It's one of the hallmarks of every Hallmark Christmas movie: A holiday visit to a quaint little town where the folks really know how to celebrate the season changes the life of the world-weary protagonist.
Whether it's the rustic hometown the heroine is returning to or a tiny hamlet she's just passing through, the message of so many wildly popular yuletide telefilms couldn't be clearer: There's just something special about a small-town Christmas.
In Oklahoma, festive small-town Christmases are fairly easy to find practically everywhere you go, but some rural Sooner State communities are especially adept at decking the halls.
Here are six small Oklahoma towns and cities that have earned a reputation for making the holidays merry and bright:
Over the past three decades, the Chickasha Festival of Light has become a Sooner State holiday staple. Through Dec. 31, visitors can walk or drive through the shimmering, nationally recognized 43-acre display in Shannon Springs Park. The illuminated spectacle is the only Oklahoma attraction that earned a nomination for Best Public Holiday Lights Display in the USA Today 10Best 2023 Readers’ Choice Travel Awards.
Along with the 4 million sparkling lights, the festival features an ice skating rink, camel rides, a Ferris wheel, carousel, carriage rides and food trucks.
Last year, the Grady County seat gave its holiday spirit a big boost with the debut of the 50-foot-tall Chickasha Leg Lamp in its downtown. Inspired by local legend, the "indescribably beautiful" statue is based on the famed prop from the beloved 1983 film "A Christmas Story."
On permanent display, the "major award" is specially illuminated for the holidays and has become a major draw for downtown Chickasha, where celebrants can catch the Santa Shuttle to Shannon Springs Park the first three weekends of December. Round-trip shuttle rides are $2 per person, children 3 and younger ride free, and proceeds benefit Chickasha Public Schools.
Also in downtown Chickasha this December, visitors can take horse-drawn carriage rides for $10 per person every Friday and Saturday until Christmas, and they might just encounter strolling carolers, too.
In addition, the Chickasha Wine and Craft Festival is set from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 9 at the Grady County Fairgrounds. Admission is free.
Billed as America's largest Victorian city, Guthrie is a particularly pretty place to visit when it's all decked out for Christmas.
The Territorial Christmas Victorian Walk Nights are among the Logan County seat's signature seasonal events, and the last one for this year is set for 3 to 9 p.m. Dec. 9 in downtown Guthrie. Attendees can expect to encounter carolers, musicians, dancers, aerialists and more all dressed in Victorian or steampunk garb. The live windows, where people play out scenes from the era in the windows of storefronts, are particular favorites of festivalgoers.
The nonprofit Pollard Theatre is staging its signature seasonal show "A Territorial Christmas Carol" through Dec. 23 in Guthrie's historic downtown. The venerable theater has staged the heartwarming tale — adapted by the late Sooner State playwright Stephen Scott and set in Oklahoma shortly after the Land Run of 1889 — for 1,000 performances and 150,000 patrons over more than 30 years. In 2022, The Pollard brought back its beloved yuletide title live and in person for the first time in five years with a new set, cast and staging.
Not all of Guthrie's holiday celebrations are vintage, though: A Very Merry Guthrie Christmas Lights in the Cottonwood Flats features more than 40 displays and 100,000 sparkling lights nightly through Jan. 1.
The Lights in the Cottonwood Flats Festival from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Dec. 16 will include photo opportunities with Santa and the Grinch, costume contests, pop-up shops, live music, food trucks, a lighted car show and cruise at 7 p.m. and fireworks at 8 p.m.
For the third year, Enid is celebrating the season with The One, a free multi-event holiday experience featuring what's billed as one of the world's tallest Christmas trees, dubbed the "Christ Tree."
This year's Christ Tree is a steel 102-foot-tall conifer adorned with a 20-foot Bethlehem star and 35,000 LED lights choreographed to Christmas songs. In keeping with the theme The One: Bright Lights, the tree will showcase rotating light shows at the top of every hour from 6 p.m. to midnight daily through Jan. 6.
The One campus, 150 W Park Ave., will host an array of festive events throughout the holidays, including concerts, a drone light show at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 and the family-friendly theatrical event Twinkling Tales from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 16.
But The One isn't the only Christmas celebration in the Garfield County seat. The Visit Enid event calendar is chock full of holiday cheer, from First Church of the Nazarene's drive-thru living nativity through Sunday to cut-your-own-Christmas-tree adventures through Dec. 17 at Red Bird Farm.
In downtown Enid, the festivities range from Holidays on Ice at the outdoor skating rink and Leonardo's Night of Lights on Fridays at Leonardo's Children's Museum to Gaslight Theatre's stage production of "A Christmas Story" and rides on the BAT — or Big Adventure Train — Express, a 1985 5-ton Army truck covered in more than 3,500 lights.
Sulphur's Chickasaw Cultural Center is making merry day and night through December. The Chickasaw Nation museum is hosting free screenings of classic Christmas movies at 10 a.m., noon and 3 p.m. every day.
Plus, free admission is from 6 to 9 p.m. daily to the museum's Celebration of Lights, a drive-thru light extravaganza with dozens of displays featuring traditional Christmas themes, along with unique cultural additions.
The Christmas Celebration at the Chickasaw Cultural Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Dec. 16 will include free activities like make-and-take crafts, photos with Santa and cookie decorating, plus the museum's usual daily stomp dance demonstrations.
At the Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa, the ninth annual Classic Christmas celebration from 4 to 9 p.m. Fridays and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturdays through Dec. 23 includes complimentary milk and cookies, story times with Mrs. Claus and photos with Santa. Plus, carolers will croon holiday songs from 4 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Dec. 16 at the hotel.
Also, the competition is fierce for the Sulphur Chamber of Commerce's Business Decorating Contest, which means shoppers can spot plenty of seasonal sparkle.
After gaining national attention with its wildly successful debut in 2022, Sapulpa's Route 66 Christmas Chute is back on the Mother Road for another season, and this year, the attraction is accompanied by an array of festivities, from cloggers and hot cocoa to live music and creative photo opps.
The popular attraction invites people to walk historic Route 66 under 800-foot-long canopies adorned with ornaments, lights and decor in 10 yuletide themes. The singular, walkable Christmas experience includes special events every weekend, pop-up-shops and a scavenger hunt. Daily hours are 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. through Dec. 31.
Plus, the Sapulpa Chamber of Commerce is routing its annual Christmas Parade of Lights at 6 p.m. Dec. 16 right down the chute.
One of the largest holiday light displays in southern Oklahoma, the free Ardmore Festival of Lights is a 1.5-mile drive-thru show featuring more than 150 animated displays. It's open nightly through Dec. 30 in Ardmore Regional Park, and admission is free.
Plus, Ardmore Main Street is offering Depot Nights & Christmas Lights from 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 14 and 21. Horse-drawn carriages will be roaming the streets of the Depot District, offering free carriage rides to the public with a "hop-on, hop-off" route so people can travel in holiday style to their favorite stores and restaurants. Santa also is reportedly making appearances at these Thursday night events.
This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: Small Oklahoma cities that are worth the visit for the holidays