When we think of festival season in the Southeast, we tend to think of spring or fall. But winter has its charms, and there are a variety of special events throughout the region that either embrace the season’s chilly temperatures or seek ways to warm things up. Here are eight reasons to quit hibernating and hit the road over the next couple of months.
The tale of Ralphie and his quest for Santa to bring him a BB gun in the classic holiday movie “A Christmas Story” comes to life in life-sized interactive ice sculptures at Gaylord Palms Resort & Convention Center in Kissimmee, Fla. Iconic scenes such as the triple dog dare, the Old Man’s major award and more are hand-carved from 2 million pounds of ice. Other frosty attractions include five two-story ice slides for tubing, the Frostbite Factory featuring live ice-carving demonstrations and an ice Nativity. In addition, kids can have their pictures made with Santa, visit the gingerbread decorating corner, watch the live “Mrs. Claus’ Christmas Traditions” show, and participate in a Build-a-Bear workshop. Through Jan. 6. $14.99-$28.99. Gaylord Palms Resort, Alpine Village, 6000 W. Osceola Parkway, Kissimmee, Fla. 407-586-4423, marriott.com.
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Located on the banks of Cane River Lake, Natchitoches is the oldest city in Louisiana. Every year it celebrates Christmas with a host of events. The high point is the 92nd annual Christmas Festival, which takes place Dec. 1 and features daylong festivities, including a 5K run, parade, musical performances, arts and crafts, food vendors and choreographed fireworks. The event is part of the 2018 Festival of Lights, which runs through Jan. 6 and features 300,000 Christmas lights, visits with Santa’s live reindeer, kids events, entertainment, photos with Santa, living history tours and more. Admission to events ranges from free to $10. natchitocheschristmas.com.
Experience an underground winter wonderland and visit with St. Nick at Ruby Falls in Chattanooga, Tenn. Take the secret passage to the North Pole to see Santa. Visit the glittering ice cave, the Penguin Palace and the Sugar Plum Fairy Village. Mine for joystones and get a keepsake geode. While there, take a guided tour of the caverns. Noon-8 p.m. Thursday-Sunday Dec. 1-9, daily Dec. 13-23. $16.95, includes a digital photo with Santa. Cavern tours $11.95-$19.95. Ruby Falls, 1720 S. Scenic Highway, Chattanooga, Tenn. 423-821-2544, rubyfalls.com.
Hank Williams famously died in the wee hours of New Year’s Day in 1953. In his honor, the Hank Williams Museum in Montgomery, Ala., hosts Midnight in Montgomery starting at 8:30 p.m. Dec. 31 with storytelling and a musical performance by Jason Petty, who portrayed Williams in “The Lost Highway” on Broadway. At 11:30 p.m., the party decamps for Oakwood Cemetery Annex to usher in the new year at Williams’ gravesite. On Jan. 1, a wreath-laying ceremony will be held at the gravesite at 10 a.m., followed by a lunch of black-eyed peas and cornbread at the museum and musical entertainment with Mary Battiata and Pat Rance. Dec. 31-Jan. 1. $25 for both days. $10 for New Year’s Day only. Hank Williams Museum, 118 Commerce St., Montgomery, Ala. 334-262-3600, thehankwilliamsmuseum.net.
What better way to kick off 2019 than by noshing on fresh roasted oysters and washing them down with craft beer in the company of thousands of your very best friends in Charleston, S.C.? Hosted by the Charleston Restaurant Association, which claims it’s the biggest oyster festival in the world, the event features oyster-eating and oyster-shucking contests, live music, a children’s play area and a food court serving cuisine from a variety of local restaurants. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Jan. 27. $17.50-$25, plus $2 a piece for food tickets. $100-$125 VIP ticket includes access to VIP tent and unlimited food and beverages. Boone Hall Plantation, 1235 Long Point Road, Charleston, S.C. 843-853-8000, charlestonrestaurantassociation.com.
The four-day winter festival culminates with the costumed Polar Plunge in Chetola Lake on Jan. 26. But the festivities start Jan. 24 with the WinterFeast, a restaurant crawl under one roof featuring small plates prepared by 15 local restaurants. Afterward enjoy the Post Feast Party with cash bar, live music and dessert. Other festivities include a bonfire, s’mores, live music, storytelling, a dog show, a fashion show, ice carving and a beer garden. Jan. 24-27. $40 for WinterFeast; $35-$40 for Polar Plunge. Chetola Resort at Blowing Rock, 185 Chetola Lake Drive, Blowing Rock, N.C. 1-800-243-8652, blowingrockwinterfest.com.
Celebrate the architecture of Miami at Art Deco Weekend Jan. 18-20. Presented by the Miami Design Preservation League, the three-day festival revolves around a multitude of themed tours of Miami’s celebrated Art Deco district, including walking tours, bike tours and boat tours. But that’s just the beginning. There are more than 85 events, including a dog show, retro fashion show, classic car show, kids activities, live entertainment, musical performances and lectures. The majority of festivities take place along Ocean Drive between Sixth and 13th streets. Jan. 18-20. Free. 11th Street and Ocean Drive, Miami, Fla. 305-672-2014, artdecoweekend.com.
Get four festivals in one at Winterfest Arts & Coach Tour. Festivities begin with a Preview Party Feb. 15 at the Sautee Nacoochee Center. Then on Feb. 16-17, visitors can hop on and off a coach tour through the North Georgia mountains, with stops at the Helen Arts & Heritage Center, the Sautee Nacoochee Cultural Center, Unicoi State Park and Hardman Farm Historic Site. At each site, peruse arts and crafts by a total of 150 artisans. Feb. 15-17. Preview Party $15-$20. Coach tour and raffle ticket $10. Free parking at Sautee Nacoochee Center, 283 Ga. 255 N., Sautee, and Unicoi State Park, 1788 Ga. 356, Helen. winterfestartstour.org/.