Making Memories Through Christmas Traditions

When I was a new mom, one of my biggest joys was starting our own Christmas family traditions. My husband and I knew we wanted to incorporate some classic traditions, such as overpriced pictures of our kids crying on Santa’s lap and attending our local tree lighting ceremonies, but we also wanted to make the lead-up to the holiday our own by incorporating certain pre-selected events and activities to attend year after year. 

Thankfully, finding ways to make memories through family traditions is simple in Frisco and surrounding areas. There is no shortage of Christmas spirit- or holiday-themed events in our area, and you don’t have to travel far to find a spectacular North Pole or outdoor ice-skating rink, even in the Lone Star State. There are many ways to bring our families together this holiday season, to either create new traditions or continue traditions that have been passed down through families for generations. 

A local DFW location popular with families during the holiday season is NorthPark Center in Dallas. Each November, the upscale shopping center transforms into a Winter Wonderland worthy of Santa himself. Local Frisco resident and mom of two, Shelby Jones, along with her husband, Ben Jones, began taking their family to NorthPark Center when their children were young, a tradition they have continued for several years. 

Mrs. Jones says that their family enjoys spending a whole day exploring all the Christmas and holiday events and sights at NorthPark, and they always take out-of-town holiday visitors to see the impressive displays and performances there. She says that while it is a bit of a drive from their home in Frisco, it is well worth it to spend an entire day reveling in the Christmas spirit at NorthPark Center. Each year, the Sights and Sounds of the Season delight foot traffic with daily performances from local dance groups, choirs and orchestras, leading to a constant hum of holiday music and energy filtering through the center. In addition to these performances, adults and children alike love the daily performances of the Scrooge Puppet Theatre, which has been bringing Charles Dickens’ famous characters to life through master puppetry for 40 years. Camp Gingerbread is another NorthPark holiday favorite of Dallasites, where families purchase and decorate seasonal gingerbread cookies, the proceeds of which benefit Shared Housing Center. This year, Camp Gingerbread will be presented as a take-home gingerbread cookie kit.

According to Mrs. Jones, the best part of visiting NorthPark Center during the holidays is the overwhelming sense of nostalgia and timelessness a visit brings. Beginning in November, NorthPark is decorated floor to ceiling with traditional twinkle lights, oversized garland and towering Christmas trees, focusing on a classical Christmas aesthetic, though kids will love the larger-than-life depiction of LEGO Santa and traditional Christmas villages will delight shoppers of all ages.

In this nostalgic vein, the Jones family’s favorite Christmas event at the center is Trains at NorthPark. A long-running favorite Dallas holiday tradition since 1987, Mr. Jones remembers attending Trains with his family as a child. He now continues this generational tradition with his own family of four. At the Trains at NorthPark exhibit, you will find many local Dallas locations and landmarks on a miniature scale, with toy trains running throughout. Mrs. Jones says that her family loves spotting and identifying the local mini landmarks, such as the Dallas skyline and Reunion Tower, as they browse the exhibit. She says that Trains is a great way to engage with her children in a fun and meaningful seasonal environment. A former middle-school teacher, she also can’t pass up the learning opportunities Trains provides, teaching her children about our North Texas region as well as about her hometown in West Texas, whose miniature vistas are also on display. Proceeds from the exhibit benefit Ronald McDonald House of Dallas (RMHD).

There is something for everyone at NorthPark Center during the holidays, from classic seasonal decor and the most realistic Santa in the area to entertaining performances and interactive holiday experiences. The drive slightly south of Frisco is well worth the time and effort during the holiday season.

But Dallas isn’t the only holiday entertainment destination in the Metroplex. The neighboring city of Grapevine is the self-proclaimed Christmas Capital of Texas, a well-deserved title. Each year, historic downtown Grapevine is bedecked with millions of twinkle lights and holiday decorations, each storefront more elaborately decorated than the last. The Christmas Capital celebrates Christmas for a solid 40 days, with events ranging from the drive-through Carol of Lights experience to the nightly Christmas Spectacular and showings of classic Christmas movies at the Historic Palace Theatre. 

One of the most beloved Grapevine Christmas traditions is the North Pole Express, a train ride experience along the Grapevine Vintage Railroad that mimics the classic Chris Van Allsburg 1985 children’s book, The Polar Express, and the animated movie of the same name starring Tom Hanks. Presented by Great Wolf Lodge, the North Pole Express pulls out all the stops to make the train ride magical for all guests. 

Ashley Miller, a Frisco resident and mom of two, shared her family’s experiences aboard the North Pole Express. One day each year, after reading The Polar Express together, the Miller family dresses in matching pajamas (mom and dad, too) and make their way to Grapevine to begin their North Pole adventure. The family arrives early to have plenty of time to stroll through the snowy North Pole Forest, replete with Christmas decor and photo ops galore, before boarding their holiday-bedecked train car.   

Along the ride, children and adults alike enjoy a special time full of Christmas spirit and holiday cheer, from a sing-along with the elves and Mrs. Claus to having their train tickets punched by the conductor, just like in The Polar Express. Mrs. Miller says that seeing her daughter’s face light up as she makes the connection between the beloved book and movie come to life on the North Pole Express makes her whole holiday season. The Millers also enjoy the novel experience of traveling on a vintage 1920s train while snacking on pre-packaged Christmas cookies as part of the ticketed experience. 

The Grapevine North Pole Express is trying something new this year. In place of the traditional Branson-esque variety show at the end of the line, this years’ experience will culminate in the bequeathal of a “We Believe” silver bell from Santa to all the children, along with a keepsake photo with St. Nick himself. The children will also get to revel in Santa’s presence for the entirety of the train journey this year, rather than only a cameo at the end.  

No matter how you spend the lead-up to the holidays this year, time with family and friends is key to making lasting memories and traditions, and there is no shortage of family-friendly holiday activities to try in DFW. Trains at NorthPark Center runs from November 14 through January 3 this year and you can find information on the other NorthPark Christmas experiences at NorthParkCenter.com. The Grapevine North Pole Express runs on select dates November 27 through December 23, and the Christmas Capital of Texas promises 1,400 events in the 40 days leading up to Christmas. Grapevine Christmas details can be found at GrapevineTexasUSA.com. 

A little closer to home, Frisco will be hosting Radiance! a Holiday Light Spectacular at Dr. Pepper Stadium this year. Brought to you by the same production company that creates ICE! at Gaylord Texan Resort, the drive-through Radiance! experience will run November 11 through January 3. Details and tickets can be found at RadianceChristmas.com. 

Amy Kryzak is a wife, mom and blogger who loves connecting fellow moms, food in all shapes and forms and loves all things Frisco.

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