Do you yearn for an old-fashioned faith-based Christmas like we enjoyed before "Happy Holidays" became the politically correct Christmas greeting? Christmas in a place where the Golden Rule is still observed and the birth of the Christ child is celebrated as the reason for the season?
Located in the heart of the American Midwest, Branson, Missouri celebrates Christmas as its fifth season. This friendly Ozark town of 10,000 observes Christmas from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31. The entire town gets into the act with extensive decorations, seasonal music, live shows and activities.
A highlight of Branson's Christmas season is the Adoration Parade which begins with lighting a nativity scene with 8.5-metre figures on a mountain top. The parade celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ with marching bands and floats winds through the downtown historic district.
Live shows galore
During the last 20 years, this friendly Missouri town has morphed into a major music and family entertainment destination with more than 100 different live shows performed in 50 theatres. Country is no longer the only game in town. Visitors from all over the globe enjoy bluegrass, gospel, folk, ballads, rock, TV show themes — and yes, two full months of Christmas music.
It's easy to meet the stars in Branson, and many performers welcome the opportunity to shake hands, pose for photographs and sign autographs. Branson's live shows and entertainment venues tend to be family friendly with clean humour.
Dozens of theatres all around Branson stage Christmas shows. At the Andy Williams Theater, his legacy continues with a beautiful holiday tribute by the Osmonds and Lennon Sisters. The stage is filled with a talented cast of singers and dancers in magnificent costumes, live reindeer and the incredible sounds of the Moon River Orchestra.
Silver Dollar City attractions
Silver Dollar City, a popular circa 1880s theme park in the Ozark hills, pulls out all the stops to celebrate An Old Time Christmas throughout its 100 acres. Twinkling lights, themed displays in the streets, a five-storey musical Christmas tree, craft demonstrations and a plethora of professionally staged shows including Living Nativity, A Dickens' Christmas Carol and It's a Wonderful Life welcome visitors.
Shops galore purvey made-on-site bakery, candy, ice cream and craft items ranging from jelly to hand-blown glassware, pottery and furniture. Besides incredibly good food, service in Silver Dollar City eateries exudes genuine warm Ozark hospitality.
After dark, Rudolph's Holly Jolly Christmas light parade is performed twice each evening. The gala parade generates smiles and sparking eyes on kids of all ages with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Friends, lighted musical floats and colourful costumed characters.
The Showboat Branson Belle, a 700-seat authentic paddle wheeler, cruises Table Rock Lake in Branson. As servers deliver delicious meals from the on-board galley, talented performers delight guests with song, dance, magic tricks and acrobatic thrills.
That's not all. One of Branson's best known attractions is The Shepherd of the Hills Historic Homestead and Old Mill Theater. Their Christmas attraction is Trail of Lights, a four-kilometre drive-through animation winding through the historic 160-acre homestead. Visitors travel through a variety of different scenes, each with its own theme, from fantasy to religious to patriotic.
As the grand finale to the journey, visitors stop at Inspiration Tower to ride glass elevators up 70 metres for a Santa's eye view of the lights.
On select dates in November and December, families can create magical memories aboard the Branson Scenic Railway on the Christmas Polar Express.
At the Titanic Museum, visitors walk through a re-creation of a first-class stateroom and the grand staircase, as well as sit in a lifeboat and feel the icy ocean water. Inside and out, Titanic's Christmas and Winter Celebration is magical. Come exchange greetings with the jolly Titanic crew or enjoy the glittering lights and the festive Edwardian decorations.
In early December the music department at College of the Ozarks presents a free band and hand bell choir concert. Visitors also can treat themselves to a Renaissance-style dinner while being entertained by a concert performed by talented students.
Branson's live shows and family-friendly ambiance attract millions of visitors each year. Lodging options range from budget hotels and B&Bs to familiar chains such as Hilton and Marriott, to upscale resorts.
Andy Williams was right: Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year! Get more Branson information from www.explorebranson.com or 1-877-BRANSON.