Chandler is a writer who lives in Heber Springs, Arkansas.
IF YOU GO:
Branson and its surrounding area have numerous accommodations for RVs, including at privately owned campgrounds, Table Rock State Park, Indian Point U.S. Army Corps Park (open through October 31), a city-owned park on the shores of Lake Taneycomo, and several membership resorts. Many are open until mid-December and reopen in March.
ABC Campground, winner for consecutive years of the “Welcome Mat” award from the Good Sam Club, hosts a Thanksgiving dinner in its pavilion. All guests are invited to join their family and staff in celebrating the holiday. Wilderness at Silver Dollar City remains open until December 31. Numerous parks in Branson offer the Good Sam discount to members.