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Looking Ahead Mark your calendar for these fun-filled events held across the country in December and January.
4 New York City
A holiday tradition since 1933, the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting hails the commencement of the winter season for millions of Big Apple residents and is a sight to behold. Though this year’s tree had yet to be plucked at press time, last year’s was a towering 80-foot spruce that weighed in at 10 tons. More than five miles of energy-efficient LED lights adorn the branches, drawing a fraction of the power that had traditionally been required. The tree is topped with the Swarovski star, which debuted in 2004, comprises 25,000 crystals, measures 9.5 feet in diameter, and weighs 550 pounds. Of course, Rockefeller Center, the world-famous complex of 19 commercial buildings spanning 22 acres, also features some of Manhattan’s best shopping and dining, and you’ll want to dust off your skates for a quick spin on the legendary ice rink. The evening begins at 7 and includes all-star performances—but visitors are encouraged to arrive much earlier. Free
7 Scottsdale, AZ
If you’ve ever dreamed of seeing a 100-foot, hurdle-heavy relay race run by teams of four tiny dogs, the 4th Annual Holiday Pet Festival at WestWorld of Scottsdale is here to satisfy. The Flyball Race aside, this event is a pet lover’s paradise, offering animal adoptions, the wares of 125 pet-product vendors, interactive activities, a silent auction, and arts and crafts. You can also get discounted rabies vaccinations and free nail trims (for your canine pal, that is). If that’s not enough to get you barking, don’t miss the Best Holiday Pet Attire and Coolest Pet Trick competitions. Who knows? Maybe your ho-ho-hound will find puppy love on the exhibit floor. Free
The two-day All Star Challenge: Cheer & Dance National Championships is a showcase for the country’s finest young tumblers, stunters, jumpers, pom-shakers, and pyramid makers. Held at Georgia International Convention Center, this year’s show is dubbed “Battle Under the Big Top,” with many high school and college acts following a circus theme in a variety of contests, cheering toward thousands of dollars in cash prizes. Performing on a 54’ by 42’ spring floor in Jazz, Pom, and Hip Hop categories, teams of at least five will lift your spirits and cheer your soul with gravity-defying performances, judged not solely upon the sum of their parts but on overall entertainment value and superior technical athleticism. In other sports, if you miss the catch, all you drop is the ball. Hopefully nobody drops the belle. $20
Known for its distinctive physical appearance—large bone structure, rectangular body shape, flowing coat—the Maine coon has been a popular domestic cat in the United States for more than 150 years. And it’s about to get its moment in the spotlight at the two-day 21st Annual Cat Fanciers’ Association Allbreed Cat Show. Arizona’s biggest show of its kind, hosted by the largest registry of pedigreed cats in the world, will be held at the Phoenix American Royal Palace and looks to be purrfect. Featuring 41 distinct breeds of cats—including the sleek Siamese, the coatless sphynx, the silky Abyssinian, and the stately Persian—the Best in Show competition is catnip for kitty aficionados, while a veritable supermarket of feline-related vendors offers up playthings for your favorite fur ball. This year’s highlight may very well be the festive cage-decorating and cat-costume contests. Who can resist a snowshoe Santa or a Korat Kris Kringle? $7 for adults, $3 for children 3–12
Celebrating one of America’s most iconic public protests (centuries before Occupy Wall Street and the March on Washington), the 240th Anniversary Boston Tea Party Annual Re-enactment invites guests to indulge their patriotism in an action-packed evening of United States history. A bitter reaction to harsh new British taxation acts, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 sparked the American Revolution, starting with a fiery debate at Old South Meeting House and culminating in the dumping of 45 tons of British-imported East India tea into Boston Harbor by Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and the Sons of Liberty. Guests will visit the actual historical sites in a fully narrated and spirited presentation performed by professional actors, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Don’t forget to cheer “Huzzah” when each chest of tea is cracked open and dumped overboard. Before government shutdowns and sit-down protests, this was how America forged its future and fortune. $20
21 Tacoma, Washington
“Nothing was more up to date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station,” wrote Ada Louise Huxtable. The Pulitzer Prize–winning critic may have been right in that the Golden Age of Railroads was nearly a century ago, but, thanks to the 18th annual Model Train Festival at Washington State History Museum, families can get their choo-choo on from engine car to caboose. Taking over every floor of the museum, the 10-day festival features the largest permanent model train layout in the state (that’s measured in miles of track, if you’re keeping score) and the dazzlingly detailed work of local model train enthusiasts. Small fries will enjoy the chance to ride simulated trains, build their own LEGO locomotives, and view films about the history of railroads. The weekend before Christmas, Santa Claus will be on hand to take train-themed holiday photos with families. $10, children under 6 free
28 Las Vegas
How will the UFC celebrate its 20th anniversary in the fight biz? By offering up the most hotly anticipated rematch in UFC history, with middleweight champ Chris “All-American” Weidman defending his title against the dethroned king, Anderson “The Spider” Silva. In the duo’s previous match, Weidman combined 26 strikes and a single takedown to be the first man ever to knock out 16-time UFC champ Silva and nab the title in the second round. This time around, Silva—widely considered the greatest mixed martial artist of all time—looks to return the KO favor, delivering to Weidman a lethal Muay Thai/Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu cocktail and high-octane octagon action. Will it take longer than the legendary 6-second bout between Ludwig and Goulet in 2006? Probably. Meanwhile, the UFC simultaneously celebrates two decades as the world’s leading presenter of professional MMA matches, including 2,415 fights with combatants from 35 countries. From $216.70
