When strings of colorful lights are hung and “Santa Baby” starts to play on the radio and over store intercoms, you know Christmas is near. The holiday has always been a time of celebration and connection, and for most people, that is especially meaningful this year.

Whether you’re a Christmas connoisseur or you leave decorating and planning to the pros, this holiday can be one way of ending 2020 on a good note. It’s a time when communities come together as one and appreciate the fact they can do so.

Plenty of charming towns become enchanting Christmas cities during December. Characters come to life, Santa and Mrs. Claus pay visits, competitions begin, and festive towns become travel destinations. Here are five Christmas towns where you can take a stroll downtown and embrace the magic of Christmas.

Noel

Since the 1930s, Noel has been known around the world as the Christmas City, a pretty large feat for a town of less than two thousand people. It’s situated on the Elk River, and the peaceful town is actually pronounced as if it rhymes with mole, but most people from out of town prefer to refer to it as No-el, as in another word for Christmas. And when December 1 hits, the locals do, too.

During the ’30s, Noel’s postmaster came up with the idea to send letters with the Noel postmark. It quickly gained popularity and became an international practice. Each year, thousands of letters and Christmas cards are mailed and dropped off at the Noel Post Office during the holiday season. They are then sent around the world with the special Noel postmark. There are three decorative stamps. One is a red wreath, another is a green Christmas tree, and the final one reads “Noel.” The cards are sent from all over the world.

“We get them from France and Germany, and I know we’ve got them from China and Taiwan,” Lynn Howerton, officer in charge at the Noel Post Office, says.
In recent years, the numbers of cards being sent to Noel have slowly declined, but Lynn says there are still between twenty thousand and thirty thousand sent each year. In the past, it was between forty and sixty thousand.

To receive the Noel postmarks, package up your Christmas cards, and address them to:
Postmaster, Noel, MO 64854. Volunteers work in the post office from Thanksgiving to Christmas Eve.

“It’s still a decent amount,” Lynn says. “Just not as many people send cards out anymore.”

The post office has fifteen to twenty volunteers to help stamp the cards and send them on their way. In addition to the postmarks and an annual Christmas Parade, City Marshal Randy Wilson plans to have festive lights on every street, contests, and multiple weekends of events for the citizens of Noel to enjoy.

“Last year, we had the biggest turnout for participation than there has been in I don’t know how long,” Deby Hopping, city clerk at Noel says. “People are just ready for it.”

In 2018, there were ten floats in the parade. Then in 2019, the number of floats more than doubled to twenty-five. This year, the organizers plan to expand the kids Christmas pageant and find the perfect Mr. and Mrs. Claus for children to meet. Deby is also working toward having a Christmas train stop in town every year.

“We have a vision to really see it expand and grow with each year,” Deby says.

Learn more at 4Noel.com.

Lee’s Summit

Downtown Lee’s Summit becomes even more eye-catching with thousands of lights on display. The train depot at Howard Station Park, above, also lights up for the holiday season.

More than 500,000 lights and 175 animated figures glow at Jackson County’s Christmas in the Park from November 25 until December 31. It’s the perfect way for families to enjoy the sparkling lights while still staying warm and cozy inside of their car. The downtown, which has more than sixty retailers and restaurants, also showcases thousands of lights during the holiday season to create a picturesque setting. The downtown holiday lights run from November 20 until January 1.

“Traditionally, the Mayor of Lee’s Summit flips the switch the Friday before Thanksgiving, lighting the heart of our community,” Donnie Rodgers Jr., executive director of Lee’s Summit downtown, says.

The suburb of Kansas City has close to 100,000 residents. The holiday traditions have been going on for more than thirty years and have been passed down from generation to generation.

“Downtown Lee’s Summit feels like the quintessential holiday hometown,” Donnie says. “All the shop windows are decorated, the trees lit for blocks. With a little snow, it almost feels like walking onto a Hallmark holiday movie set.”

Starting the first week of November, a Holiday Open House is hosted for the downtown retailers. Here you will find gift and decorating ideas and classes taught by business owners.

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, Small Business Saturday is celebrated, where you can support places like A Thyme For Everything where cooking classes are offered and Ivy & Sparrow, a trendy home decor shop. Plus, browse clothing and jewelry boutiques, food and drink spots, and specialty shops to find the perfect gift for everyone on your shopping list.

Learn more at CityOfLS.net.

Warrensburg

Warrensburg completely transforms during Christmas. Local artists decorate store windows, strings of glowing lights are spiraled around poles and trees, vendors roast chestnuts on open fires, and shopping specials kick off the holiday season. Santa Claus makes an appearance on his perfectly decorated sleigh.
On the first Friday of December, the Holiday Parade goes through town featuring Santa and the local car club. Santa visits with kids and collects the letters they write to him, too.

