The Hallmark Channel is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Countdown to Christmas, a tradition that, this year, started 60 days before the actual holiday with the release of 40 new seasonal movies to a collection of titles some 232 strong. The plots contain overlapping themes often involving some sort of homecoming, some sort of a hometown hunk, some multigenerational problem-solving, and, of course, some sort of sweater-wearing. The movies tend to transport busy corporate types from cities to deeply quaint towns where they find love or, at the very least, the spirit of Christmas.
Watching these movies may trigger the desire to visit one of these towns. Who doesn't want to sit at a cozy mom-and-pop establishment, sipping a steaming beverage while holiday lights twinkle up and down Main Street? Don't we all want someone to wrap their arms around us in the back of a Clydesdale-drawn carriage?
Is it too much to ask that these Hallmark movie towns exist? It is not, because they do. America is filled with fairy-tale destinations for you to live out your Hallmark movie fantasies this holiday season. We picked five of them for you to visit.
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Nestled in Virginia's horse country, Middleburg is surrounded by rolling fields with livestock, vineyards and orchards. Park your car and stroll (yes, stroll) down the historical district's main drag until you run into the Christmas Sleigh, a German Christmas-themed store packed to the brim with holiday paraphernalia. We're talking ornaments, chunky sweaters, holiday sweets, nutcrackers and festive beer steins. The shop also claims to have America's most robust collection of Austrian and German traditional Trachten clothing for people of all ages, if that's your vibe.
Pick up some lederhosen and go catch the Middleburg Christmas Parade on Dec. 7, where you're bound to have a holiday rom-com moment. Picture the scene now: You bend down to pet one of the hounds and realize a dreamy local has done the same. You lock eyes. The rest is history (or airing on the Hallmark Channel).
Leavenworth takes pride in being a Bavarian village tucked away in the Cascade Mountains. The holiday programming in town does not disappoint, particularly the 500,000 Christmas lights that make up Leavenworth's "Village of Lights." During the town's Christmas Lighting Festival, Leavenworth celebrates with live music and visits from Santa, and perhaps here you'll cross paths with your future spouse, who happens to be in attendance, gazing longingly at you while you're distracted by the extraordinarily festive display. You may bump into them later at Leavenworth's nutcracker museum, where thousands of nut-opening dolls are on display. If you don't find love, at least you'll have seen thousands of nutcrackers.
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In the wintertime, thousands of elk migrate to Jackson's National Elk Refuge to do their standard wintertime elk activities. It's a good time for non-elk to migrate to Jackson, too. The town gets very cold and very festive around the holidays. That combination makes for an epic annual Torchlight Parade wherein locals ski down the town hill in a zigzag pattern while holding onto blazing flares. Before the parade, check into the Wort Hotel, a historical property that hosts its own 12 Days of Christmas programming the way Hallmark would have scripted. Once you meet your love interest (perhaps in the crowd of Torchlight Parade spectators?) who inevitably warms your cold, wintry heart, invite them on a horse-drawn sleigh ride through that wildlife refuge.
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Welcome to Durango, a town so lovely in the wintertime that its website says it could be the best time of year to visit. You see this from the moment you arrive. In the background: the San Juan Mountains under a blanket of snow. In the foreground: cozy locals bundled up in lounge chairs around fire pits enjoying the après-ski scene. You nestle in with them, doing your best to blend in while also standing out to a potential "special someone."
After your afternoon on the slopes, or on a ride on the Polar Express vintage steam train (yes, Santa is onboard), mosey over to food-and-drink court 11th Street Station or the bar El Moro for more opportunities to meet your soul mate. If that doesn't pan out like you and Hallmark hoped, try Noel Night on Dec. 6. Everyone in town comes out for the evening, where shops offer food, wine, games and discounts.
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North Pole, Alaska
Perhaps the most perfect backdrop for a meet-cute is North Pole, Alaska. The town is so dedicated to the season that even its city government website has a Christmas countdown on the homepage. About 15 miles outside of Fairbanks, the town of North Pole's main attraction is Santa Claus's house, where visitors can take photos with the big man himself as well as some real reindeer.
The holiday season kicks off with such fanfare as a winter festival, a candle-lighting ceremony, a community tree-lighting (maybe this is your best bet for bumping into an attractive stranger) and ice carving. Airbnbs in the area are aplenty, including deeply romantic log cabins that advertise visibility of the northern lights.