Just 30 minutes northwest of St. Louis, St. Charles is a dreamy Christmas town, with early 19th-century buildings draped in fresh pine garlands and lights glowing above brick-paved streets.

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Christmas festival
Saint Charles, Missouri, Christmas Traditions festival
| Credit: Emily Lansche Katski/@dogwoodchannelcat

With apologies to Nat King Cole, Jack Frost might not actually nip your nose in St. Charles, Missouri—but you can run into him dashing down Main Street amidst revelers at the Saint Charles Christmas Traditions festival. Just 30 minutes northwest of St. Louis, St. Charles is a magical Christmas town, with festivities dotting the calendar from November through December. But its initial celebrations were humble.

"Everything started in the 1970s, right around the time that Main Street was being revitalized," says Ryan Cooper, festival producer. "A lot of merchants here were in the festive mood, so they put on period attire and just dragged a Yule log down the street."

Since then, the event has grown—a lot. More than 130,000 people come each year to dip in and out of shops, sip wassail and ice-skate, all among roving Victorian characters. "Coming off of a year where there's been a lot of digital, I love the fact that you can engage all your senses," Cooper says. "You see the traditional period attire that the characters are wearing; you hear the old-fashioned music of the caroling groups. You can taste the chestnuts roasting on an open fire. You can smell the live pine greenery, and you can feel the bricks on your feet."

St. Charles' celebrations combine historical elements with wonder, whimsy and a bit of worldly education. Kids can collect trading cards from the cast of more than 40 characters, including Jack Frost, the Sugar Plum Fairy, Mr. and Mrs. Claus (plus eight more international variations on Santa, who share how Christmas looks in their countries). An exhibit at the Katy Depot explores the evolution of the Christmas tree.

"What we really specialize in with our Christmas traditions is eliminating the hustle and bustle," Cooper says. "We're transporting people back in time to experience the yuletide traditions of yesteryear." 

The Nice List

Shop

Highlights along Main Street include Olde Town Spice Shoppe (with a section dedicated to Missouri-made food gifts), Main Street Books, and Provenance Soapworks for handcrafted soap and bath bombs. 

Drink

Both Bella Vino Wine Bar and Magpie's Cafe have cozy patios with views of Main Street. Try a wine flight at the former and hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps at the latter. Or warm your belly with (virgin) Aztec Spiced Cocoa at Picasso's Coffee. 

Eat

Tuck into hearty Greek fare at Spiro's Restaurant or toasted ravioli (a St. Louis specialty) at Tony's on Main Street. Satisfy a Christmas cookie craving with a snickerdoodle from Grandma's Cookies.

Stay

The owners wear period dress to greet guests at Boone's Colonial Inn. (Luckily, the elegantly appointed rooms with whirlpool tubs don't feel 200 years old.) The Guest House Company rents out luxury homes along Main Street for those who prefer an independent setup.

St. Charles Datebook

Mark your calendar! You won't want to miss these festive events.

Saint Charles Christmas Traditions 

From after Thanksgiving through Christmas, the characters, carolers and chestnut-roasters are out in full force on weekend afternoons and evenings, as well as Wednesday and Friday nights. (Christmas Eve celebrations will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.)

Tree Lighting Ceremony

Sip hot spiced drinks and listen to the caroling Cobblestone Wassailers on Main Street November 26.

The Santa Parade

Saturdays and Sundays at noon, a procession of storybook characters, carolers and a Revolutionary War-style drum line marches down Main Street.

A Christmas Carol Stroll

On Wednesday evenings, Charles Dickens' classic tale comes to life as characters roam the streets to tell their stories.

Krampus Karnival

Krampus, sidekick of Bavarian St. Nick, introduces global holiday customs via fun games each Friday.