Christmas family destinations in middle America
Randall Murphree
Randall Murphree
AFA Journal editor

November-December 2006 – Don’t be surprised if you hear a “Bah! Humbug!” as you get out of the family van and enter the Victorian street setting peopled by Ebenezer Scrooge and other characters from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You’re in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, at the grounds where “The Great Passion Play” began its storied run almost 40 years ago. It has long enjoyed the distinction of being America’s #1 attended outdoor drama. The same area now hosts “Beyond Dickens,” a unique Christmas celebration, scheduled this year for November 10–December 9. 

Hardly more than an hour north of “Beyond Dickens” is Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. The Branson family theme park hosts “An Old Time Christmas,” a family spectacular that includes a musical production of A Christmas Carol. At Silver Dollar City, a five-story Christmas tree and more than four million lights illuminate the season beginning November 4.

The two cities are hardly an hour apart and not so far from the center of the country, putting them within driving distance of much of the nation.

“I’ve been to Silver Dollar City, and I’ve been to Eureka Springs many times through the years,” said Buddy Smith, assistant to the president at AFA. “Parents who skip these two spectacular family events are missing out on a great opportunity, a lot of fun and a great blessing. Both celebrations can add deeper meaning to the Christmas season.”

In Eureka Springs, “Beyond Dickens” is an interactive Nativity where guests become a part of the production. After Scrooge and company greet you in the Victorian street, you’ll enter a huge gate in a towering wall. It’s like a time machine, and suddenly you’re strolling down the streets of Bethlehem 2000 years ago. Roman soldiers order you to register for the census and pay your taxes. Townspeople  tell you about their lives. Mary and Joseph tell you their story themselves.

Elsewhere on the grounds are “The Great Passion Play’s” year-round attractions – the Sacred Arts Center with guest artists on hand, the Museum of Earth History and a display of Nativity sets from around the world.

In Branson, the folks at Silver Dollar City do it up right, decorating the theme park in extravagant detail. Special events, parades, more than a thousand decorated Christmas trees and great food are some of the attractions. While the Ozark Mountains theme park is not a Christian business per se, it is run by committed Christian brothers, Jack and Pete Herschend, who emphasize that this is a Christmas celebration, not a holiday event.

“We will make a point in our marketing and our message to say ‘Merry Christmas,’” said Pete Herschend. “It’s just flat-out wrong to say only ‘Have a nice holiday.’ During Christmas, we have three or four different presentations of the Nativity of our Lord. Some will be reading right out of Scripture and [in another] we’ll have an old man sitting out in a rocking chair telling the Nativity story in the words of a mountain man.”

“An Old Time Christmas” production has been called one of the nation’s top Christmas events by USA Today and People magazine.  undefined

To verify dates and times of events:

  “Beyond Dickens”
Phone: 800-882-7529

  “An Old Time Christmas”  
Phone: 800-831-4FUN