Three Treasured Bay Area Holiday Traditions

Ana Picazo - San Francisco Bay Area
December 10, 2017

Every family has its own holiday traditions. The Thanksgiving football game, the turkey carving ceremony, the eggnog recipe, the special ornaments for the tree, the lighting of the menorah, the schedule of events on Christmas Eve.... we look forward to them every holiday season. Year after year we dust them off, celebrate them, and teach them to our children as a way to celebrate the past, present, and future. 

Traditions aren't limited to families. Friends, groups, communities, and whole cities can share in traditions too! The Bay Area has many beloved holiday traditions: attractions and displays and events that families in the area look forward to every holiday season. Whether you live in the Bay Area or are just visiting for the holidays, make sure you take part—your holidays are sure to be merrier and brighter. Here are three of the most popular Bay Area holiday traditions to enjoy:

San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker

Did you know that the Nutcracker was first performed in San Francisco? On Christmas Eve of 1944, the San Francisco Ballet staged the first complete production of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet—and became an instant hit. The ballet spread throughout the US and has become a national holiday tradition. Generations of little girls and boys have been introduced to the world of classical music and dance through the Nutcracker! It's the perfect first performance for the little ones due to the upbeat music, fanciful settings (who wouldn't want to travel to the Land of Sweets!), and the relatively short run time.

This year's production promises to be as lavish as ever, with beautiful costumes, colorful sets, and choreography by artistic director Helgi Tomasson. Prepare for the performance by reading your little ones the Nutcracker story or downloading the SF Ballet's Interactive Nutcracker Storybook app. Then don your holiday finery and plan to arrive at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House at least an hour before the performance. You'll need the time to wander through the beautifully decorated lobby and browse through the exquisite collection of Nutcracker ornaments, Nutcrackers, and other memorabilia at the gift shop. If you have tickets for a Family Performance (and it's highly recommended that you do!), plan to arrive 90 minutes before the performance. Special gifts are handed out to the first 500 children, and Nutcracker characters are available for photo ops—lines form quickly! In addition, Family Performances serve cookies and milk during intermission, making it a truly special holiday outing.

Petaluma Lighted Boat Parade and Festival of Trees

The days may be shorter, but the nights are growing brighter as holiday displays light up and holiday light parades beging marching down Main Streets all over the Bay Area. One of the area's most unique light parades involves floats that literally float: Petaluma's Holiday Lighted Boat Parade! A flotilla of decorated boats sail down the Petaluma River, starting at the Petaluma Marina and ending at the Petaluma Turning Basin. Find a spot along the riverbank and cheer as they glide through the water, their twinkling lights guiding the way! The boats will dock at the Historic Downtown Harbor for everyone to see and enjoy. Don't forget to bring your camera!

After you've had your fill of beautiful boats, stroll down to Theater Square to enjoy lights of a different kind. The Festival of Trees features beautiful holiday trees decorated by local businesses and community organizations. Every tree is decorated in its own special way, and each one is auctioned off to benefit local charities. Dance performances, music performances, holiday crafts, visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus, and seasonal treats all add to the holiday spirit.

Niles Canyon Holiday Train

Little ones wanting to ride the Polar Express don't need to make the trip all the way to the North Pole. Niles Canyon Railway runs special Holiday Trains throughout the holiday season. It's a rare opportunity to ride through Niles Canyon at night—but don't worry, it won't be pitch dark because the outside of the train is decorating with hundreds of twinkling lights! As the train makes its way through Niles Canyon, Santa Claus and carolers make their way through the carriages, spreading carols, ho-ho-ho's, and good cheer. The refreshments bar serves hot cocoa and snacks, or you can pack your own.

When purchasing tickets, choose between seats in an antique passenger carriage (beautifully decorated, cozy and warm!) or an open-top rail car (cold, but offers the best viewing experience!). You can also choose to depart from either Sunol or Niles (in Fremont). Try to purchase tickets for the front or the back passenger cars, so you can see the train it all its brightly lit glory as it chugs around a curve. Whatever you decide, make sure you purchase your tickets early because this popular holiday attraction is sure to sell out!    

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