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Winter Wonderlands

Martha Stewart Living, December 2002

These towns stand out during the holiday season for their beautiful community displays.

Arriving in Cooperstown, New York, at this time of year feels a little like stumbling into a vintage postcard. There's usually a dusting of snow, and the pretty eighteenth-century hamlet is outfitted for the holidays with modest, old-fashioned decorations. Elegant wreaths made of nuts and dried fruits hang on the front doors of trim Greek Revival houses, and evergreen garlands dress the entrance to the Cooper Inn and the facade of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, the town's most famous attraction.

Of course, you don't have to go to upstate New York to find a town that's dressed for the holidays. Such civic decorating is hugely popular, though it is a relatively new tradition. Until the early twentieth century, most holiday trimmings adorned the insides of homes, with greenery occasionally dressing up porches. Then, in 1912, a citizens committee asked the Edison Company to light a giant evergreen in New York City's Madison Square Park to share the spirit of the season with people who were homeless and destitute. The company covered its "tree of light" with 1,200 electric bulbs to great acclaim. After all, electric lights were quite an innovation then. A new fashion for bringing the holidays outdoors was born.

Today, many municipalities in the United States celebrate the season with glittering decorations on their streetlights and trees swathed in hundreds of colorful lights. But it's worth traveling to Cooperstown or one of the other towns mentioned below to enjoy its distinctive, homegrown seasonal flair. The community decorations you will find may provide you with ideas that can be adapted to your holiday rituals. Each place creates a special spirit with its own flavor, often based on regional traditions. Visiting one of these towns can make the season seem festive and fresh again.

Cooperstown, New York
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Natchez, Mississippi
Kansas City, Missouri
Portland, Oregon
Solvang, California
Christmas Indoors