Colorado’s charms are undeniable — from amber waves of grain to purple mountain majesties, we’ve got it all: the great outdoors, a great climate, great eats and arts, and a newfangled hip quotient that leaves the old cow-town designation behind in the dust. And naturally, we have our own special holiday traditions, whether we’re celebrating in the city or up in the hills. Here are ten of our favorites.
10) Leaving Santa edibles instead of cookies
Santa puts Colorado last on his route these days because he knows he will find cannabis-laced edibles instead of cookies under the tree. He might be gifted so many bomb-pot brownies, in fact, that he might need Mrs. Claus to be his designated driver, or even have Jesus take the wheel.
9) Touring the gingerbread houses at the Broadmoor
This holiday tradition is so f*cking Colorado, it's disgusting. Undoubtedly, every Colorado kid who’s ever visited the Colorado Springs landmark at Christmas time has a memory of walking the beautifully decorated halls and viewing all the Broadmoor’s outlandishly decorated, life-sized gingerbread houses. Go for the fairy-book fantasy, and stay for a film in the hotel movie theater, with screenings every night at 7 p.m. and matinees on the weekends.
8) Watch "Mr. Hanky" or "A Very Special Critter Christmas"
It wouldn't be Christmas in Colorado without a hilarious South Park holiday episode. While "Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo" has gotten the most brand attention, "A Very Special Critter Christmas" might just be the best. Spoiler alert: It's a sick, twisted tale written and narrated by Cartman, with cute little forest critters who yell, "Hail Satan!"
7) Promenade in Las Posadas at the Fort
Taking place on Christmas Eve on the grounds of The Fort – modeled after historic trading post Bent's Fort — the Tesoro Cultural Center’s annual Las Posadas celebration is a true Colorado holiday activity. Reenacting Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem, this one-night Las Posadas is a shortened version of Mexico’s traditional nine-day event. But it’s not short on fun – kids are invited to be a part of the processional as musicians play traditional Las Posadas songs and Mexican hot chocolate and biscochitos are served. All ages and all faiths are welcome to participate.
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6) Drool over the Chocolate Village at Keystone Resort
Nothing says the holidays like good chocolate, but when Keystone Lodge executive pastry chef Ned Archibald’s annual handcrafted chocolate alpine village takes over the lobby each winter, the cacao power goes right over the top. Comprised of hundreds of pounds of chocolate conjured in the lodge’s kitchens, the village includes a moving chocolate gondola and a pair of working chocolate trains, overseen by a life-sized white chocolate Christmas tree.
5) Bundle up in a yurt
The Colorado high country offers all kinds of yurt experiences, including the Crested Butte Nordic Center’s Magic Meadows Yurt Dinners, accessible only by skis or snowshoes, but nothing’s more reasonably priced than the network of high-country yurts operated year-round by Colorado Parks and Wildlife in a handful of state parks. Pass a winter night like a Mongolian nomad would: Prices hover around $70 for up to six people, plus a $10 reservation fee and, where applicable, a $10 pet fee; call 1-800-678-2267, or 303-470-1144 in the Denver metro area, or reserve online.
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4) Stripping Down for the Santa Speedo Dash
Okay, holiday Speedo dashes might not be totally Colorado-centric, but hey — a run down the frozen street in the dead of winter, wearing nothing but skivvies and a Santa hat reeks of our state’s famous outdoorsy spirit.
3) New Year's Eve on the 16th Street Mall
Downtown Denver does the holidays up nicely, with dramatic holiday lighting stretching up the 16th Street Mall from Civic Center to Union Station, with sidetrips to decorated window-gazing opportunities in LoDo and Larimer Square along the way. But New Year’s Eve on the mall is tops, with not one, but two fireworks shows at 9 p.m. and midnight. There’s no champagne toast, but New Year kisses are welcomed and you can bring the kids, dress as you please and leave the evening-wear and six-inch spikes at home. And it’s free. Power to the people.
2) Skate the Lake at Evergreen Lake
Rated by CNN and Sunset Magazine as one of the world’s ten most beautiful outdoor ice skating rinks, Evergreen Lake is even more gorgeous under the stars at night, surrounded by silent pines and glittering snow, and on New Year’s Eve, it's lit up by a pair of fireworks shows at 8 p.m. and midnight. The annual Skate the Lake event’s fee of $20 to $25 per person benefits Drive Smart, a local nonprofit dedicated to preventing traffic-related fatalities and injuries through educational programs, and it’s worth every penny; bring your own skates or rent a pair at the Lakehouse for $7.
1) Take an annual pilgrimage to gawk at the Denver City and County Building holiday lighting
If you’re a native Denverite, the experience of bundling up in the car and snaking by the City and County Building at Christmastime has been part of your holiday rite of passage. It’s garish and gaudy and sometimes controversial (some of us oldtimers remember well the early-’80s court battle over whether or not a civic display should include a creepy creche scene), but we still forgive and forget and stop in our tracks to ooh and aah at the display, year after year. Here’s to holiday overkill: Love it or leave it. The lights will, as always, shine brightly through the end of the National Western Stock Show.