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Exploring Christmas in warmer climes

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Canadians might cringe and reflexively shiver at the sight of falling snow, but in other parts of the continent they dream of a white Christmas.

The last time Marshall, Tex., had a white Christmas was 1986. It brought joy to their world, with families rushing outside to make tiny little snowmen before they melted away. Even though the wintry scene was short-lived, it planted seeds to celebrate the season in a bigger way.

Texas and Louisiana have teamed up annually for more than a decade to roll out the Christmas red carpet. Six cities in two states have teamed up to create the Holiday Trail of Lights, featuring themed activities and, of course, lots and lots of Christmas lights.

The tour begins with a bang in Shreveport and Bossier City, two Louisiana metropolises separated by their own Red River. They co-host Rockets Over the Red on the first Saturday in December, lighting up the sky with a flurry of fireworks synchronized to music.

Outside town, the American Rose Centre — the nation’s largest rose park — boasts 118 acres, 20,000 roses and 60 individual gardens. Christmas at Roseland features four million twinkling lights and dozens of giant holiday cards made by local students. With hot apple cider in hand, starry sky overhead, and the sweet sounds of Anne Murray’s White Christmas drifting over the sound system, it almost felt like home —except for the fact we were riding around in an open golf cart in December, with no snow in sight.

Next stop on the trail was Natchitoches, a French colony founded in 1714 which is also Louisiana’s oldest permanent settlement. European-flavoured Natchitoches comes alive during the holidays with 45 days of Christmas Festival celebrations that draw 500,000 visitors annually.

Over in Texas, Kilgore was the centre of the East Texas oil boom in 1930. At one time, Kilgore boasted 1,200 oil derricks within the town site, the densest concentration of oil derricks in the world, earning the title of the ‘World’s Richest Acre’. Today, more than 80 derricks still dot the skyline, topped with stars and decorated during holiday season.

The best thing about Christmas in Kilgore is the Mt. Kilgore Snow Hill. For one weekend in December, a team of snowmaking professionals from Colorado spend hours shaving gigantic blocks of ice so people can experience downhill tubing on a real snow hill. The fun begins Friday night and runs through Saturday afternoon. After that, they hose it all down, and the snow hill is but a memory.

Marshall, Tex., trumps downhill tubing with real live ice skating. Since 1987, Marshall has featured a holiday extravaganza called Wonderland of Lights. Known as the ‘Granddaddy of Texas Lighting Festivals’, the official ceremony sparks more than 10 million glittering lights.

The pride and joy of Marshall’s winter festival is an actual outdoor skating rink. They build it using a system of coils, sand, water, freezing agents, and a little holiday magic. It operates for six full weeks, with 1.5 hours of uninterrupted skating in between 30-minute periods of mandatory maintenance required to groom the ice. It’s a lot of effort, resulting in a little something special.

RoseAnna Schick is an avid traveller and music lover who seeks inspiration wherever she goes. To her nothing beats a wonderfully snowy Christmas. Email her at rascreative@yahoo.ca  

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