ICE! slide at the Gaylord Texan Resort
Photo Courtesy of Gaylord Texan Resort
At first glance, they might seem to share nothing more than the beginning letter in alphabetical listings and a home-state border. But these two neighboring states’ towns—Guthrie in central Oklahoma and Grapevine in central Texas—have a great deal in common when it comes to knowing how to throw spectacular, travel-worthy holiday parties. Sitting on the outskirts of larger metropolitan centers—Guthrie lies 32 miles north of Oklahoma City, while Grapevine is only 22 miles from the Dallas–Fort Worth area—both towns are steeped in pioneer traditions and history, and both have made it their mission to paint their respective towns red and green during the month of December.
Guthrie: Holiday Time in the Territory
Guthrie sprang to life in 1889 with the opening of a land run that allowed pioneering settlers to stake pre-statehood claims in what was once-unassigned Indian Territory. That settlement opportunity resulted not only in the sleepy community’s overnight rise from tumbleweed town to boom town but also in its elevation to Territorial Capital—a status it retained until 1910, when the state’s government moved to its present-day seat in Oklahoma City. In the following decades, Guthrie residents would, once again, struggle to redefine their town’s identity.
Photo Courtesy of Julie Ayers
By the close of the 20th century, however, Guthrie was well on its way to realizing the town’s historic potential. Residents set about reclaiming the architectural treasure-trove of Victorian and Edwardian-era buildings that their ancestors had willed to them. Today, that legacy has earned Guthrie a spot on the National Register of Historic Places for having “the largest contiguous historic district” in the country. And, for more than 20 years, Guthrie has showcased its downtown district’s charm and pioneering history during the annual Territorial Christmas celebration.
Guthrie’s Territorial Christmas kicks off this year on November 25 with an opening-night parade that culminates in the tree-lighting ceremony and is led each year by a resident designated to serve as the festival’s honorary “Territorial” Governor. Two Victorian Walk evenings, hosted December 9 and December 16, also highlight the month-long Christmas party, giving visitors a chance to step back in time to the strains of fiddlers and carolers dressed in their Victorian best. Or window-shop “living history” tableaus where costumed townfolk reenact scenes from Guthrie’s nostalgic heyday, a time when families might gather around parlor hearths and pianos to share stories and songs as they celebrated the season. Or simply sample a piping-hot cup of wassail while strolling Guthrie’s brick-lined streets.
The Historic Homes Tour, held December 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., provides a more intimate way to experience Guthrie’s Victorian grandeur. The focal point of the tour is the town’s 1902 Carnegie Library, which, along with an assortment of homes and churches, is bedecked in seasonal greenery to welcome visitors. (Admission is $15 for adults; children tour free.)
Pollard Theatre Company's A Territorial Christmas Carol
Photo Courtesy of Pollard Theatre Company
Also rounding out Guthrie’s Christmas festivities is the Pollard Theatre Company’s A Territorial Christmas Carol, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic that has become a Territorial Christmas staple. Set during the opening days of the Land Run of 1889, the company’s 20th-anniversary production runs from November 24 to December 23 in the troupe’s historic 1901 building (which once served, among other incarnations, as a local funeral parlor). Another not-to-be missed Territorial Christmas tradition is the December 17 Christmas Organ Concert, performed in the lavish Scottish Rite Masonic Center.
For more information on A Territorial Christmas, visit guthriesterritorialchristmas.com.
Grapevine: The Christmas Capital of Texas
If you’re looking for a winter wonderland set deep in the heart of the Lone Star State, look no further than Grapevine. Centrally located between Dallas and Fort Worth, this historic town with a population of about 46,000 might never have been the official capital of Texas, but it nevertheless takes its role as the state’s Christmas capital seriously—so seriously, in fact, that the town trademarked its designation as the Christmas Capital of Texas.
Photo Courtesy of The Grapevine Convention and Visitors Bureau
And, if Grapevine is any indication, it must be true that “everything’s bigger” in Texas. In the state’s Christmas Capital, you’ll find 1,400 holiday events jam-packed into 40 days of celebration. Yes, that’s right: 1,400—someone took the time to count them!
You can start crossing off your Christmas bucket list at Great Wolf Lodge’s Snowland from late November through New Year’s Day, when the resort’s lobby is transformed into a winter wonderland featuring twinkling lights, decorated trees and artificial snow showers just beneath the hotel’s second-floor water park, which is kept at a balmy 84 degrees Fahrenheit year round. After a dip (or a slide) in the water, guests can retire to one of the lodge’s Snowland Suites—decorated to the nines with Christmas trees, lights and garland—where turndown service includes a pre-bedtime Santa-worthy Christmas snack of milk and cookies.
Great Wolf is also famous for the North Pole Express train excursions it operates in conjunction with Grapevine Vintage Railroad from November 24 to December 23. After boarding the seasonally decorated train at Grapevine’s Historic Cotton Belt Depot, passengers are entertained on a 40-minute ride along the Cotton Belt track with Christmas songs and stories before reaching their destination: a fantasyland North Pole set in a snow-covered forest scene, where the man-dressed-in-red magically appears to welcome visitors to his Christmas spectacular.
Great Wold Lodge, Grapevine
Photo Courtesy of Great Wolf Lodge
Santa sightings abound in Grapevine, but at the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center, it’s ice—in all capitals—that reigns supreme. During the holidays, the resort boasts more than two million pounds’ worth of hand-carved ice sculptures and five ice slides for its signature holiday festival: ICE!, presented November 10, 2017, through January 1, 2018. Snow tubing, lighting displays and a 52-foot-tall rotating Christmas tree provide backdrops for this over-the-top extravaganza featuring a festive crew of characters, including singing cowboys, stilt walkers and, of course, Mrs. Claus and Santa. (Advance tickets, ranging in price from $16.99 to $39.99, are available from the resort’s website.)
Craving something with a little more holiday punch? No worries. Once you’ve tucked the children off to the land of sugarplums, you and yours might find one of Grapevine’s Christmas Wine Train and dinner-for-two excursions, running between November 30 and December 14, just the holiday escape clause you’ve been looking forward to checking off your wish list all year long. At $45 per person, the two-hour Cotton Belt train ride features a multicourse dinner accompanied by two glasses of wine produced by local vintners.
Other holiday attractions include concerts such as The Gentlemen Trio’s Finding Christmas and Forever Young’s new A Forever Young Christmas show; holiday-themed movies screened at Grapevine’s Historic Palace Theatre; and extravagant lighting displays throughout Grapevine’s Main Street shopping district. Of course, all that barely scratches the surface. With 1,400 holiday events already counted, Grapevine does more than live up to its Christmas Capital title.
For more information on the Christmas Capital of Texas, visit grapevinetexasusa.com/Christmas-capital-of-texas.
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of AAA World.