Christmas in the Southwest

The Annual Lighting of 6,000 Luminarias

The holidays in the Southwest are a distinctly unique experience. Instead of snowmen and roasted chestnuts, we have cactuses adorned with energy-efficient lights, a boat parade and luminaria lightings inspired by Old World Mexico. Here are nine events from Phoenix to Henderson, Nevada – and everywhere in between ­– that will help you get in the holiday spirit.



35th Annual Christmas Boat Parade of Lights

Put on a sweater and gather along the shores of Lake Havasu in the far western corner of our state for London Bridge Yacht Club’s 35th Annual Christmas Boat Parade of Lights. The parade happens Dec. 1 and Dec. 2 at 6:30 p.m. This year’s theme is Light the Way. Upwards of 50 boats of every size festooned in all manner of lights and decorations will parade up and down Bridgewater Channel with picturesque London Bridge in the background. Last year, the boats boasted live music, giant snowmen and even Santa Claus and his reindeer. Businesses on the shoreline around the bridge are equally as decked out for the holidays, giving this desert oasis some serious Christmas charm. Awards are handed out for best decorations during a brunch ceremony on Dec. 3. Thousands of spectators gather on and near London Bridge, Rotary Beach, Windsor Beach, the English Village and London Bridge Beach, so be prepared to stake out your spot early. (Note: There are several restaurants along the channel that boast parade views, too.) A thermos full of hot cider is highly recommended.

35th Annual Christmas Boat Parade of Lights
422 English Village in Lake Havasu at Bridgewater Channel. Dec. 1 and 2, 6:30 p.m. Free. or 928-486-4159.

63rd Annual Christmas Courthouse Lighting

Prescott long ago deemed itself Arizona’s Christmas City with a lineup of holiday events that includes the 35th Annual Prescott Chamber Christmas Parade and the 63rd Annual Christmas Courthouse Lighting, both happening Dec. 2. The parade takes place in downtown Prescott at 1 p.m. – this year’s theme is A Cowboy Christmas – while the courthouse lighting happens at 6 p.m. in Courthouse Plaza. Prescott’s charming courthouse is all aglow and surrounded by a central Christmas tree as well as dozens of other lit trees. Get in the spirit before the lighting with live music starting at 5 p.m. The plaza remains lit until Jan. 14, 2018. The Christmas fun continues Dec. 8 with the Acker Musical Showcase, aka Acker Night, when more than 100 musicians perform in shops in downtown Prescott from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.

63rd Annual Christmas Courthouse Lighting
120 S. Cortez St. in Prescott at Courthouse Plaza.
Dec. 2, 6 p.m. Free. or 928-445-2000.

Ethel M Chocolates Holiday Cactus Garden

Nevada’s Ethel M Chocolates was founded by Forrest Mars Sr. of Mars candy company. When Forrest retired, he moved to Henderson, and in 1981 he established a new chocolate company named in honor of his mom. He planted a small cactus garden outside the factory, and for the past 24 years, the garden has been decorated for the holidays. It has since grown to 3 acres and includes more than 300 species of cactuses and desert plants. The plants are adorned with more than one million lights for the holidays, a precarious decorating job that takes landscapers more than six weeks to put up and six weeks to take down. (The head landscaper says he has to replace his gloves every couple of days after working with the spiny plants.) The holiday garden also offers photos with Santa, hot chocolate, choirs, holiday music and a chocolate tasting experience ($15). More than 250,000 people visit the garden each November and December. There’s a certain romance to strolling through the plants, which is why the lights return each year around Valentine’s Day, so if you miss it this month, mark your calendars for February.

Ethel M Chocolates Holiday Garden
2 Cactus Garden Drive in Henderson, Nevada.
Now through Jan. 1, sundown until 10 p.m. (8 p.m. Dec. 24-Dec. 31);
closed Dec. 25. Free. or 800-438-4356.

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