As adults, it’s often hard to compete with the Christmas memories of our childhood. Growing up in Van Buren, Arkansas, several traditions tripped my excitement meter to the bursting level. Some of those things included the day the city started putting decorations up on the street lamps in downtown, the day we drew names for the gift exchange in our classroom and the day we saw the three Wise Men decked out in blue lights walking against the Arkansas River. Mix those few traditions with the smells of mom baking pies, the special scheduled events, surrounded by family, and my young heart was thrilled.
At 30 years old, I found a new home in Branson, MO. There are many things I remember about the first time I saw an Ozark Mountain Christmas, but most of all, I remember how I felt. That was nearly half my life ago, but every November 1st, I am reminded about the first time I felt a Branson Christmas.
In 1948 with a population of just over 1300 people and very few phone lines in town, the city of Branson held its first-ever Adoration Parade. Different organizations, clubs, and churches in the community came together, built floats out of tissue paper and crepe paper, and walked through downtown in celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. The decision was that for this parade, no one person or business would be highlighted but that every float would focus on celebrating Jesus Christ. There’s no way that a small group of citizens could’ve predicted the feeling they would create and how it would spread over five generations and throughout the entire city.
The population of Branson is just now over 10k, and it was 1996 before every home was able to get a private phone line. It’s amazing that such a small group of people create such a colossal holiday transformation. What used to be a weekend-only event for four weeks is now all week for nine weeks. Each year Christmas begins on November 1 and runs through December 31. The buildings decorate inside and out, the music switches to holiday medleys, the costumes change, and you can feel Christmas everywhere you go. The individual businesses create their version of decorations and theming, but it all seems to end up with a holiday emotion that you want to bottle up and take home.
Several places in town still embrace Christmas spirit to another level.
The 28 foot Adoration Nativity sits on top of Mount Branson just above the Branson Landing and can be seen from most of downtown. In February of 2017, a devastating tornado roared through the little town damaging the nativity. The community pulled together to replace this iconic piece, and it never missed a season. Each year on the first Sunday in December, it is lit to kick off the Adoration parade and sits as a reminder to keep Christ as the center of our celebrations.
Silver Dollar City presents a precious Christmas moment as they transform their train ride. The steam locomotive is decked out in holiday lights filled with passengers singing carols while the train chugs through the dark hills. Surrounded by woods in the darkest part of the hills, the train comes to a complete stop and turns off its lights. A single spotlight shines on a grandparent sitting in a rocking chair. No explanation offered; he begins to read from the book of Luke in the bible, and as he shares the story of the birth of Christ, as different elements of the event appear spotlighted in white light. The pure and simple story, as read by a grandparent, is touching and one that most people remember from their childhood.
“The 20-minute train ride during Christmas at SDC is a magical moment to experience. Our family loves the music and learning about the birth of Jesus. Our hearts leave warmed and ready for the true reason for the season.” Thena, HodgePodge Hippie
The Sight and Sound Theatre presents The Miracle of Christmas. The producers do a fantastic job of mixing acting, speaking, and music to share the story leading up to and including the birth of Jesus Christ. You will feel like one of the entourage as you travel from Bethlehem to Nazareth with Mary and Joseph and all of the live animals. Then your heart will sing as the shepherds, and wise men appear for that miraculous moment.
The Hughes Brothers Christmas Show is one of the very few performances in town that is Christmas from beginning to end. The first half of the show is all about family traditions and musical treasures. The second half starts with a handbell choir that sings and moves to the sound of the bells. Santa immediately follows by saying, “Teach the children the true meaning of Christmas.” The rest of the show is Santa presenting the symbols of Christmas and how they all lead back to Jesus Christ. The Hughes family sings and dances their way through the story until it leads to the birth of the Christ child. Then angels Harold in the birth with a real baby as the newborn Savior.
“Christmas in Branson is magical! October 31 may be Halloween, but in Branson, Christmas lights turn on the very next day and stay on through December 31. It’s the craziest of times as the busiest season in Branson unfolds. I as a theatre owner and mother & grandmother of the “world’s largest performing family” have to deal with a daily boatload of managerial tasks and huge stacks of paperwork. I feel overwhelmed, but when the music drifts up to my office I can not resist following it. I sit down in the auditorium and I’m immediately spellbound by what is happening on stage —and I look around at the faces of our audience and see that they are enchanted too. Once again our show has captured the true essence of Christmas and as I stand by the door and thank people for coming, they clasp my hands and say things like “this was an amazing experience—it was truly magical!” I am now rejuvenated and say to myself, “It was truly magical—people are changed. This is why we do this,” “ shared Miss Lena Hughes, The Hughes Brothers Theatre
The residents of Branson and those that visit all seem to have the same experience. It’s just that special feeling.
“I’ve always got a tear in my eye as they’re doing their finale because I never want that experience and an almost indescribable feeling of warmth, love, and family to end.” shared Gina from Illinois.
Experience Christmas year-round in the 9000 square foot Kringles Christmas Shop at the Grand Villages. Holiday cheer fills all your senses as you stroll through the 125 themed Christmas trees listening to Christmas Carols and letting your memory skip down memory lane. There’s a nativity, ornament, or collectible to fit every personality on your Christmas list.
“The Kringles Christmas shop in Branson feels comfortable and warm.” Ava from Missouri.
The Stone Castle Hotel & Conference Center on selected dates during the Christmas season, late in the evening when the guests have returned from the day of Branson adventures, they gather in the Christmas hall for storytime and a kiss goodnight. Each night a different Branson entertainer reads a different Christmas story while the guests young and old drink hot wassail and eat sugar cookies. This bedtime tradition is very touching and is never the same two nights in a row.
I hope you know the feeling. The one where people are just a little kinder, they open doors, smile and make eye contact, share a table at a crowded restaurant and say Merry Christmas as a greeting. The feeling you get when you hand your kiddos coins to put in the red kettle, purchase extra toys and clothes for someone you don’t know or take can goods to the local food pantry. I love the feeling I get for the nine-week Christmas season. It never gets old!