Once upon a time, there were 25 days until Christmas and more than 30 ways to celebrate — and all within roughly an hour's drive or less from Fort Benning. There's plenty to do on post, in Columbus and in Phenix City, but Plains, Ga., Eufaula, Ala., Pine Mountain, Ga., and LaGrange, Ga., also offer yuletide festivities. Here are some of the best.
A is for Airborne
Santa’s going Airborne all the way. He’ll parachute in at about 6 p.m. during the 250-foot Airborne Tower Lighting ceremony. Before the lighting, guests are invited to jump from the 34-foot towers. Details: 5-7 p.m. Dec. 9 on Eubanks Field; free Contact: 706-545-6495
B is for Bethlehem
Including music, a live nativity, a visit from St. Nick and a “Happy Birthday, Jesus” party complete with cake and games, Bedtime in Bethlehem tells the Christmas story in a way even toddlers can understand. Details: 5:30 p.m. pancake supper, 6 p.m. program Dec. 17 at Hilton Terrace Baptist Church; free but donations welcome Contact: 706-327-3943 or www.hiltonterracebaptistchurch.com
C is for Christmas, Clowns and Classic Cars
Starting at Colin Powell Parkway in Phenix City and continuing to Ninth Street in Columbus, the Bi-City Christmas Parade features floats, marching bands, classic cars, clowns and horses with a holiday theme. Details: 10 a.m. Dec. 10 on Broad Street, 13th Street and Broadway; free Contact: 334-291-4719
D is for Decorations
Help Westville, Ga., get dressed up for the season and learn to make decorations from yesteryear at Deck the Halls. Or celebrate Christmas at Westville. Meet Father Christmas, learn the legend of Tannenbaum, make a 19th-century ivy wreath and watch the blacksmith forge iron ornaments.
Details: Deck the Halls: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday at Historic Westville; free, but come ready to work; Christmas at Westville: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Dec. 10 at Historic Westville; $10 adults and children kindergarten through 12th grade, $8 seniors and military Contact: 229-838-6310 or www.westville.org
E is for Evergreens
Wander through the River City Festival of Trees on display in the RiverCenter’s lobby. The preview party, at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, includes hors d’oeuvres, champagne, jazz and a silent auction for $35. The silent auction wraps up at the finale, from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday, which is free and includes music and refreshments. A special family night from 4 to 8 p.m. Saturday features a variety of entertainment.
Details: Public viewing 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday to Monday at the RiverCenter; free Contact: 706-653-4008 or www.columbusga.org/keepcolsbeautiful
F is for Fireworks
The Christmas Fireworks Show includes drama, dance, music, free hot chocolate and the ever-present guest from the North Pole. Details: 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Phenix City Amphitheater; free Contact: 334-291-4719
G is for Gingerbread
Little ones can see Santa, make a gingerbread house and ornament, hear Christmas stories and sing carols at the Children’s Christmas Celebration. Guests can also purchase tickets to tour the house and grounds. Details: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 10 at Hills & Dales Estate; free Contact: 706-882-3242 or www.hillsanddales.org
H is for Homes
Tour seven mid-century, ranch-style homes in Columbus, visit the Mistletoe Market, hear carolers and enjoy refreshments at Clubview Elementary School with An Atomic Christmas.
Details: Noon-6 p.m. Dec. 11 in Hilton Heights and Averett Woods; $20 in advance, $25 day of Contact: 706-322-0756 or www.historiccolumbus.com
Visit four festively decorated homes with the 11th annual West Georgia Hospice Christmas Tour of Homes. Meet at the Hills & Dales Estate visitors center to purchase tickets before boarding the van. Refreshments included. Details: 2-6 p.m. Sunday in LaGrange; $25 Contact: 706-845-3905
The Southern homes of Eufaula are decked out for the Christmas Tour of Homes. If you want to see Shorter Mansion, sign up for brunch or dinner at 11 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively. Details: 1-6 p.m. Saturday in Eufaula; $20 for four homes, $6 for one home, $25 for brunch, $42.50 for dinner Contact: 334-687-3793 or www.eufaulapilgrimage.com
I is for Israel
See the Holy Land recreated in LaGrange. Journey to the manger as the shepherds did 2,000 years ago with the 45-minute Follow the Shepherd Walks. Some nights also feature the Christmas Under the Bethlehem Star sound and light show. Details: 6-8:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Christmas at Explorations in Antiquity; $10 adults, $6 children 4-12, free for active-duty military
Contact: 706-885-0363 or www.explorationsinantiquity.com
J is for Joseph’s Journey
Hear the Christmas story like never before — as if it took place in 1985. Joseph’s Journey is a Christmas rock opera for all ages. Heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served. Feel free to come in 80s attire. Details: 7 p.m. Dec. 9 at Christ Community Church; free Contact: 706-565-7240
K is for Kris Kringle
He's the main attraction at Holiday at Riverside, which also includes goodie bags, refreshments, door prizes, the Grinch and entertainment.
