“A tender Tennessee Christmas is the only Christmas for me.”
Amy Grant/Gary Chapman
Twinkling lights glistening in a thin blanket of snow, friends, and family gathered around a tree singing Christmas carols and enjoying some holiday cheer. Horse-drawn carriage rides and streets decorated in garland and bows. It sounds like something out of a fairytale or a Hallmark Christmas movie, doesn’t it?
There are many towns in Tennessee with enough holiday spirit they could easily be the perfect setting for a Hallmark movie. In fact, Hallmark agrees, Memphis was the setting for Christmas in Graceland in 2018 and the sequel Wedding at Graceland. In 2019, Christmas at Graceland: Home for the Holidays was filmed there.
Let’s look at a few other towns in Tennessee where you can visit and enjoy their Southern hospitality and Hallmark movie atmosphere. You, too, can enjoy a tender Tennessee Christmas.
Note: Please check websites for the latest updates in scheduling and events.
Visit Franklin hosted a stay. All opinions are my own.
A quaint downtown, festive with garland, bows, lights, horse-drawn carriage rides, and Santa visits on the town square create a magical holiday feeling. The festivities begin on November 23 with the lighting of the 35-foot town Christmas tree. There will be live entertainment and free hot chocolate for everyone as the countdown to the tree lighting begins.
You will find 250,000-holiday lights twinkling in the historic district from Thanksgiving through New Year’s.
Christmas in Collierville is the highlight of the season, happening on Saturdays beginning November 27 through December 18. Santa will greet the children in the gazebo on the town square for those memory-making photos and free carriage rides will be offered. Families can walk around town and capture memories along the Holiday Photo Stroll.
Thousands line the streets of Collierville for the Christmas Parade. This year’s parade will be held on December 3.
Dubbed the “Storytelling Capital of the World,” Jonesborough pulls out all the stops to celebrate Christmas. The lighting of the town Christmas tree on Main Street kicks off the season the Saturday after Thanksgiving. The event also includes a story told by a local storyteller and familiar Christmas carols echoing through the streets.
Throughout the season, Historic Jonesborough keeps the Christmas spirit alive with fun holiday happenings every Saturday during December.
Each Saturday has a different theme, and Santa is available for photos with the children as he listens to their Christmas wishes. Toys are collected for underprivileged children in the community, and complimentary gift wrapping of all downtown purchases is available.
The second Saturday in December is the annual Jonesborough Christmas Parade held in the evening with lighted floats. In addition to the floats, entries include church choirs, fire trucks decorated for Christmas, a live nativity scene, and more.
Other events include a Holiday Tour and Tea, a progressive dinner, and more.
Jonesborough is a place for making old-fashioned Christmas memories to last a lifetime.
The quaint city of Franklin hosts an annual Christmas parade on the first Saturday in December. The parade features more than 100 entries, including bands, community groups, businesses, and floats ushering in the Christmas season. Crowds line the streets to wave at Jolly Ol’ St. Nick as he arrives in Franklin. Santa will be available to visit with the children, and other festivities will happen along the quintessential main street.
Remember yesteryear at the annual Dickens of a Christmas Festival held in historic downtown Franklin on the second weekend of December. The weekend-long event brings characters to life from Oliver Twist and A Christmas Carol. During the event, you can wander through the Victorian Village and taste Victorian-era holiday treats. Have a chat with Ebenezer Scrooge, visit with Father Christmas, and enjoy carolers singing.
Homes and businesses shimmering with lights and decorated with wreaths and garland whisper “Happy Holidays” as you visit. Overflowing with holiday activities for kids of all ages, including adults, makes Knoxville an excellent holiday fun choice.
The illumination of the 42-foot Christmas tree at Krutch Park along with a forest of twinkling trees, a huge parade, the Peppermint Trail, and even an Elf on the Shelf® Scavenger Hunt add to the Christmas cheer.
Take a stroll through the downtown Winter Wonderland to enjoy over 100,000 lights with garland decorating the doors, windows, patios, and trees. You can find peppermint specials in every boutique, bar, bakery, coffee shop, and restaurant as you follow the Peppermint Trail, and there are even peppermint-themed lighting displays.
