– By Dan England –

We know it’s still November, and Thanksgiving decorations are still up, but planning for the holidays is vital if you want to make the most of a Northern Colorado Christmas. 

So, here’s our compilation of the best things about Christmas, with a Colorado spin, from the songs that create the mood to the hills to take your sled down. But if you just can’t do it yet, set this aside and open it the weekend before Thanksgiving. There’s some good stuff that takes place Thanksgiving weekend. 


Five songs

1. “Colorado Christmas” by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band—This song celebrates everything that’s great about Christmas in Colorado, written from the perspective of a guy stuck in California, where the temperature is 84 degrees. 

2. “Brightest Star” by The Subdudes—This song isn’t exactly about Christmas, but that’s what makes it one of the best, and it’s an original song instead of yet another rehash of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” This band is associated with New Orleans so much that it appeared in the show “Treme,” but several members spent their early days in Fort Collins when the band won an unsigned contest that launched their career. 

3. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”—The song, which was controversial in its day, relates the (literal) song and dance a woman had to go through in order to spend the night, consensually, at a guy’s house. Plus, in the winter, it really IS cold outside, at least here. Check out the version by local smash Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats with Julie Davis to give this song the edge it deserves. 

4. “Aspenglow”—Ah, John Denver could always capture what made Colorado so great. They named our largest city after him, after all (they actually didn’t). This song isn’t exactly about Christmas, either, but it’s way better than “Jingle Bells.” John Denver also did a (thankfully) short rendition of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas” with The Muppets. 

5. “This is Life (Merry Christmas)” by The Lumineers—The band that many Coloradans call their own released this single, featuring Daniel Rodriguez, as a way to reflect on the year, which is a good thing to do coming off a pandemic. 


Five festive events

1. Santa Catch 5K & 10K—Try to catch Santa in these two races on Dec. 17 in Windsor. The 10K starts at 9 a.m. and the 5K starts at 9:30 a.m.

2. The CSU choirs sing holiday favorites 7:30-9:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at the University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington St., Fort Collins. Go to csuartstickets.universitytickets.com for tickets. 

3. Foothills Unitarian Christmas Eve Service—A public service from 4-5 p.m. at Old Town Square in Fort Collins. 

4. “Polar Express”See a screening of the holiday film classic at 7 p.m. Dec. 22 at the Rialto Theater in Downtown Loveland. 

5. Christmas Brass—The Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra presents its annual Christmas concert on Dec. 3. This concert features the philharmonic’s brass sections playing holiday classics in Windsor on Dec. 15, Fort Morgan on Dec. 16 and Greeley on Dec. 17. 


Cool traditions 

1. Festival of Trees—This event kicks off Thanksgiving weekend but lasts until the early part of December, giving you some time to see trees decorated by businesses and organizations around Greeley at the Union Colony Civic Center in Downtown Greeley.

2. Greeley Lights the Night parade—Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend, Nov. 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m.  in Downtown Greeley.

3. “The Nutcracker”—The Colorado Dance Theatre puts on the holiday ballet classic from Dec. 9-11 in Greeley; the Canyon Concert Ballet performs with the Fort Collins Symphony from Dec. 9-11 in Fort Collins; and the Loveland Dance Academy performs Dec. 3-4 in Loveland.

4. Homesteader’s Holiday—Centennial Village offers up some fun activities of the past, including candle dipping and other holiday crafts, as well as historical house tours. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 3 at the village, 1475 A St., Greeley. 

Best displays

1. Chapungu Sculpture Park in Centerra in Loveland—A free 30-minute light show every night 5-9 p.m. that runs Nov. 19-Jan. 2. 

2. Lincoln Park—The City of Greeley colors its downtown Greeley park with an extravagant display that gets lit every Thanksgiving weekend and runs through Jan. 1. The park’s display is simple but worth a tour, preferably while clutching some hot chocolate in your hands. 

3. Old Town in Fort Collins— A lighting ceremony takes place from 5:30-7 p.m. on Nov. 4. 

4. Winter Wonderland from Colorado Youth Outdoors—A peppermint mocha isn’t the only thing you can get from a drive-through this year. A drive-through light display in Fort Collins that runs Nov. 23-Dec. 25, presented at Colorado Youth Outdoors, 4927 County Road 36, is 15 minutes and one mile long. Get tickets in 15-minute increments at nocowinterwonderland.com.

