From bright lights and Broadway-style shows to Christmas trees and showboat cruises, Branson, Missouri, has it all for the holiday season. Branson has been celebrating an Ozark Mountain Christmas since 1988, and the celebration gets bigger and brighter every year. Whether it’s your first trip or your fiftieth, you’ll find something new to experience and enjoy.  

Silver Dollar City  

The town square at Silver Dollar City is ablaze with twinkling lights. Photo Courtesy of Silver Dollar City

Silver Dollar City, with its 6.5 million lights (That’s equal to 680 miles of lights!) takes first place as the holiday must-see in Branson. This family-friendly theme park offers something for folks of all ages — from one to 92, as the song goes.  

At An Old Time Christmas, you can enjoy lights, parades, rides, musical productions, shopping, seasonal foods, and even a cave tour. As soon as you enter the park at the Town Square, you’ll be wowed by the eight-story special effects Christmas tree with a synchronized light and sound show. Just down the hill at Midtown, you’ll find the park’s most dazzling light display, where 1.5 million lights shine in an array of designs and form a twinkling tunnel of lights. New this year is the canopy over Valley Road with rows of gleaming red and gold bells.   

A Dickens’ Christmas Carol, a Broadway-quality production, is an original musical adaptation of the classic story by Charles Dickens, with elaborate sets, flying ghosts, and pyrotechnic special effects. Seeing this show is a longtime holiday tradition for me and thousands of other SDC fans.   

Kids of all ages enjoy the nightly Holly Jolly Christmas Light Parade, led by Rudolph, the most famous reindeer of all. Musical lighted floats and dozens of costumed characters wind their way through the park. Look for 12-foot elves, 14-foot moose characters, 10-foot candy canes, plus penguins and marching wooden soldiers.  

Square at Silver Dollar City features this eight-story special effects tree with a synchronized light and sound show. Photo Courtesy of Silver Dollar City

Staying true to its 1880s Ozark village theme, the park showcases more than 100 craftsmen. Watch as glassblowers form colorful ornaments, wood carvers create carousel horses, blacksmiths hammer out a variety of items, and potters create beautiful bowls and vases.  

And you won’t go hungry. Silver Dollar City is known for its high-quality food service, from eat-on-the-go funnel cakes to a prime rib holiday buffet or traditional turkey dinner. Buy a Tasting Passport for an economical way to sample a variety of seasonal specialties. Be sure to stop by Clara Belle’s Cinnamon Bread Bakery for a loaf — or two — of the irresistible, hot-from-the-oven cinnamon bread.  

All this takes place within the 110 acres of the park, nestled in the Ozark Mountains just west of Branson. For a calendar of operating days, visit  

Christmas Tree City 

The 2023 Community Christmas Tree stands next to the Ferris wheel in the heart of Branson’s entertainment district. Photo Courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau

With more than 1,500 decorated trees throughout the area, there’s a good reason Branson is called America’s Christmas Tree City. This year’s theme is Evergreen and Ever Glowing, celebrating the city’s balance of nature and neon.  

The 2023 Community Christmas Tree, a 39-foot display decorated with 6,000 lights and a neon sign that wishes the observer a “Merry Ozark Mountain Christmas,” stands in front of the Branson Ferris Wheel in the heart of the entertainment district. From there you can set out on the Christmas Tree Trail, with GPS identifiers to help you find the biggest and best trees in Branson.  

Before you begin your tree treasure hunt, take time to ride the 150-foot-high Ferris wheel, which was transplanted from Chicago’s Navy Pier in 2016. There’s a free light show every night, called Electrify Christmas, set to holiday music. Visit for more information.  

Showboat Branson Belle 

Top off your Branson visit with a cruise on the Showboat Branson Belle on Table Rock Lake. This 700-passenger paddle-wheeler is known for its quality entertainment and food. The Christmas cruises feature music from the 1960s to today with holiday favorites sprinkled in, magic and comedy from the master of ceremonies, and toe-tapping footwork by the Showboat Dancers. Afternoon and evening cruises include a three-course meal.  

