Enjoy Holiday Merriment Safely in the Tennessee River Valley

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The Tennessee River Valley Mapguide invites guests to celebrate the holiday season safely in the seven-state region with dramatic displays of lights, fresh air and beautiful scenery.

Rickwood Caverns State Park welcomes all ages for a magical experience that celebrate the sights and sounds of Christmas and the natural beauty of the cavern.

While the holidays may look a little different this year, the Tennessee River Valley invites guests to enjoy a safe, socially distanced getaway while taking in the fresh air and festive lights.

The Tennessee River Valley loves to celebrate Christmas and every year, the many attractions, historic places, parks, and resorts gear up for the holiday season with fanfare, lights and other forms of merriment. Twinkling, colorful lights are thought to lift spirits and help spread holiday cheer, but as COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Christmas celebrations will be different. The Tennessee River Valley has compiled a list of places to visit and enjoy the spirit of Christmas while remaining safe and socially distanced.

“While the holidays may look a little different this year, the Tennessee River Valley invites guests to enjoy a safe, socially distanced getaway while taking in the fresh air and festive lights,” said Julie Graham, spokesperson for the Tennessee River Valley Stewardship Council.

One of the region’s largest Christmas light displays to be seen is the Grand Rivers Festival of Lights featuring over 1.5 million twinkling lights. The lights throughout the town are visible daily after dusk through the first weekend in January. Known as the village between the lakes, Grand Rivers, Kentucky is the northern gateway to one of the United States largest national outdoor recreation areas, The Land Between The Lakes, with plenty of wide open spaces to explore before taking in the lights.

The Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center is offering festive events for families to enjoy together. During the Christmas in the Village, living history interpreters act as guides through the holiday-adorned historic Appalachian Village filled with handcrafting demonstrations and craft stations, allowing visitors to connect with the spirit and history of Townsend, Cades Cove and the Great Smoky Mountains. Dates are Dec. 12th and 19th with tours beginning at 5 p.m. until 8 p.m. Admission charged.

On Friday, Dec. 11th at 7 p.m., the Heritage Center will host a special acoustic concert by GRAMMY award-winning artist Billy Dean in the amphitheater as part of its Christmas in the Village events. General admission tickets are $50 per person and each ticket provides access to the candlelight tours of the historic Appalachian Village prior to the show.

The town of Paris, Tenn. welcomes guests each year to its quaint downtown area for the holidays with the Downtown Christmas Festival set for Dec. 12th. The festivities get underway at 10 a.m. and guests are treated to visits with Santa, a synthetic ice-skating rink and a 30-foot Snowzilla Jr. slide.

While enjoying the sights and sounds of Christmas in Paris, warm up with a stroll through the Festival of Trees in the Old 5 & 10 Event Center. This popular attraction is open now until Dec. 16. Built in 1874, this historic space has been lovingly refurbished and is filled with joyfully decorated Christmas trees. For more information on the historic building, visit https://www.paris5and10.com/.

Norris Dam State Park joins in on the festivities with its Holiday Homecoming set for Dec. 12th at 6 p.m. The event features a walk through time discovering old time traditions representing Tennessee holiday homecomings in the local region. Celebrations will take place on the east side of the park where the rustic cabin area transforms into a winter village of festivities for the holiday season. There will be live animal demonstrations, historical depiction of Appalachian life, old time music and holiday treats. The walk is approximately one mile and guests are encouraged to dress warmly and to bring a flashlight.

The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum located in Townsend celebrates the holiday season with Smoky Mountain Christmas on Dec. 12th and 19th from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. The event will feature the sights and sounds of Christmas highlighting an outdoor garden railroad display. Artisans will display their handmade arts and crafts for sale and Santa will make an appearance. Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum is a local history museum telling the story how the town of Townsend started plus insight to the formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/LittleRiverRailroadTownsend. The event is free and is weather permitting.

Take in the holidays from the safety of a car during the Galaxy of Lights at the Huntsville Botanical Garden. Galaxy of Lights is a magnificent 2.5-mile-long holiday light extravaganza featuring larger-than-life animated light displays. The lights are on from now until Jan. 2 from 5:30 until 9 p.m. Pre-purchased tickets, available at https://hsvbg.org/galaxy/, are $23 per vehicle (limit of 10 passengers).

More than 2 million lights transform Arab (Ala.) City Park into a magical, over-the-top display of merriment and holiday splendor. Christmas in the Park is open now until Dec. 31st from dusk until 9:30 p.m. (weather-permitting). Admission is free. For more information and a schedule of entertainment for Christmas in the Park, visit https://www.facebook.com/christmasintheparkarab/.

Santa in the Park adds to the holiday excitement when the Arab Historic Village, adjacent to the Arab City Park, is transformed into Santa’s village. Festival-goers can stop by the gristmill and pick up food for the reindeer, watch as the blacksmith makes reindeer shoes at his shop, visit with Santa Claus, enjoy a train ride, find their way out of the ice maze and enjoy a cup of hot chocolate. Hours for Santa in the Park are 6 to 9 p.m. (weather-permitting) Dec. 11-12 and Dec. 18-19. Admission charged.

In celebration of Christmas, the Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman turns its grounds into a dazzling display of lights with the second annual Christmas at the Grotto. Founded in 1891, the Ave Maria Grotto is located on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine monastery of men in the State of Alabama. The Grotto consists of a landscaped hillside of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of the creative genius, Brother Joseph Zoetl, O.S.B., a monk of the Abbey for almost 70 years. A two-block pathway winds beside these miniature buildings, passing in front of a large cavern-like grotto (Italian word for cave) on the lower level of the hillside. Dates for Christmas at the Grotto are Dec. 10, 11, 12, 17, 18, 19 (12 p.m.-9 p.m.), 26, 30 and 31. Hours are 4 p.m.-9 p.m. (unless otherwise noted). Admission charged.

One of Huntsville’s most beloved holiday events, Santa’s Village, returns this year but with a twist due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020 edition of Santa’s Village is called Ten Nights of Santa and is held indoors at the EarlyWorks Children’s Museum Dec. 13 - 23 starting at 5 p.m. each night. (Admission charged.) The reimagined program offers several safety-inspired twists, including Santa visiting with children while being protected by “Santa’s Magic Snow Globe.” Due to an accidental spill of magic elf dust at the North Pole, Santa gets confined in a magic snow globe. However, the jolly old elf is determined that his confinement will not impact his ability and desire to meet with children and spread Christmas cheer.

Rickwood Caverns State Park celebrates the holiday season with a magical underground experience like no other. Wonderland Under Warrior welcomes guests for a unique experience that celebrate the sights and sounds of Christmas and the natural beauty of the cavern. Visitors come to see over 100,000 twinkling lights and to walk the lighted path among the stalactite, stalagmites and other unique geological formations. Dates and hours are December 9-13 and December 16-30 (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. Admission charged.

Save holiday trip ideas and plan a trip easily with the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, an online guide of authentic places and adventures that have been recommended by locals. For more information, visit https://tennesseerivervalleygeotourism.org/. Due to social distancing rules and regulations, locations may be temporarily closed or have modified hours. Please call to confirm hours of operation before traveling.

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