The 12 best US small towns to revel in all things holidays

Published: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 @ 11:45 AM

Here’s our favorite dozen, in alphabetical order Asheville, North Carolina Greenville, South Carolina Helen, Georgia Laguna Beach, California Natchitoches, Louisiana Ogunquit, Maine St. Augustine, Florida Taos, N.M. Williamsburg, Va

From quaint town squares aglow in twinkling lights in New England to carriage rides alongside Louisiana lakes, small towns near and far really capture the magic of Christmas.

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As you’re planning your winter wonderland adventures, you may be looking for a short drive (or a long one) to towns that have the most holiday spirit. 

If that’s your goal, there is an endless number of towns that go all out for the holidays.

Here’s our favorite dozen, in alphabetical order:

Asheville, North Carolina. For formal events, the Biltmore Estate is dressed up in ribbons, lights and other finery for an annual Christmas celebration from Nov. 3 to Jan. 7. For a more outdoorsy tradition, the Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum features nearly 500,000 LED lights placed throughout gardens and holiday-inspired cocoa, cider and beers.

Cambridge, Ohio. From November through mid-January, the downtown of this Ohio city in the Appalachian Plateau turns itself into the Dickens Victorian Village. The walking tour features 92 scenes of life in 1850s England. The modern era comes to life every evening, with an 8- to 12-minute light show, synchronized to holiday music, which bathes the town's historic (1881) courthouse in 30,000 lights.

Greenville, South Carolina. Just up Interstate 85 is a Christmas-light strewn downtown that includes pop-up retail shops, the St. Francis Foundation Festival of Trees and open-air skating at Ice on Main. Opening Thanksgiving night and running through Dec. 30, the Roper Mountain Holiday Lights also offers a walking tour, Santa Claus and a 1.5-mile drive with 72 glittering displays.

Enjoy a traditional German Christmas in Helen.(Courtesy of Cedar Creek Cabin Rentals)

Helen, Georgia. Come November, this re-created Alpine village sheds the lederhosen (leather pants for men) and readies the lebkuchen (essentially German gingerbread) and other holiday treats. The holidays start with Festival of Trees, which takes the highest bid on decorated trees and wreaths between Nov. 19 and Dec. 9. The Christkindlmarkt, a traditional German market featuring gifts and food, runs Dec. 2-3 and Dec. 9-10.

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Laguna Beach, California. Palm trees can be just as festive as snowy firs given the way this Southern California beach city does Christmas. Think spotting migrating whales instead of scanning the skies for reindeer. Or embrace the arts scene here with the annual Sawdust Winter Fantasy, which features thousands of holiday decorations and hand-crafted jewelry, ceramics and other artwork in addition to outdoor cafes, a petting zoo and, of course, Santa.

Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Natchitoches Christmas lights up the city of 18,000 people with more than 300,000 lights and 100 set pieces downtown and along the Cane River Lake. The aptly named Festival of Lights opens Nov. 18 with free admission to all events and fireworks show that night. Other events during the festival, which runs through Jan. 6, 2018, includes a parade on Dec. 2, arts and crafts that celebrate the town's Creole heritage, carriage rides and historic home tours.

Ogunquit, Maine. The annual Christmas by the Sea festival features bonfires on the beach, hayrides, caroling and a living manger, in addition to traditional caroling and arts and crafts. The brave can also attempt a Polar Bear plunge into the Atlantic Ocean if they dare.

St. Augustine, Florida. Some three million lights adorn every corner of the nation's oldest city during Nights of Lights. Based on the Spanish tradition of lighting a single candle in a window of every home, the lights illuminate the cobblestone streets and iconic Bridge of Lions, in addition to shops and restaurants. Aside from self-guided walking tours, visitors can explore by bicycle, in horse-and-carriage and the city's Old Town Trolley.

SANTA CLAUS, IND.: Another statue of Santa Claus stands in front of the town hall. The town of Santa Claus is located in southern Indiana on interstate 64 between Evansville, Ind., and Louisville, Ky.(Melissa Miller, Spencer County Visitors Bureau)

Santa Claus, Ind. Living up to its name, this tiny town of 2,500 people celebrates Christmas all year long, so when the holiday season finally rolls around, it is strapped for its all-out extravaganza between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Among the Santa Claus events: a chance to roast chestnuts on an open fire, a 5K race, dinner with Santa and a drive-thru LED light adventure that tells the shining story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Taos, N.M. Yuletide in Taos may sound like the traditional tree lighting and craft fairs, and this high desert town delivers that. However, at sunset on Christmas Eve, the Native American settlement Taos Pueblo leads the Procession of the Virgin, with bonfires and rifle salutes from the top of 1,000-year-old adobe buildings. On Christmas Day, the Matachinas Dance features an ancient Native American ceremonial dance that can only be seen in person, captured on video or film.

Woodstock, Vt. The charming colonial architecture and a historic village green draw tourists year-round to this picturesque small town. But the Wassail Weekend, Dec. 8-10, is the iconic sound and sight of winter New England: sleigh bells and the clip-clop of horses signal the holiday parade, while carolers traipse through town as visitors stroll between historic homes and a craft fair or line up for wagon and sleigh rides.

Williamsburg, Va. Visitors to Williamsburg can taste the holidays the colonial settler way, with roasted turkeys, ham and biscuits and sweet and savory puddings. More modern day festivities, such as a light show and Santa sightings, are also on hand in the historic town and surrounding area.