Of parades, Mark Twain once mused, “So far as I can see, a procession has value in but two ways—as a show and as a symbol.” We’ll leave the symbolism to the semiotics majors at University of Miami, but for pure show nothing beats the unadulterated lunacy and tomfoolery of the King Mango Strut, which this year celebrates its 32nd annual jaunt through Miami. The largest satirical parade in the Southeast boasts of putting the “nut” back in Coconut Grove and features hula-dancing bikers, shrieking dudes in rolling outhouses, ER “patients” on gurneys, kazoo-playing octogenarians, and just about any other phantasmagorical thing your imagination can conjure. Organizers promise a parade-long search for secret-leaker Edward Snowden and a self-choreographed “perp walk” dance routine from three recently indicted Miami-Dade County Mayors. That may be jabberwocky, but the entire affair is, and blissfully so. The Mango Music Massacre ensemble will follow marchers, drifters, and floaters along the parade route, offering a joyful, cacophonous soundtrack to the one deranged parade you can’t miss. Free
31 San Antonio
“An optimist stays up until midnight to see the New Year in,” wrote folksy American columnist William Vaughan, “and a pessimist stays up to make sure the old year leaves.” Whichever one you are, you’ll want to make your resolutions at Celebrate San Antonio, the largest free New Year’s Eve event in Texas, drawing more than 250,000 excited revelers downtown each year. The 18th annual Alamo City bash features live music on three stages (last year’s headliner was Grammy-winning unit Los Texmaniacs), food and drink from 50 of the area’s favorite eateries, carnival rides and games, and other family-friendly adventures. The evening—which begins at 6 p.m. on South Alamo between Market and Cesar Chavez—concludes with a breathtaking 30-minute fireworks extravaganza, spotlighting the 750-foot Tower of the Americas, the second-tallest observation tower in the nation. So come on, ring out the old, ring in the new, ring out the false, ring in the true. And do it Texas-style. Free
Instead of fruitlessly scouring the Net for a post-New Year’s hangover remedy that involves coffee grounds, hot sauce, and raw eggs, trust us: a freezing-cold dip at the 12th Annual Polar Bear Plunge is just what the doctor ordered. Go ahead and sleep in after watching the ball drop in Times Square, but be sure to make the high noon call-time for your bracing swim in Lake Washington, where average January water temps range in the high 40s. That’ll knock the rust off your champagne-riddled halo! Free refreshments will be served, and every participant who braves the frigid waters neck-deep receives an Official Patch of Courage. For fun, many of the nearly 1,000 winter swimmers dress in costume. Those with heart or serious medical conditions are advised to consult with their doctor before signing up. Free
1 Pasadena, CA
What is the Tournament of Roses Parade? A) The product of more than 500,000 roses, 5,000 gallons of glue, 18 million other flowers, and 80,000 man-hours of Tournament members? B) A 5 ½-mile route traversed by 20 outstanding marching bands, 16 majestic equestrian units, and nearly four dozen state-of-the-art floats? C) A prelude to the century-old Rose Bowl game? D) An opportunity to enjoy in full bloom Grand Marshal Vin Scully, the venerable LA Dodgers broadcasting legend? E) A salute to the community spirit and love of pageantry that have thrived in Pasadena for more than 100 years? If your answer is all of the above, you’ve got the right idea. Celebrating its quasquicentennial with the theme of “Dreams Come True,” the Rose Parade annually attracts some 700,000 spectators, some of whom are lucky enough to nab reserved seating via sharpseating.com. Everyone else watches curbside, first-come, first-served. Free
What would the comedy landscape today be without the Windy City, one of the great hubs of hilarity the world has known? Impossible to say, but Chicago is the comedic birthplace of ha-ha legends Bill Murray, Mike Myers, and Tina Fey, so the 13th Annual Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival may well give audiences a first glimpse of the Next Big Thing. Celebrating the best in local, national, and international sketch comedy, the 10-day festival attracts 800 performers and more than 10,000 audience members from around the world. The event is produced by and staged at Stage 773, and features simultaneous performances on all four theater spaces in an atmosphere of celebration, collaboration, and community. From $14
16 Eagle River, WI
Revving snowmobiles through sub-zero temperatures in a series of high-speed races and death-defying stunt contests is the hallmark of the World Championship Snowmobile Derby, which this year celebrates its 51st anniversary. Braving Old Man Winter in the Badger State, the world’s finest competitors board their ’mobiles—essentially hot rods on skis—to tackle the snowmobile capital of the world’s half-mile oval race course at speeds of more than 100 miles per hour. A large cash purse and glittering trophies await the victors, who in snowmobile parlance, will “ride it like they stole it” at the four-day event. Fans fill the snow banks, with warming stations available at convenient locations and plentiful food and drink on hand. Oval and Sno-X racing add to the—did we mention there’ll be fireworks?! From $65
17 Fort Lauderdale, FL
“You can get off alcohol, drugs, women, food, and cars, but once you’re hooked on orchids, you’re finished,” wrote author Eric Hansen in his book, Orchid Fever. If you’re hooked, or would like to be, on the fragrant, bilaterally symmetric herbaceous monocots, the three-day Fort Lauderdale Orchid Show is definitely your bag of soil. Held at the War Memorial Auditorium, this year’s show is themed “Exotic Orchids,” and gathers enthusiasts, hobbyists, growers, and hybridizers in the second-largest orchid show in the country. Famously painted by American artist George O’Keeffe, orchids have more than 20,000 different species and make up between 6 to 11 percent of all seed plants. At the Sunshine State’s esteemed show, hundreds of different species will be exhibited in artistically designed displays and available for purchase, while dozens of vendors will offer gift items, educational materials, and supplies, plus hourly prize drawings. Judges from the American Orchid Society will announce the winning plants and exhibits the day before the event begins, but that won’t stop the blossoming of your own opinions. $12
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