Welcome to the winter wonderland of 2020, where Santa visits are virtual or behind a mask and interactive kids' activities have been nixed until next year. Still, there's a lot that's merry and bright this year, as organizations and venues work to make the season special for kids even amid all the safety regulations. A lot of the traditional excitement is still happening, such as Zoo Lights and the Polar Express train ride. But other events will look different: The Nutcracker won't be live, and one theater is putting on a radio show you listen to at home. And for still other events, you'll stay safe in your car.
However you decide to celebrate, give one of these events a try; you'll be supporting the arts while letting the kids experience some holiday magic.
Blossoms of Light at the Denver Botanic Gardens
Through January 16
1007 York Street
Get a dose of pure beauty and holiday magic at the annual light display at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Tickets run $16 to $21 and are available now through January 16. The venue is keeping admission numbers low, and there are no interactive components this year — but there is plenty to marvel at as you walk the path through the illuminated gardens. Take a break near the end of the trail and purchase treats such as gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, hot cider and soup from on-site Hive cafe. Keep in mind that masks are required at all times for those ages three and up — which isn't so bad given the chill that usually graces the season.
Arvada Center's A Child’s Christmas in Wales
November 30 through December 27
If ever there was a good time to bring back an old-school form of entertainment, this is it. Enter the radio special, something that used to be all the rage before television. This production of A Child's Christmas in Wales by the Arvada Center is different than the usual telling of Dylan Thomas's classic story. Actress Emily Van Fleet adapted the piece for audio drama, and guests can order tickets online starting at $10 on a pay-what-you-can scale. Once you have tickets, listen to the play and be transported to holidays in the country through the eyes of ma child, all on your own time and with the whole family. Then listen again, as often as you want, through December 27.
Christmas in Color
Through January 3
Water World, 8801 Pecos Street
Bandimere Speedway, 3051 South Rooney Road
Choose to visit Bandimere Speedway or Water World for a drive-through Christmas-light experience that involves no contact save for the party in your car. Tune in to a special station to hear holiday music that's synchronized to the lights, so while you drive slowly through the dazzling colors, the lighted features (toys, trees, candy canes) dance along. Feel free to sing, too: No one but your family will hear that off-tune rendition of "Jingle Bells." Purchase tickets online now through January 3 for $30 per car; reservations are required.
Colorado Ballet's The Nutcracker
Starting November 26
For the first time in sixty years, there will be no live production of The Nutcracker from the Colorado Ballet, but that doesn't mean there won't be a Nutcracker to see. In fact, this year the showing is free; all you need is a television and access to Rocky Mountain PBS. The ballet airs at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day, and again on November 27 at 3 p.m.; December 18 at 9 p.m.; December 19 at 1 a.m.; December 24 at 7 p.m.; and December 25 at 12 a.m. And if you have extra to give, consider "paying" for this showing by supporting the Colorado Ballet, which like many nonprofits, is hurting for funds because of the pandemic.
I Love Christmas Movies at Gaylord at the Rockies
Through January 3
6700 North Gaylord Rockies Boulevard, Aurora
There have been a lot of protocols put into place at this massive hotel to make this year's Gaylord holiday fete take place, which is themed around Christmas movies. The interactive exhibit showcases scenes from National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Elf, Polar Express and more. There's also snow tubing, ice skating, gingerbread house kits and snacks for purchase. As at many other venues, you must purchase tickets online and in advance. Be aware that there are limited spots because of social distancing measures, masks are required, and the whole movie exhibit is meant to be mostly touchless. The program runs through January 3, and tickets start at $13.99 for kids and $24.99 for adults.
Mile High Tree
Through January 2, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturdays, 5 to 8 p.m. Sundays
16th Street Mall at Welton Street
Last year the Mile High Tree debuted downtown in front of the Denver Performing Arts Complex. This year the 110-foot digital art installation is back, in a different location. Watch the choreographed lights dance to the holiday music, or join the socially distanced line to get inside the tree to see the five-minute program up close. The tree is open now until January 2 at the corner of Welton and 16th streets, from 5 to 9:30 p.m. on most Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from 5 to 8 p.m. on some Sundays (check the schedule online). Even when the tree is closed, it will still be lit for all to see.
The Polar Express at the Colorado Railroad Museum
Through December 31
17155 West 44th Avenue, Golden
Nothing can stop the Polar Express — the Colorado Railroad Museum's annual train ride based on the 35-year-old book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg — nor the wonder this magical activity brings each year. Luckily for fans, the museum anticipated further COVID-related regulations, so the venue is all set to host visitors safely. Each child gets a golden souvenir ticket, hot chocolate and a present from Santa. Also expect plenty of train facts, carols and stories to go along with the ride. Pajamas are encouraged and masks are required for everyone age three and up; all guests will be seated in the heated outdoor car with proper distancing in place. Tickets are available for various times throughout December and online for $95 per person. Kids two and under can ride on a lap for free.
Santa at Belmar
Through December 24
7337 West Alaska Drive, Lakewood
One thing COVID-19 can't cancel is kids wanting to see Santa, and Belmar shopping mall has figured out a safe and socially distanced way to do it. Unfortunately, this means no hugs or sitting on Santa's lap, but your kid can chat with the big man and tell him their Christmas dreams. There will also be digital markers on the ground so no group gets too close to another. Make a reservation online and book your kids' time with Santa on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 7 p.m., and Sundays noon to 6 p.m., with longer hours on December 23 and Christmas Eve. And instead of candy canes, this year Santa will give out cheery masks to keep your little ones safely in the holiday spirit.
Winter Wanderland Light Walk and the Prismatica
Through January 3
Cherry Creek North
Wander the streets of Cherry Creek North with your family and take in the half a million lights twinkling in the trees. Bring a mug of hot chocolate with you and search for the eight special trees that are adorned with dancing lights choreographed to festive music. There's also the Prismatica, a temporary installation in Gart Plaza (on Milwaukee Street and Third Avenue), which features 24 large, rotating prisms of light.
Zoo Lights at the Denver Zoo
December 4 through December 31
2300 Steele Street
There's every reason to don a mask and wander the glittering wonderland that the Denver Zoo creates each year, especially right now, when being outside proves safer than indoor adventures. Among the giraffes, zebras, monkeys and hippos, there are one million lights covering the zoo's eighty acres, and guests can book tickets to see the display from December 4 though 31. The only way to get the $25 adult, $15 child or free two-and-under tickets is online at Zoo website. While booking your time slot, make the visit brighter with a special add-on package like the Holiday Animal Adventure, which, for between $235 and $300, gets your party an exclusive meet-and-greet with the Zoo’s Animal Ambassadors, including the hawk, porcupine, snake and more. Or book the simple VIP package that includes access to warm-up areas, a souvenir mug, cocoa or cider, a cookie kit, animal demos and HoloSpex glasses for $50.
Do you know of other family-friendly events in the area? Send information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.