Stories from Alaska

An insider's journey through Alaska's best kept secrets

Celebrating the Winter Holidays: Alaska-Style

All Alaskans love an excuse to celebrate. Whether in small crowds or large, whatever the season, from festivals to family gatherings, these moments of community, joy and togetherness are especially prevalent during the holiday winter season each year.

Alaska is a true winter wonderland and it becomes something of a real-life ‘tis-the-season-to-be-jolly snow globe of activity when the holidays roll around. As much as the holidays are about close-to-home, tried-and-true traditions for many, the festive season also spells exploration and exhilaration for adventurous travelers. If you, your family, or your travel besties fall into the latter category and are always on the hunt for unique holiday destinations, you should consider jingling all the way across Alaska.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Homes, businesses, parks, trees, local landmarks and even a few mountainsides across the state are draped with dazzling holiday lights. Spend a day in a coastal town and you’re sure to see boats decked out with holiday lights, as well. Fireworks are often part of community holiday events (Winter Solstice in Fairbanks and New Year’s Eve in Anchorage to name just two). Anchorage goes big with its fireworks with concerts located downtown, and that’s especially exciting for Alaskans missing the excitement of longer days spent under the Midnight Sun. And the holiday season is of course, prime time for the skies to come alight with one of nature’s greatest gifts: the big bright dancing northern lights.

The cute hamlet of Girdwood, its downhill skiing community hosts a Torch-Light ski down Mt. Alyeska on New Year’s Eve that is a holiday sight to behold and is closed out with a ring-in-the-New-Year fireworks show. Skiers and snowboarders go down the hill in formation carrying flares in a spectacular and beautiful display of lights.  Following the parade, you can sit back and enjoy a hot drink while watching the fireworks display.

A Great Time to Visit – Alaska’s North Pole

While the weather outside is cool, Alaskan hospitality is warm, welcoming and filled with cheer. There’s even an Alaskan town called North Pole, just south of Fairbanks in Alaska’s Interior, which embodies the Christmas spirit and is where the Santa Claus House, its famous resident, and some of his reindeer can be found. Seriously! You can drop off a letter to Santa in their post box and you’ll even get sent a reply from Santa! During November and December, the Santa Clause house goes into overdrive and offers hot drinks to all visitors. North Pole also hosts the annual Christmas in Ice event. Next door in the parking lot, there are ice sculptures and slides, a maze and indoor kids crafts for all to enjoy. The perfect way to celebrate all things “Holiday”!

The Alaska Railroad’s Holiday Train

The Alaska Railroad offers a few rides for the holidays: for families with young kids, the short-and-sweet Holiday Train is packed with Christmas carolers, Santa and plenty of activities; and an amazing multi-day itinerary drawn up by Alaska Tours features a scenic trip from Anchorage along Cook Inlet to Girdwood and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, followed by a trip aboard the Aurora Train from Anchorage to Fairbanks, which has non-stop on-the-train views of Alaska’s incredible winter landscapes. While the Alaska Railroad Holiday Train is not operating this year, in 2021, due to the pandemic, there are off-the-train activities at cultural centers in both towns, and visitors traveling to Fairbanks can plan a stop at North Pole’s Santa Claus House.

Winter Solstice in Fairbanks

Outdoors, every community has its own iconic holiday activities, from reindeer sleigh and dog sled rides, to ice skating, downhill and cross-country skiing, sledding, and more. One quaint event is the Winter Solstice Walk at Creamer’s Field in Fairbanks when daylight hours dwindle to just over three!

Local Festivals – Shopping for Alaska Artistic Finds – Caroling – Culture

If you’re truly looking to treat yourself for the holidays, the large lodges across the state, in urban and off-the-grid locations, are wonderful places to spend a few quiet winter nights. There’s nothing like spending the day playing outdoors in Alaska’s winter followed by an evening of sipping warm drinks near an even warmer fireplace.

And if your idea of holiday travel includes filling your sack with gifts for those back home, the many seasonal markets, bazaars, fairs and festivals in most of state’s towns are where savvy shoppers find Alaska-made crafts, super snacks and fascinating knick-knacks that make perfect presents for everyone on your list … and for treating yourself with a travel keepsake. There are also plenty of performances of holiday music, too, from cute youth choirs to precise professionals. Museums and cultural centers are also excellent places to find special Alaska gifts and the holiday spirit of lights and fine arts.

Popular restaurants around the state offer their takes of holiday meals, many menus packed with Alaska-harvested and Alaska-inspired items, in advance of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve – just heat and eat! Don’t have the space? Lots of the same restaurants are open on holidays to serve folks without places to party and those who simply want to enjoy a classic holiday meal and menu without the clutter or cleanup.

With so many wonderful winter experiences to see and enjoy, maybe spending the holidays in Alaska can become one of your new traditions!

All Alaskans love an excuse to celebrate. Whether in small crowds or large, whatever the season, from festivals to family gatherings, these moments of community, joy and togetherness are especially prevalent during the holiday winter season each year.