Details: 5-8 p.m. Dec. 8 at Riverside; free Contact: 706-545-3328 or www.benningmwr.com
He'll also be there for the Polar Express Breakfast with Santa.See the classic film in 3-D on the IMAX screen after spending your morning meal with Santa.
Details: 9 a.m. Saturday at the National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center; $10 for all ages Contact: 706-653-9234 or www.nationalinfantrymuseum.com
L is for Lights
More than 90,000 lights twinkle in time to Christmas music at the Ludy Christmas Light Spectacular. On certain nights, Santa even shows up. It’s free, but if you want to donate something, the Ludys collect for the Make-A-Wish Foundation — more than $7,400 last year.
Details: 10 p.m. weekdays, 10:30 p.m. weekends through Dec. 31 at 5784 Ironstone Drive; free Contact: www.ludychristmas.com
Callaway Gardens sparkles with more than 8 million lights for the 20th year of Fantasy in Lights. Drive in your own car or ride in the trolley. Some scenes incorporate music, narration and choreographed lights. Details: 6 p.m. through Dec. 30 at Callaway Gardens; $22 adults and $11 children Fridays, Saturdays and the week before Christmas; $16 adults and $8 children all other days; $25 adults and $12.50 children for same-day purchases Contact: www.callawaygardens.com
M is for Moon Lake
Walk around Moon Lake in Phenix City and see lights, a Victorian village and Santa’s Castle, featuring the jolly man in red. Other Christmas at Moon Lake activities include free games, pony rides, hayrides, dance shows and music. Food vendors will be on site. Golf carts are available for those unable to walk around the lake. Details: 6 p.m. Dec. 8 at Idle Hour Park; free Contact: 334-291-4719
N is for Nutcracker
The Columbus Ballet has made a tradition of its annual production of that iconic yuletide story The Nutcracker. Details: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 11 at the RiverCenter; $20 for adults and $16 for students, seniors and military Contact: 706-256-3612 or www.rivercenter.org
You can also see the The Nutcracker in LaGrange, presented by the LaFayette Ballet Company. Details: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday at the Troup High School Performing Arts Auditorium; $15 adult, $8 students Contact: 706-882-9909 or www.lspaarts.com
O is for Orchestra
Presented by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, A Christmas Family Concert is truly an event for all ages. For the first hour, you can enjoy photo ops with Santa, a musicians meet-and-greet, candy canes, popcorn, hot cocoa, cookies and Christmas games in the RiverCenter lobby. The concert starts at 7:30 p.m. Details: 6:30 p.m. Friday at the RiverCenter; $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and younger Contact: 706-323-5059 or www.csoga.org
P is for Plains
Join Christmas on Main Street in Plains for live music, free marshmallow roasting and shops open late. Main Street will be decorated for the holidays.
Details: 5-8 p.m. Saturday and Dec. 17 on Main Street; free Contact: 229-824-5373 or 229-938-3835
Plains is also home to the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site. Experience a country Christmas with the Candlelight Tour of Jimmy Carter’s Boyhood Farm. Hot chocolate and cider served. Reservations recommended for this inaugural event. Details: Scheduled times 6:30-8:10 p.m. Saturday at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site; free Contact: 229-824-4104 or www.nps.gov/jica
Q is for Quintet
The Cantus Columbus Chorus returns — with the Organ and Woodwind Quintet — for Cantus Christmas, a musical rendition of the Christmas story.