5. Garden of Lights—This runs from Dec. 9-24 at the Gardens on Spring Creek. Go to fcgov.com/gardens/garden-of-lights for tickets and more information. 


Best Christmas shows

1. “Woodland Critter Christmas”—This South Park episode is one of the funniest and the foulest you will ever see.

2. “Charlie Brown Christmas”—Linus’ speech, Snoopy entering a lights and display contest and the tree. Need we say more?

3. “Die Hard”—Oh, it’s definitely a Christmas movie.

4. “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”—No, not the stupid movie. The half-hour classic cartoon that captures Dr. Seuss’ spirit.

5. “A Christmas Story”—Sweet and side-splitting.

6. “Santa Claus is Coming To Town”—Santa’s origin story is quite clever. 

7. “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”—The show reverberates between old-style attitude (several misogynistic comments) and an ahead-of-its-time celebration of our differences (even if it takes a while to get there). It’s also a fun drinking game: Drink every time Santa says something rude.

8. “Elf”—Only Will Ferrell could pull this off as well as he does. 

9. “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation”—A surprisingly wholesome and hilarious holiday classic. 

10. “It’s A Wonderful Life” — Enough said. 


Best sledding hills 

1. Hidden Valley in Rocky Mountain National Park

2. UNC Nottingham Field in Greeley

3. Fossil Creek Park in Fort Collins

4. Edora Park in Fort Collins

5. Kroh Park in Loveland


Worth the drive down South

Zoo Lights—A chance to see a rich light display as well as many of the animals. Go to denverzoo.org for all the details. 

The Star of Castle Rock—Every year, the Castle Rock Chamber of Commerce hosts a lighting celebration the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The star shines every night at sundown until the end of the National Western Stock Show. 

Denver Botanic Gardens’ Blossoms of Light—The garden’s signature event for more than three decades. The display runs from Nov. 18 – Jan. 7. Public ticket sales start Nov. 7.  

Grand Illumination—The ceremony takes place on Thanksgiving weekend and lights up the Denver Union Station and the LoDo District. 

9News Parade of Lights— Get updates on time and date on their Facebook page.


Other holidays

Christmas and New Year’s Eve aren’t the only holidays worth celebrating this year. 

Kwanzaa—This celebration of African American culture runs Dec. 26 to Jan. 1.  As many as 15 million people celebrate it annually. Go to officialkwanzaawebsite.org for more information. 

Hanukkah—This Jewish festival commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem and rededication of the Second Temple at the beginning of the Maccabean Revolt in the 2nd Century BCE. It runs Dec. 18-26 this year. Families light candles on each of the eight nights of Hanukkah. Other popular traditions include playing dreidel games, eating potato pancakes and jelly donuts, and exchanging one gift a night for the first seven nights and a bigger one on the final night. 

One public way to celebrate is through Menorah lightnings. Information was scarce at press time, but look for an updated list at tinyurl.com/yc3t6cd5.


How to cut down your own tree

A reader, Mary Marchio, said cutting down their own Christmas tree was her favorite tradition in a response to our Facebook post.  “We just go up as a family,” she wrote. “Last year it was 14 ft (sic) tall and I felt like Clark in National Lampoon’s.”

We think the best way to do this is to go to a location run by the U.S. Forest Service up the Poudre Canyon. Specific information, how to purchase a permit (available online), and times (usually from Thanksgiving weekend until January) are available at tinyurl.com/uuv3kykj.


Ice skating

The Ice Rink at Centerra—The Promenade Shops offers an outdoor rink as a winter tradition. Go to icerinkattheshops.com to buy tickets and find the opening date. 

Skyline Park in Downtown Denver has an outdoor rink.

Colorado State parks have natural ponds that offer skating, including Jackson Lake State Park, depending on conditions. You need extended days of freezing temperatures to make the ice safe, and those are harder to come by these days. Visit cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/Sledding-Ice-Skating.aspx for the latest information. 

Sheldon Lake in Fort Collins offers a natural ice-skating experience on extra-cold days. 

Old Town Square Skate Rink in Fort Collins. 

The Pond Ice Rink at Foothills Mall in Fort Collins. 

The YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park offers an outdoor skating experience. 

If you want an indoor experience, there’s the Greeley Ice Haus in downtown Greeley and the NoCo Ice Center and Edora Pool Ice Center, both in Fort Collins. 


Dan England is a mountain climber, ultrarunner, freelance writer and coach who lives in Greeley with his three kids, a son and twin girls, his singing wife Valerie, and his herding dog Pepper.