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CERCA: It’s Christmas in Sedona, with none of the folks at home

For Mardi Gras, there’s New Orleans. For New Year’s Eve, it’s Times Square or the Las Vegas Strip. But for Christmas season, there’s no place like … Sedona?

The tradition isn’t yet as well known as those others, but it’s coming on strong. For a decade or more, an increasing number of families have established traditions of visiting Sedona during December. And Christmas week, starting about Dec. 23, has become one of Sedona’s busiest.

It makes sense, especially for those who would rather their Christmas not be affected by blizzards. It rarely snows before January in Sedona. Throughout December, temperatures touch freezing most nights, but daytime degrees require only light jackets or even shirtsleeves, depending upon the visitor’s climate of origin. One of Sedona’s chief virtues is the accessibility of outdoor marvels to luxurious accommodations, and commercial jeep tours of colorful back country and prehistoric cliff dwellings continue unabated even during the holidays.

But December visits to Sedona also have a heavy holiday flavor. Red Rock Fantasy, a unique holiday display competition, opened its 20th annual manifestation Nov. 18. Every night through Jan. 1, visitors can stroll the grounds of Los Abrigados resort, sipping cider or hot chocolate, laughing at the storybook characters rendered in life-size displays, and voting for their favorites. Each display represents the effort of one family, which has to make something beautiful and charming out of five sheets of plywood and up to 15,000 lights. Proceeds from admission fees benefit local charities. For details visit www.redrockfantasy.com or call (800) 521-3131.

The Festival of Trees opens tonight at Tlaquepaque Arts and Crafts Village, where many well-known Southwestern artists work and even more display in its galleries. Thirty unique Christmas trees, some of them created by those very artists, will be on display through Dec. 5. The trees are then awarded to successful bidders in a silent auction. For additional information, call (928) 282-4838.

Perhaps the city’s most charming yuletide event is Teddy Bear Tea at Tlaquepaque, on Saturday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Children and adults bring a favorite teddy bear to dress-up tea in an elegant ballroom. Children learn the delights of tea sandwiches, scones, high-class cookies and good manners. Proceeds benefit Toys for Tots; admission is $25 per adult; $20 per child, and reservations are required, (928) 282-4838, www.tlaq.com. A week later, Dec. 11, an event of rare beauty occurs at the Festival of Lights, climaxing with the ignition of 6,000 luminarias in the courtyards and walkways of Tlaquepaque. Many of the luminarias are dedicated to specific survivors or victims of cancer, whose friends make a donation to the American Cancer Society in that person’s honor, but the event is otherwise free. Candles are handed out to all visitors, and on the stroke of 5 p.m., all light the candles and place them into the weighted paper luminarias, which soon shed their golden light from every wall, balcony, patio or stone walkway in the village. Elegant in its simplicity, the ceremony has been beloved by Arizonans for 37 years.

The festival lasts from 3 to 8 p.m. In another highlight, the 60-voice River of Life Tabernacle Choir will perform a repertoire of seasonal favorites and gospel from 5:30 to 8 p.m., and an unusual steel-drum performance of Christmas music will be heard elsewhere in the complex from 3 to 8 p.m.

Sedona resorts offer package deals making it all the easier to visit around the holidays; these include the high-end and centrally located Sedona Rouge Hotel and Spa, (866) 312-4111, www.sedonarouge.com, and El Portal Sedona, a bed-and-breakfast famous for its unique suites, luxury and pet-friendliness, (800) 313-0017, elportalsedona.com. Also, Diamond Resorts International offers a December special at its beautifully located Sedona Summit, (928) 204-3100; www.diamondresorts.com.

But plenty of other Sedona properties do also. The website www.visitsedona.com has an extensive list of properties. Sedona’s visitor bureau says its biggest markets are California, Arizona itself, Texas, Illinois, Colorado, and Nevada, but it also gets considerable interest from Canada and Europe.

There’s even business from the North Pole. Santa Claus shows up every year for the Festival of Lights and Teddy Bear Tea.

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