Details: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 at the RiverCenter; $29 for upper balcony seats or $33 for orchestra or lower balcony More information: 706-256-3612 or www.rivercenter.org
R is for Reindeer Run
Kids in pre-K through eighth grade can join in a one-mile Reindeer Run to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network. Every child receives a T-shirt, and parents are welcome to run with their younger children. Awards for top three spots in each age category for boys and girls.
Details: 9 a.m. Dec. 10 at 1329 Broadway; $20 in advance, $25 day of Contact: 706-660-6548 or www.yourhealthourmission.com S is for Spirit
The Maneuver Center of Excellence Band presents The Spirit of Benning, a holiday concert. A certain jolly old elf is expected to drop in.
Details: 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the RiverCenter; free, but tickets are required, available at Omega Travel and the RiverCenter Box Office
T is for Tuna and Toys in Theater
A Tuna Christmas is a Columbus tradition. Join the town of Tuna, Texas, as it prepares for the Christmas yard display contest. Hilarity ensues. Rated PG-13.
Details: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14-24 at the Springer Opera House’s Foley Hall; $35 adults, $30 seniors, $23 military, firefighters, police and teachers, $15 students
Contact: 706-327-3688 or www.springeroperahouse.org
U is for Uptown
In its fifth year, the Broadway Holiday Christmas Festival includes a visit from Santa, the lighting of the city’s Christmas tree, an appearance by the Coca-Cola polar bear, holiday vendors, carols, snow, horse and carriage rides, and free hot chocolate and candy canes.
Details: 6-8 p.m. Friday on the 1100 block of Broadway; free Contact: 706-596-0111 or www.facebook.com/uptowncolumbusbid
V is for Victorian
A Civil War-era Santa will be visiting Port Columbus this weekend. During the Victorian Christmas open house, you can enjoy period music and décor, carolers, vaudeville shows, complimentary refreshments courtesy of 12th Street Deli and a firing of the original Civil War cannon by Santa himself. The rest of the museum is also open free as the museum’s “gift to the public.” Details: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday; free Contact: 706-327-9798 or www.portcolumbus.org
W is for Wreaths and Workshops
Sign up for this Holiday Wreath Workshop to make yours in time for Christmas with the help of a master gardener. Registration required.
Details: 10 a.m.-noon Wednesday at the Columbus Botanical Garden; $35 non-members, $30 members Contact: 706-327-8400 or www.columbusbotanicalgarden.org
Take some of the greenery of Hills & Dales Estate home. A professional horticulturist will lead a Christmas Wreaths workshop Saturday. A Christmas Floral Arrangement, a workshop for participants who want to make a seasonal centerpiece, will be Dec. 10. Details: 10 a.m.-noon Saturday and Dec. 10 at Hills & Dales Estate; Cost: $30 includes supplies and garden admission Contact: 706-882-3242 or www.hillsanddales.org
X is for Xmas
Find out what happens when a doll is brought to life by a selfish toymaker in The Toys Take Over Christmas. Details: 7:30 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. Saturday at CSU’s indoor Theatre on the Park, 6 10th West St.; $10 adults, $8 seniors and military, $5 children 12 and younger
Contact: 706-507-8444 Holiday Gospel Extravaganza features The Mighty Clouds of Joy and Carver & Kendrick Gospel Choirs. Details: 7 p.m. Dec. 16 at the RiverCenter; $18 in advance or $23 at the door Contact: 706-256-3612 or www.rivercenter.org
Y is for Yuletide
Hundreds of miles of lights will be turned on for the Light the Spirit of St. Francis ceremony, which includes music, refreshments and a visit from Santa.
Details: 6 p.m. Tuesday at the St. Francis Hospital main entrance; free Contact: 706-596-4000
Z is for Zoology You may want to be a zoologist after touring the renovated facility at Oxbow Meadows during the Holiday Open House. Enjoy eco-friendly gift shopping, complimentary refreshments, a visit with Santa and his woodland friends, a wreath-making class at 10 a.m. and Show & Tail programs at 11 a.m., noon and 1 p.m.
Details: 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at Oxbow Meadows; free admission, $30 for the class, $10 for photos with Santa Contact: 706-596-4000