BRANSON, Mo. — Only in Branson does the Christmas season begin the day after Halloween.
Twenty-five years ago, Branson nearly shut down after the trick-or-treating holiday until the spring season. But now, November is Branson’s second biggest month, city officials say. October gets top honors, with December not far behind.
November is boosted by the recent Veterans Week, which has become one of Branson’s biggest tourist weeks for military reunions, as well as Thanksgiving’s family reunions. And the busloads of mostly senior citizens flock into Branson in October and November.
Theme park Silver Dollar City’s three biggest days of the year are the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving and the first Saturday in December.
November also gets a boost, thanks to Christmas shows at Branson’s nearly 50 theaters (with more than 50,000 seats), along with holiday events at theme parks, shopping areas and other attractions.
In addition, a blanket of holiday decorations and miles and miles of twinkling lights have also been drawing crowds to the Branson area for Ozark Mountain Christmas. Silver Dollar City alone has 5 million LED lights with a five-story talking Christmas tree. Last year, holiday revelers drank 80,000 cups of hot wassail and chocolate as they watched the park’s Main Street Light and Sound Show.
The following are other major attractions with holiday themes:
Even though he died last year, Andy Williams’ presence is still felt in Branson at his namesake Moon River Theater. Williams — known as Mr. Christmas in Branson — always said that Christmas was his favorite time of the year. The saying still goes that “It’s not Christmas until Andy Williams says it is” was repeated many times on a recent visit.
At a tree lighting in his memory on Nov. 1, his widow Debbie helped commemorate her late husband’s love of the season with a holiday tree to be planted on the grounds of the theater. Performing at his Christmas Show this year are the Osmonds and the Lennon Sisters, both groups Williams had on his TV show and in his theater many times. The Osmonds paid homage to him by singing Williams’ signature “Moon River,” which he referred to as his “favorite Christmas song.” Through Dec. 7.
Silver Dollar City
Silver Dollar City presents perhaps Branson’s best-known holiday event — An Old-Time Christmas — in which more than 5 million lights and 1,000 decorated Christmas trees draw guests from across the United States. In addition to the lights and trees, productions of “A Dickens’ Christmas Carol” (with 15 actors and a live band) and a musical retelling of the Living Nativity (with a cast of 11 actors) are included in the ticket price.
Last year, a second Broadway-style show — “It’s a Wonderful Life” — adapted from the Frank Capra classic, premiered at a cost of $1 million and 14 actors. The lines were long at both shows even through they are presented five to six times daily.
The theme park recently was highlighted as one of the top Christmas celebrations by USA Today, People magazine, CNN Travel, “Good Morning America,” AOL Travel, Yahoo Travel and MSN.com and spotlighted in the Wall Street Journal and named the “USA’s Best Holiday Light Show” two consecutive years by America’s Best Online. The Travel Channel named it “The Most Illuminated Park on Earth!” while Amusement Today ranked it “One of the Top Christmas Events in the World.”
Other activities include a holiday light parade in the park at 6 and 8 each evening, a five-story special effects Christmas tree with 350,000 lights, a 17-foot Christmas tree that talks, sings and interacts with children, and the Christmas comedy “Frontier Fa-la-la Follies” at the saloon.
The Midwest Living Culinary & Craft School offer classes throughout the holiday season on such topics as “Mistletoe Magic” to “The Holiday Breakfast Club.” Children can have breakfast with Santa on weekend mornings.
Christmas fans can still ride the park’s new extremely popular $10 million wood rollercoaster Outlaw Run. Through Dec. 30.
The Titanic Museum Attraction is celebrating the holiday as it was during the Golden Age of sea travel in 1912. The replica grand staircase is decorated with evergreens and colorful bulbs, as is the rest of the ship along with Edwardian-style decorations and costumed merry-makers.
“Every day we remember and honor the men, women and children who sailed on Titanic, but this is especially so during the holidays. You’ll truly experience what a Titanic Christmas voyage might have been like 101 year ago,” explains owner John Joslyn, who led the first private expedition dive to the Titanic.
A Fantasy Princess will greet children starting Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas. Daily, except Christmas Day.
Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede features a live Nativity scene (complete with three camels, sheep and a donkey) and friendly competition between horse riders representing the North Pole and South Pole. The stampede’s 32 horses are still the feature event.
The menu remains the same for its Christmas dinner — a four-course menu featuring rotisserie chicken and barbecue pork loin eaten without utensils much to children’s delight and some grown-ups. The Christmas show in the 1,100-seat arena continues through Jan. 4. The new season opens in February.
Showboat Branson Belle
Showboat Branson Belle’s singer-dancers combine new and old Christmas favorites (backed by a four-piece orchestra), along with a patriotic finale. Other entertainers include violin-playing aerialist Janice Martin in a performance of “The Nutcracker Suite,” fiddler Dean Church and pianist Julie McClarey-Davis.
Also included is a three-course meal of salad, beef roast and glazed chicken and lemon berry torte. Through Dec. 31.
Festival of Lights
The Branson Area Festival of Lights, a 2.5-mile drive-through trail of holiday lights and displays is a must-see. Through Jan. 2.
Shepherd of the Hills
Shepherd of the Hills Trail of Lights on West Highway 76 is another drive-through Christmas event of lights, sound and motion. A Chuckwagon Cowboy Supper with Christmas music and stories also is available at Shepherd of the Hills through Dec. 23; the lights-only display closes Jan. 2.
If you have to choose one light display, go for the one at Shepherd of the Hills. It’s very impressive. The Vigilante Extreme ZipRider takes participants on a 50 mph trip through the Trail of Lights through Jan. 11 and reopens Feb. 14.
Shoji Tabuchi’s Christmas Show
Shoji Tabuchi’s Christmas Show features the Japanese violinist extraordinaire arriving on stage in a four-poster bed dropped from the ceiling as he dreams about the holidays, with dancing Santas-in-Training, reindeer wearing Hawaiian grass skirts and coconut tops and pudgy penguins.
During the two-hour show, he changed sequined jackets nearly 10 times while adult daughter Christina added a number of holiday songs and a bell choir performed. Through Dec. 11.
Jim Stafford Christmas Show
Jim Stafford Christmas Show, which features the veteran entertainer joking with the crowd and playing his guitar. Through Dec. 12.
Hughes Brothers Christmas
The Hughes Brothers Christmas has been awarded the title of Best Christmas Show by Bransonshowawards.com for several years, so it was natural to attend. The five brothers and five wives show off their 35 children in the show that features Santa Claus explaining the symbols of Christmas. Through Dec. 21.
The Texas Tenors, who were finalists on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” a few seasons ago, did a few Christmas songs in their excellent show. The classically trained trio drew multiple standing ovations for their vocal talents. Through Dec. 5.
A non-Christmas show is Daniel O’Donnell’s, which is a yearly Branson staple during November and early December. Many of his easy-listening country shows were sold out when his run began Nov. 1.
Soon after his engagement began, two busloads of British/Irish tourists arrived to support him. Because his show is at the Andy Williams Moon River Theater, he also sang “Moon River” in honor of “my good friend Andy Williams.” Through Dec. 7.
For more information on Christmas show times and prices, contact the Branson/Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and Convention and Visitors Bureau at 1-800-214-3661 or online at www.explorebranson.com.