By Mark Cox
'Tis the season for fa la la la la in the Mile High City, so don we now our ugly sweaters and deck the halls at these fabulous holiday festivities.
WHEN: Through Jan. 21
Every holiday season, hundreds of thousands of sparkling lights transform downtown Denver, from LoDo to Civic Center Park. Start at Denver Union Station, which this year debuts a 40-foot-tall tree with more than 7,000 lights. Then, make your way up the 16th Street Mall to take in the lights of Skyline Park, the D&F Clock Tower and Larimer Square. The crown jewel, as always, is the colorful City & County Building, which will remain lit through Jan. 21. Denver’s holiday lights are an impressive spectacle, bringing together multiple stakeholders as part of a larger promotional drive to attract visitors, says April Schofield, marketing specialist at Metropolitan State University of Denver. “Denver has successfully positioned itself as a vibrant and diverse place where urban sophistication meets outdoor adventure,” she says.
WHEN: Through Dec. 23
Looking for a venue where you can do all your seasonal shopping while also munching on delicious festive fare? Check out the Denver Christkindl Market on the 16thStreet Mall for holiday fun inspired by the traditions of Germany. You’ll find a treasure trove of gifts – including traditional toys, handmade jewellery and warm clothing. Hungry? Choose from a mouthwatering selection of traditional German dishes (knödel, anybody?) and wash it down with a hot spiced wine or a Bavarian brew. Then, work off all that bratwurst dancing to the musical acts featured inside the heated festival tent. Das ist gut!
WHEN: Through Jan. 1
The Denver Botanic Gardens Blossoms of Light transforms the 24-acre property into a sparkling winter wonderland filled with spectacular illuminations, animated sculptures and interactive light displays. But of course, the real secret weapon here is Denver’s climate, which makes a winter evening outdoors feasible. As Schofield explains: “Denver’s great weather means venues such as the Botanic Gardens can host outdoor events year-round. No wonder the ‘300 days of sunshine’ statistic is so proudly shared on the city’s website.”
WHEN: Through Feb. 3
“Our fabulous winter weather makes the city look like a Christmas postcard,” Schofield says. And what could be more like a postcard than the image of people ice skating right in the middle of downtown? The Skyline Park Ice Rink is free to use if you bring your own skates (or you can rent a pair for a few bucks), plus there’s a packed program of activities for kids. Feeling more ambitious? Beautiful Evergreen Lake is also opens for ice skating through March 3, and you can even show off your figure eights on your way out of town at the DEN Plaza Skating Rink at DIA, open through Jan. 6.
WHEN: Through Jan. 2
Yee-haw! Get into the holiday spirit by shopping and then hopping in the saddle for a ride on the Denver Pavilions Holiday Carousel. This popular ride is perfect for families, since there’s space for everyone to go around in merry circles surrounded by the twinkling lights. Quick tip: The Carousel costs $3 per ride, but if you shop or dine at any Denver Pavilions business, you’ll get a voucher for a free ride. And on Dec. 27, all rides are free – no purchase required.
WHEN: Through Jan. 6
During the Denver Zoo’s 28th annual Zoo Lights celebration, more than 2 million bulbs illuminate 70 acres. This menagerie of light and nature promises to leave kids of all ages utterly mesmerized. Expect illuminated animal sculptures swinging through trees, scurrying across lawns and hiding in dark corners – and, of course, Santa sightings are frequent. Be sure to buy tickets in advance, because as Schofield points out: “These holiday experiences are huge economic drivers for outdoor venues that are traditionally considered spring or summer destinations.”
WHEN: Through Dec. 24
St. Nick will be quite busy around the Mile High City this holiday season, so here’s what you need to know to find him. The Jolly Old Elf is welcoming young and old, alike, to Santa’s Village at Chatfield Farms where you’ll also enjoy reindeer, hayrides and amazing holiday light displays. Closer to town, daredevil kids can take a magical sleigh ride at Santa’s Flight Academy, based in the Cherry Creek Shopping Center, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus will also be regularly bringing joy to the chichi set at Larimer Square. Kris Kringle shows his adventurous side at the Downtown Aquarium, where kids can enjoy breakfast with Santa before watching him dive with the fishes (Dec. 15, 16, 22 – 24).
WHEN: Through Dec. 24
Just how popular is Colorado Ballet’s annual production of “The Nutcracker?” Well, for starters, this will be the company’s 58th consecutive year running the ballet in Denver. And it was recently voted the best-loved “Nutcracker” production in the country. So yeah, it’s pretty popular. With jaw-dropping performances and live music performed by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, this is one of the most beloved Denver traditions.
WHEN: Through Dec. 24
Theatregoers in Denver are spoiled for choice during the holiday season – there is a huge selection of Christmas shows to choose from. But our pick is “The Santaland Diaries,” a twisted little gem based on comic writer David Sedaris’ side-splitting account of his time working as an elf at Macy’s in New York. Forget goodwill to all men – this is more like a blizzard of grumpy complaints, horrible customers and boozy Santas. Raucous and hilarious fun, and suitable for naughty grownups only. FYI: The bar opens 30 minutes before showtime.
WHEN: Dec. 31
Ring in the New Year at Denver’s best dance party downtown on the 16th Street Mall. The spectacular New Year’s Eve Fireworks show goes off at 9 p.m. and midnight, so you don’t have to stay awake late to enjoy the fun. Best of all, the pyrotechnic display is synced to music played by DJs along the mall, so you can bust some moves in time to the bangs and whizzes.
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MSU Denver Office of Marketing and Communications, 303-556-2957