Kids will be thrilled with the idea of participating in a scavenger hunt and finding which store or location Elf on the Shelf® lands each day.
In the downtown, the businesses select a theme each year and decorate the storefronts accordingly.
Knoxville neighborhoods battle to see who has the best decorations and the entire community gets involved in the season’s activities.
5. Union City
Located in northwest Tennessee, Union City has a quaint downtown decorated with festive lights, and in town, it has Discovery Park America. It is an incredible museum by day but when the sun goes down, the Let It Glow light show begins with over one million synchronized lights sparkling to Christmas songs. The entire 50 acres for the heritage park provide a drive-thru light show.
This year, for the first time, you can walk through some of the light show. Hot chocolate and other refreshments are available for purchase, as well as local, handmade gifts.
You can enjoy Let It Glow in Union City from November 12 through December 31.
A tiny mountain town between Nashville and Chattanooga, Sewanee turns on the southern charm for the holidays. It is home to the University of the South, and the gorgeous campus gets into the holiday spirit and decks the halls for Christmas.
The university holds its candlelit, music-filled Christmas service, Lessons and Carols in All Saints’ chapel in December. The students go home for the holidays, but this quiet town turns up the holiday spirit for visitors to enjoy
7. Pigeon Forge
A festive holiday destination, Pigeon Forge is magical with glittering lights and decorations. The Trolley Ride of Lights allows you to enjoy the seasonal display while gliding through the town.
Tennessee’s top attraction, Dollywood, flips the switch for its five million sparkling lights display on November 6. Its celebration, Smoky Mountain Christmas, has been named the “Best Christmas Event” in the Smoky Mountains.
A Christmas light show, stories told on stage, and the “Merry & Bright” fireworks display synchronized to Christmas tunes make this one of the merriest events in Tennessee.
Pigeon Forge also hosts a 2,000-square-foot complex known as The Incredible Christmas Place. Inside you will find more holiday cheer and decor than you can imagine. Santa’s Haus has photo-ops, ornament making, arts and crafts, cookie decorating, storytime with Santa, and more.
Be sure to visit the Old Mill historic district. It is visible for miles with illuminated scenes and colorful Christmas lights.
If time permits, tantalize your tastebuds with a meal at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, complete with a holiday-themed program and a gigantic 60-foot decorated Christmas tree.
When you leave, I promise you will carry the Christmas spirit with you.
Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland showcases lights dancing in rhythm to Christmas music played on your car radio as you drive through the custom-built, all-LED displays surrounding you with holiday magic. The Great Smoky Mountains serve as a backdrop for the 15 million lights and displays that line the parkway for a festive experience.
Nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg has much to offer visitors when it comes to holiday cheer. America’s longest suspension bridge becomes “Lights Across Gatlinburg” from mid-November through late January. The park is covered with dazzling lights and seasonal decorations. Christmas music plays in the background, and the cafes serve hot chocolate.
Note: The 30th annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest includes Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge from November 11 through Valentine’s Day.
An old-fashioned Christmas is celebrated in historic Rugby on the first two Saturdays of December. Christmas spirit is alive and well in the historic settlement as the holidays approach. The Victorian-era village is decked out like it is still 1880 with live garland and window candles.
Christmas in Historic Rugby includes a visit from Father Christmas, street carolers strolling in the village, hot drinks and cookies, holiday shopping, and more.
Known for its speedway, Bristol showcases the largest holiday light show in the region, beginning November 12 through January 1. Bristol Motor Speedway turns into the Speedway in Lights with over 2 million twinkling lights.
Other activities in Bristol include an Ice rink and a Christmas Village.
No matter which Tennessee town you choose to visit over the holidays, you will be greeted with warm, genuine Southern hospitality, homespun Christmas charm, and the small-town friendly atmosphere showcased in Hallmark Christmas movies.
Who knows, after a visit, you might be saying, “A tender Tennessee Christmas is the only Christmas for me.”
If you decide to visit Tennessee, check out these other offerings: