Celebrate with Surfing Santas and Golfing Aliens at 2023’s Quirkiest Christmas Events

From Florida to Washington, see how different states pump up the holidays their own way.

We all love a wholesome small-town Christmas display, or a festive Christmas market. But sometimes… well, sometimes you want to switch things up a little. Maybe that means a unique holiday train ride, or meeting a forgotten holiday icon. Perhaps you crave a visit to a psychedelic holiday fantasia. Lucky for your highly specific tastes, there’s almost surely something out there to satisfy your craving for quirk.

From wholesome local traditions to creepy Creole nightmare fuel, these annual traditions are here to bring variety to your holiday season. You’ll find surfin’ Santas and gunslinging snowmen, campy delights and mythical beasts. And each of these ç delightful events offers a mirror into local culture that will leave you feeling warmer and fuzzier than a werewolf on a bayou Christmas cruise that you should absolutely make part of your annual tradition. These are the country’s weirdest holiday parties this year.

unusual christmas
Camp Christmas

See psychedelic electric art at Camp Christmas

Lakewood, Colorado
Colorado’s Camp Christmas is a tinsel-fueled fever dream in suburban Denver—giddy, campy, and slightly surreal. This year returning to its original location at Stanley Marketplace following a stint at Lakewood Belmar Park, the event features 15,000 square feet of walk-through installations employing every decoration you can think of, along with several you never would. Think Burning Man meets Meow Wolf meets Dr. Seuss, but with a lot more bows, elves, gifts, reindeer, hot buttered rum and ranch-flavored candy canes.

strange christmas
Manny DaCunha/Shutterstock

Behold a giant Christmas tree made of sand

West Palm Beach, Florida
If any place had a 35-foot-tall, 700-ton sand tannenbaum, it would be South Florida. Welcome to Sandi Land, where a massive, sand-sculpted Christmas tree hosts nightly light shows synchronized with music and spurts of water from the nearby Centennial Fountain. Sandi has grown over the years, from a slim 400 tons in 2012 to her current size and fame—she’s even got her own Instagram. Get a good glimpse of Sandi from the 65-foot-tall Ferris wheel billed as her long-lost cousin, then peep another 100 tons of smaller sand sculptures scattered about the waterfront throughout the month-long Holiday in Paradise.

christmas events
Santa's Wonderland- A Texas Christmas Experience

Giddyup for a Lone Star Christmas at Santa’s Wonderland

College Station, Texas
Marshall Frostbite—a seven-foot-tall snowman with candy canes holstered on his hips—has yet to join Frosty and Rudolph in the holiday-character lexicon, but he’s one of the highlights of Santa’s Wonderland, which claims to be the largest Christmas park in the country. Here, you can have yourself a cowboy little Christmas as you meet the marshall, take a hayride through a display of over 3 million lights, see an Old West town bedazzled for the holidays, and pose for your Christmas card pic atop a lifelike longhorn. You’ll also meet the Man in Red himself, though his getup looks a little different with a cowboy hat and shiny, Texas-sized belt buckle.

Beyond the obligatory petting zoo and live nativity, there’s also wine tasting in a rustic-chic loft, a mechanical bull, and a jumbotron in the barn playing nonstop holiday films for when you just want to hunker down with a plate of brisket.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel teddy bear suite
Fairmont Olympic Hotel

Let a stuffed animal cradle you at the Teddy Bear Suite

Seattle, Washington
Some people deck the halls with boughs of holly. The Fairmont Olympic Hotel does it with teddy bears. Their annual Teddy Bear Suite is filled with nearly 100 plush bears ranging from six-inches to six-feet tall. Short of being cast in a remake of The Shining, it’s your best chance of snuggling with a giant teddy bear atop a four-poster in a luxe hotel. And if that’s not enough to delight your inner child (or the actual ones you might bring with you), the whole place looks straight out of Frozen: walls draped in white, icicles, ornaments, and silver garlands everywhere. Any donations given at the free cuddle-fest benefit the Seattle Children's Hospital.

surfing santa
Surfing Santas of Cocoa Beach

Watch Santa jump from a helicopter into the ocean

Cocoa Beach, Florida
Santa isn’t all about hanging stockings, it seems. He also likes to hang 10… at least at Surfing Santas. Maybe it's Cocoa Beach’s average winter temp of 70 degrees or being home to the world’s largest surf shop, but this beach town kicks off the holiday every year with hundreds of surfing Santas. And if that sounds too humdrum, there are also Santas on jet skis, riding boogie boards, and jumping out of helicopters into the ocean. Be sure to wear something festive—most of the 10,000 spectators do, and those costumes certainly make the famously boozy breakfast buffet extra colorful.

polar express
Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad

Wear your PJs on the original Polar Express Train Ride

Durango, Colorado
What do you get when you cross a beloved children’s book with an old Colorado rail town? If you answered the most adorably nostalgic holiday ride of your life, you’d be right. Every winter, the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad carries passengers aboard a vintage steam locomotive to the North Pole for The Polar Express™ Train Ride. While there are more than 30 Polar Express trains around the country, this one is the original, recreating the story experience right down to the golden ticket and dancing chefs.

It takes about an hour—recommended attire is pajamas and snow boots—and on the way, you can watch reenacted scenes from the movie as you snuggle up with a warm mug of cocoa. At the North Pole, dazzling with thousands of lights, Santa boards the train to give each passenger the first gift of Christmas (IYKYK: it’s a sleigh bell). And then everyone sings carols all the way back to the depot, where you can visit with Santa, tour the free train museum, and meet live reindeer.

christmas parties
Solvang USA

Hunt for elves at the Nisse Adventure

Solvang, California
You may have heard of the 12 days of Christmas. What about the 12 nisser hiding in a whimsical California town less than an hour from Santa Barbara? Under two feet tall, beared, and wearing pointy caps over their eyes, these Danish gnomes are known for sneaking into people's houses to leave presents and play pranks, and finding them is a cherished tradition for the Danish-founded city of Solvang.

Pick up a set of rhyming clues at the visitor’s center. Then, once you’ve successfully located all of the dozen dolls, return to claim your prize: your very own tiny trickster to hang on your tree and blame for any holiday gaffes. The scavenger hunt is a popular part of the annual Julefest, which rounds out your experience with music and light shows, a parade, candlelight tours, and more hygge than you can shake a peppermint stick at.

Mystic Ghost Boat Ride
Mystic Ghost Boat Ride

See what lurks beneath the water on the Creepy Christmas Boat Tour

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
An hour east of New Orleans are the silent backwaters known as the Devil’s Swamp, a name that already screams “holiday cheer.” Also called the Hancock County Marsh Coastal Preserve, these mist-shrouded and mysterious waters are prime habitat for the rougarou, a werewolf-like creature from Creole folklore. And every December, he teams up with a villainous Santa—“who sees you when you're sleeping”—for a hair-raising ride through the bayou on the Creepy Christmas Boat Tour.

Your guide, Mystic Molly, spins a macabre holiday fairytale with riddles, song, and a few characters, like Skully, the skull-topped Christmas tree. There’s a coffin in the boat, and the surprise ending is a bit gruesome, so maybe leave the kids home for this one unless they’ve been particularly bad this year. Regroup afterward at the bonfire as you roast s’mores and commune with fellow travelers about the things you've seen.

Castle Noel
| Castle Noel

Meet Turbo Man and golf with aliens at Castle Noel

Medina, Ohio
Filled with hundreds of Christmas movie props, thousands of toys, and something called Santa’s Chimney Squeeze, Castle Noel celebrates the season in the most oversized, exuberant way—and they do it year-round, in case you want to hang out in Whoville or sing Jingle Bells with an animatronic yeti in August.

The artist behind the attraction, Mark Klaus (you read that right) is always adding to his collection, which runs the gamut from Arnold Schwarzenegger's Turbo Man suit to the Grinch’s sleigh. A guide takes you through it all, including the Barbies and Furbies of the “I Had That” toyland exhibit and the elaborate NYC holiday store window displays, carefully reassembled and set in motion with spinning cakes and dancing Nutcracker ballerinas. At the end, ride down a slide on a faux snow mountain just like Ralphie.What’s in the basement, you wonder? A fluorescent, 3D mini golf experience that follows Santa and a gaggle of friendly aliens through ancient ruins and outer space. Of course.

Portland Spirit river cruise Maybeland
Portland Spirit Cruises and Events

Take a river cruise with a famous bear (and some pirates)

Portland, Oregon
Not every holiday character becomes clicks (lookin’ at you, Dominick the Donkey!). But sometimes, becoming an obscure and beloved local icon is enough. And no town loves obscure local iconography quite like Portland, Oregon, a city that counts a unicyclist with flame-throwing bagpipes among its unofficial mascots.

Thus, every year since 2005, the Portland Spirit river cruise has made it a holiday tradition to transform its ship into Maybeland, home of the elusive Cinnamon Bear (real name Paddy O’Cinnamon), the star of an old-timey radio serial. The story—and the cruise—involves pirates, fairies, dragons, elves, and other seemingly mismatched characters questing for a Christmas star. They all come together on this undeniably delightful storybook-inspired cruise along Portland’s gorgeous Willamette River. As a bonus, the cruise includes breakfast, giving you a chance to participate in another storied Portland tradition: waiting in line for eggs and a pick-me-up.

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Cheryl Rodewig is a contributor for Thrillist.