The little ones will love the Santa’s Pancakes and PJs cruises. Offered on Saturday and Sunday mornings from Dec. 3 to 23, the breakfast cruises begin with a treasure hunt through the ship’s four decks as kids, clad in their PJs, search for Sugar Plum Fairy sweet stops, visit the ship’s captain and write letters to Santa. During breakfast — featuring pancakes — a cast of holiday characters presents story time and sing along.  

For cruise times, visit  

Big Cedar Lodge 

Big Cedar Lodge, south of Branson on Highway 86, is dressed up with four million lights for its Home for the Holidays activities, such as visits with Santa, ice skating, holiday tram tours, and craft classes. Next door at Top of the Rock, the golf cart tour on the Lost Canyon Cave and Nature Trail is decked out for Nature at Night with Native American and holiday-themed light displays. For more information, visit”  

Branson Scenic Railway 

An enormously popular family attraction is the Polar Express offered by Branson Scenic Railway. This train ride goes to the North Pole to pick up Santa Claus. Kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas for the train ride. The book, “The Polar Express,” is read out loud, and all passengers enjoy hot cocoa and cookies. Visit for information.  

On a chilly day, you can warm up inside the Butterfly Palace, where butterflies, fluttering around like snowflakes, are complemented by live music, twinkling lights, a poinsettia tree, and Santa, who is available for photo ops. The mirror maze, educational videos, and living rainforest science center are also open, as is the gift shop. For more information, visit  

It’s Show Time 

There is plenty of holiday-themed live entertainment in Branson, where Christmas is celebrated from early November through early January. Photo Courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau The 2023 Community Christmas Tree stands next to the Ferris wheel in the heart of Branson’s entertainment district. Photo Courtesy of Branson Convention and Visitors Bureau The town square at Silver Dollar City is ablaze with twinkling lights. Photo Courtesy

For many people, a trip to Branson means going to as many shows as they can fit in. I’ve been guilty of this myself! But the truth is, there are so many choices, it is easy to overload the schedule in an attempt to do it all. Pick up brochures in the racks at any theater and restaurant, or go online to and see what shows are playing during your stay. Be sure to check for any limited-time engagements by visiting celebrity artists.  

Although it is not a Christmas show, we heartily recommend Queen Esther at the Sight and Sound Theatre. The opulent set, large cast, special effects, live animals, and an amazingly realistic animatronic elephant all combine to wow the observer while the Bible-based story unfolds on stage. Queen Esther will be showing through Dec. 30 and will return in 2024.  

The Living Nativity will transport your family to ancient Bethlehem and experience life as it may have been that clear and silent night so many years ago.

For pure fun, try Dolly Parton’s Stampede. Horses are the heart of this show, with the addition of holiday acts that will please all ages. The living Nativity portrayal is dramatic and spectacular. This show includes dinner.  

Shop Till You Drop  

And, of course, there is shopping. After all, it is the holiday gift-giving season.  

Shopping choices abound in Branson, from the ever-popular Tanger Outlet Mall to the diverse shops and restaurants of Branson Landing. Don’t miss the beautiful fire and light shows at the Branson Landing waterfront and fountain.  

We like the cozier shopping options, too. The Grand Village boasts a variety of shops, including the eye-popping Kringles Christmas Store, as well as several eateries. You’ll enjoy the singing waiters at Mel’s Hard Luck Diner, and swoon at the stunning pastry case at Sugar Leaf Bakery. A visit to Dick’s 5 & 10 is a must-do in Historic Downtown Branson. 

An Ozark Mountain Christmas offers a world of choices to ring your holiday bells. So don’t delay; plan your Branson outing today. Santa would approve.   

Barbara Gibbs Ostmann, a longtime season-pass holder for Silver Dollar City, lives on a farm in the Ozarks.