It may be the most wonderful time of the year, but the holiday season is also the most stressful, the most expensive, the most emotional. We try to squeeze more into our free time than is humanly possible to get done.
Welcome to the December holiday gauntlet.
In the four weekends until Christmas, we have to find time to shop and to spend with family and friends, to soak in the holiday cheer and find a way to de-stress. So we’re here to help. We broke down suggestions for shopping, family activities, entertainment and ways to relax. Please go ahead and mix-and-match for each weekend.
Soak in village charm
Nothing makes you feel like you’re in a Hallmark holiday movie like walking along festively decorated Main Street in Williamsville and East Aurora or along the avenues on Elmwood and Hertel. Bonus: You’ll find plenty of quirky, unusual and unique gifts. Grab the first parking spot you see and start walking among the specialty shops, some of which still offer the quaint practice of gift wrapping. Take your time browsing the storefronts – that’s part of the experience – and stop along the way for a warm drink, a bite to eat or even a cocktail. You’ve got plenty of choices.
Try an outdoor “mall”
Forget the parking headaches and overcrowding of the big malls. Try an “old-fashioned” outdoor strip mall like the Southgate Plaza. Yes, you’ll need to walk outdoors a bit, but there’s less stress, plenty of parking and they are more manageable in size. At Southgate, you can hit a few specialty shops, a larger department store, a dollar store to grab gifts bags and have time for a filling, inexpensive lunch at popular Christe’s.
Head to a greenhouse
Your favorite garden shop doesn’t go dormant after summer. This time of year, you’ll find such fun items as snowmen and angels for your lawn, wall adornments with country charm and holiday décor for your fairy garden. Plus a fresh wreath or plant always makes a great gift.
Find a one-of-a-kind gift
Look in your own neighborhood for unusual shopping opportunities at spots like schools, churches and social halls. This is a win-win: You’ll cross folks off your shopping list and these events are usually fundraisers for a good cause.
Get together for a family movie
Grab the kids and head out to see a holiday film. The Aurora Theatre in East Aurora has a free holiday film series through December; be sure to spend some time with the Grinch display in the lobby, too. Tickets are only $3 for the holiday film series at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda. The Regal Theaters are showing holiday movies at 11 a.m. Saturdays through December with discounted concession items. Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Lockport Palace, Screening Room Cinema Cafe or just at home.
An illuminating time
Kids love seeing the bright lights of holiday displays. The annual Fairgrounds Festival of Lights at the Hamburg Fairgrounds has plenty of activities for the kids in addition to the lights. They can make crafts, take the Express Train and enjoy the North Pole Experience that takes them to Santa and Mrs. Claus. Our Lady of Fatima Shrine in Lewiston and the Winter Festival of Lights along the Niagara Parks and tourist districts in Niagara Falls, Ont., are two other annual light shows. Or pile the kids in a car, drive through your neighborhood and have them pick out their favorite houses.
Visit a summer attraction – in winter
Time to show the kids there’s a different side to their favorite summer spot. At the Buffalo Zoo, this is a great time to see animals that enjoy the chillier weather, plus the zoo holds weekend events through December like a tree lighting and Breakfast With Santa. The Buffalo and Erie County Botanical Gardens revels in the holidays with its annual Garden Railways and Poinsettia shows. Pick your favorite attraction and see what’s happening.
Cut down your own holiday tree
You could put up the same artificial tree and light a pine candle. You could go to the corner lot and hope for the best. Or you could enjoy a nice drive and cut down your own tree. The Christmas Tree Farmers of WNY can help you find a tree farm – visit christmastreesny.org and plug in your ZIP code or check out the list we've already put together here.
Hear the bells and carols
December is an especially wonderful time of year when it comes to classical and choir music. The BPO performs multiple holiday concerts, including Holiday Pops and its Classical Christmas, and many choral groups and churches have events planned.
Enjoy a night at the theater
Get dressed up and treat yourself with shows like “Christmas is Comin’ Uptown” (Dec. 8-18 at Paul Robeson Theatre), “A Christmas Story, The Musical” (Dec. 13-18 at Shea’s) or “The Night Before Christmas” (Dec. 16-18) at Lancaster Opera House. For the kids, there’s “Junie B. Jones in Jingle Bells, Batman Smells” (Dec. 3-18 at Theatre of Youth).
It’s always fun to take a holiday guest to a game – and they appreciate it, too. With Jack Eichel back on the ice, the timing couldn’t be better for a Sabres game. Less expensive tickets can be had for the abundance of Division I college hockey and basketball in the area. Plus you can say “you saw them when.”
Be a tourist
When was the last time you visited one of our multitude of attractions? Take advantage of living so close to places that draw out-of-town visitors like the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Darwin Martin House and Pierce-Arrow Museum.
Winter’s here, so enjoy all it has to offer. You’ll get some exercise and relieve stress at the same time. Even kids can enjoy the fresh air skating outdoors at Canalside, Rotary Rink, Humboldt Basin and RiverWorks. (You can find indoor skating, too, throughout the area, including South Buffalo and Riverside.) When the snow comes, get your sled and head for your favorite park, like Delaware or Chestnut Ridge.
Savor an adult winter beverage
Enjoy a night out at a bar or brewery where the tastes of the seasons are reimagined in local brews and cocktails. Try a Peppermint Stout and Brown Sugar Cinnamon Habanero Porter (from 12 Gates) or Festivus Bier de Noel (Resurgence). The warm, winter drink the Tom & Jerry has made its annual return. Or just ask your favorite bartender for their new holiday cocktail.
Admit it – we all love to people watch and there isn’t a better time to do that than now. Grab a peppermint hot chocolate or a gingerbread latte, find a comfy spot at the mall or in the window of a coffee shop. Then watch the madness rush around you knowing you’re not a part of it and just smile.
Give yourself a break
You’ve taken care of everyone else, now it’s time to spend a couple of hours on yourself – and that goes for guys, too. Book a spa treatment of any kind – the hour out of the holiday madness will be rejuvenating. At the very least, take advantage of the $1-a-minute massages you can get at area malls.