After the Holiday Parade, the large live tree in front of the downtown courthouse gets lit, making it the perfect place for Christmas photo ops.

Carolers singing holiday classics during the Dickens Christmas celebration include, from left to right, Miriam Rheingold-Fuller, Christina Kitson, Suzy Latare, Cindy Holmberg.

The first Saturday in December is also an eventful and traditional day. Dickens Christmas is celebrated by the community. Father Christmas arrives on Amtrak to begin the event. There are horse and wagon rides, carolers, art, live music, and more to keep all ages entertained. Watch the Tiny Tim’s Soup Competition where more than ten chefs compete. Or drive around the city and see who decorated their home best during the annual light competition held for residents.

Learn more at Warrensburg-MO.com.

Hermann

Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through Missouri’s most charming German town. If there happens to be snow on the ground, you might think you’ve transported into a scene from your favorite Christmas movie. During the four weekends leading up to December 25, traditional celebrations are held with the seventeenth annual Lantern Parade and Tree Lighting Ceremony kicking them off the weekend after Thanksgiving.

Shoppers from all around the state visit Hermann during the holidays.

Weihnachtsfest is a traditional Christmas celebration held during the first two weekends of December. The free event is held inside of the Pommer-Gentner House and offers traditional German cookies, plus information on how German immigrants’ Christmas traditions like the Christmas tree became American traditions.

If you want to see German-inspired crafts and gifts, Hermann is the place to be. The Christkindl Markt at Hermannhof showcases dozens of local artisans, including candle makers, weavers, ornament makers, and bakers. On December 5 and 6, Stone Hill Winery hosts its Kristkindl Markt under the heated pavilion. Enjoy wine, crafts, soups, and seasonal souvenirs.

Hermann Wurst Haus.

Walk on East First Street and stop inside of Hermann Wurst Haus, a German butcher shop, where a Christmas tree is decorated with homemade sausage links—packed and ready to be purchased. Or get your caffeine fix at Espresso Laine on Schiller Street. Its Christmas celebrations commence the Thursday before Thanksgiving, with an open house that starts at 6:30 am. Seasonal coffees are featured and can be sampled along with homemade scones. Some of the popular Christmas coffees include the Winter Wonderland, a coconut, vanilla, and pecan coffee, and the Peppermint Mocha. There’s also a sale on all of the nonelectric toys in the shop, and a tree on its back patio.

“Hermann is always magical,” Lainee Landolt, owner of Espresso Laine, says. “And Christmas makes it even better.”

To wrap up your Christmas in Hermann, take the Holiday House Tour to see four homes decked out in holiday decor and experience the small-town joy shared by everyone.

Learn more at VisitHermann.com.

St. Charles

For more than forty-five years, St. Charles has been a premier Christmas City in the Show-Me State. Every year, the day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of Christmas Traditions where there are parades, storybook characters coming to life, carolers, evolution of the Christmas tree exhibits, and an old-fashioned celebration. The holiday events are held every Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until Christmas Eve.

“As you walk along the brick-lined streets and you see the gas lights, you really feel like you are in a Victorian town,” Festival Director Ryan Cooper says. “It’s beautiful that you get to transport yourself into a place where you don’t really need to suspend your disbelief when you see Ebenezer Scrooge or a vortex of carolers. In your mind, you say that’s absolutely valid because the setting looks like a place where those people would be walking around in real life.”

Ryan started working with Christmas Traditions in 2006 as a character, which he still does, too. The magical setting has made him return every year with more enthusiasm than the last.

There’s plenty of entertainment during Christmas at St. Charles, including the Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps.

“It uses the same formula that it has for four decades where it’s all about transporting people back to that Christmas of yesteryear and that feeling of nostalgia,” he says.

Each Saturday and Sunday kicks off with a Santa Parade. This is a perfect time to see all characters at once, including a plethora of international Santas. If you want something out of the ordinary, visit on Wednesdays and Fridays when Krampus Karnival is celebrated. This is when some of the more creepy but still family-friendly traditions of Christmas are showcased with trolls, skeletons, and of course Krampus, a half goat and half demon from European folklore, who takes over Santa’s spot at the Train Depot.

“When you come here, we allow you that moment that with all the stress going in your life, especially looking from a 2020 perspective how there have been a lot of big changes and a lot of scary things that have happened, an event like Christmas Traditions allows people to just forget all of that for a moment,” Ryan says. “It allows you a chance to escape.”

Peek inside some of the many small shops and sing along to traditional songs performed by more than five caroling groups.

“When the final day comes, we can’t wait for the next day after Thanksgiving so we can do it all over again,” Ryan says.

Learn more at DiscoverStCharles.com.

Photos //  Dorothy Burg, Dorothy Louise Photography, The Greater Saint Charles Convention & Visitors Bureau, Marc Henning, Summit Video Services, Warrensburg Main Street, Corin Cesaric