They say it's never too early to celebrate Christmas, and I know it’s debatable since I'm one for celebrating after Thanksgiving, but it's a whole different experience when you visit Branson, Missouri.
I only caught a glimpse of the holiday cheer this weekend, after receiving an invitation to attend a media preview of “An Old Time Christmas” at Silver Dollar City. A high school friend, who serves as the senior publicist at Silver Dollar City, informed me about the event, and I was grateful for the opportunity to experience a longstanding Christmas tradition with other small-town journalists and freelancers.
When I stepped onto the amusement park grounds, I immediately felt a festive vibe from the giant wreath encircling the entrance. The decorations and the lights were beautiful, especially the Christmas midtown section of the park. We enjoyed a dinner upstairs at the Mill Restaurant, which included a salad, ham, yams, green beans and stuffing. For dessert, we had a choice between pumpkin pie or cheesecake.
After the dinner, we traveled to Center Street to see Rudolph’s Holly Jolly Christmas parade. This is definitely something the kids will enjoy as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer leads the way of nine lighted floats and finishes off with Santa Claus on his sleigh. Following that, we enjoyed two original musical productions of "A Dickens Christmas Carol" and "It's A Wonderful Life." My favorite part was the new eight-story, state-of-the-art Christmas tree. It was synced to music and the lights flashed with animations of angels, bells and candles.
The next day, we took a bus to the Branson Centennial Museum and Dick's 5 & 10 store. The Branson Centennial Museum provides a rich history of Branson and features rotating exhibits and a small gift shop with the largest selection of local books in Taney County. Dick’s 5 & 10 is one of the last of an American tradition and a Branson icon for over 55 years. It offers a variety of unique gifts and souvenirs. As soon as I walked into the store, I was overwhelmed by the trains running overhead, the selection of novelty trinkets and candy (including candy cigarettes). I talked to Steve Hartley, the son of Richard L. "Dick" and June Hartley, who asked me about my experience after I shopped. I told him I was impressed by the items they offered and fascinated about their family history. It’s amazing to think how much time and effort the family has put into running a store like this and still draw customers in with novelty gifts and a friendly environment.
After shopping, we traveled to the Branson Belle Showboat for their Christmas show. On the way, the tour guide spoke about Branson’s brightest and most unusual Christmas tree displays. Of its 56 major Christmas tree displays, each one brings an interesting feature that families can appreciate. For example, the Hilton Branson Convention Center’s vintage trees include three vintage wine bottle trees up to 10 feet tall. Ripley’s Believe It Or Not has a 26-foot tree made entirely from plastic eyeballs. If you’re going for traditional trees, you'll like the Dolly Parton Stampede’s Christmas tree and others similar in style.
From the experience, I enjoyed seeing Christmas from the eyes of Branson residents. I know it’s not about lights and Santa Claus or things like that, but the attractions, the performers and the representatives of Silver Dollar City still stayed true to the message of Christmas — Jesus Christ and his birth. You also get a family-oriented atmosphere when you visit the attractions, and everyone is open and friendly. That's why I highly recommend making a trip to Branson for the holiday season, if you’re ever in the area.