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New Year's baby born on freeway after South Carolina police chase

Published: Thursday, January 04, 2018 @ 5:31 AM

VIDEO: New Year's Baby Born on Freeway Following Police Chase

A South Carolina father watched his baby girl’s birth while he was in handcuffs.

>> Watch the news report here

WCIV-TV reports Carl Alewine’s fiancee’s water broke early on New Year’s morning and he was racing down Interstate 26 near Charleston to get her to the hospital.

>> On WSOCTV.com: South Carolina woman slips out of handcuffs, hijacks cruiser, deputies say

The car was traveling at more than 90 miles per hour when several law enforcement officers started chasing Alewine.

He just kept going until officers eventually boxed him in and forced him to pull over.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

They had Alewine in handcuffs when his little girl, Anastasia, came out with one push.

>> On WSOCTV.com: New section in North Carolina DMV handbook explains what to do when pulled over

"I'm sitting there, watching her born on the hood of the car, fireworks going off in the background, because it's 1 in the morning on New Year's and then they let me out of handcuffs and all the cops started clapping and congratulating us," Alewine recalled.

>> Read more trending news 

The baby was born healthy, even though the mother went through a high-risk pregnancy. 

The family said they're thankful for the first responders' help. 

Tiffany Trump rings in new year at Playboy party

Published: Wednesday, January 03, 2018 @ 1:35 AM

Tiffany Ariana Trump is the 24-year-old daughter of Donald Trump and his second wife, Marla Maples. She was named after jewelry store Tiffany & Company, which is adjacent to Trump Tower. She is known for her active social life and Instagram with more than 946,000 followers. Tiffany spoke at the 2016 Republican National Convention on its second night.

After a week at Mar-a-Lago with her presidential family, Tiffany Trump headed to California to spend New Year’s Eve with a very different kind of group.

>> Trump golfs, meets with Florida's governor before hosting gala event

The first daughter was a guest at a Los Angeles bash hosted by heir to the Playboy throne Cooper Hefner. The 24-year-old was photographed speaking to Hefner and posing beside his fiancee, Scarlett Byrne, as well as other friends, multiple media outlets reported, including the Washington PostPage SixPeople and the Daily Mail.

>> PHOTOS: Tiffany Trump through the years

Tiffany Trump and Scarlett Byrne, @playboy #NYE2018

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@playboy #NYE2018

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Tiffany Trump has joined the @playboy party!

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The event marked the first New Year’s Eve bash since magazine founder Hugh Hefner’s death on Sept. 27. He was 91 years old.

The late Hefner reportedly had wanted Marla Maples — Tiffany’s mother and Donald Trump’s second wife — to pose in his controversial magazine just three years before Tiffany’s birth. However, the actress turned down the offer.

>> Read more trending news 

“I’m thankful for my body, but I didn’t want to exploit it,” she reportedly said. “How would I ever be taken seriously?”

10 tips for sticking with your exercise plan in the new year

Published: Tuesday, January 02, 2018 @ 8:34 AM

Tips For Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions

It’s the New Year’s resolution that everyone has and virtually no one keeps: We want to get in shape.

Here are 10 tips to help you keep on track:

>> New Year's resolutions: 4 tips for avoiding gym membership scams

1. Make a plan

If you made your decision on New Year’s Eve, that’s only making a decision based on your emotional state that day. Make a plan for big and small goals and particular parts of your body you want to target to help keep you focused. A health professional can help with this.

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2. Be realistic

While you might be adamant that you’ll never eat bread, meat or chocolate chip cookies again, making that one of your goals is setting yourself up to fail. Instead, go for what’s attainable: Instead of having your favorite food three days a week, you’ll only have it once. Start small and build.

>> How to keep your New Year's resolutions this time

3. Create a battle plan

Despite all your best efforts, temptation will come knocking. Try to decide in advance how you will deal with wanting to skip that exercise class or have that piece of cake. This could include calling or texting a weight loss buddy, practicing positive thinking and self-talk, or reminding yourself how your “bad” will affect your goal.

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4. Talk about it openly

Wanting to live a healthier life is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. Don’t treat your resolution like a dirty little secret. Tell friends and family members who will be there to support your resolve.

With any luck, they’ll help you find a buddy who shares your New Year’s resolution and can help you stay motivated.

>> Read more trending news 

5. Document your feelings

Why is getting in better shape a good idea? Write down all the reasons that are motivating you, from wanting to be able to walk up the stairs without losing your breath to wanting to look better on the beach. Keep your list with you and refer to it when you need help keeping your resolve.

6. Keep track of your progress

It sounds like this list has more writing down than working out, but it is important to keep track of your progress. Being able to see where you were and how far you’ve come is an important way to keep yourself motivated.

For example, instead of focusing on losing 30 pounds, focus on losing the first five. Keep a food journal to help you stay on track, and reward yourself for each five pounds lost.

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7. Rewards are OK

Rewards are a good thing. Don’t think that because you’re losing weight, you have to become an ascetic. Instead of going out to eat to celebrate a milestone, treat yourself to new fitness clothes or by going out to a movie.

>> 9 inspiring New Year's resolution quotes to motivate you in 2018

8. 21 days

Exercising and working out won’t become good habits overnight. By Tuesday of the second week, all the newness will have worn off, and it’ll start getting harder to get up and get moving, especially if you’re exercising before work.

Experts say it takes about 21 days for a new activity to become a habit and six months for it to become part of your personality. Get through that first three-week stretch, and you’ll be making real progress.

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9. Give yourself a break

It’s not the day missed at the gym or the indulgence in ice cream that’ll knock you off track – it’s the obsessing about it afterward.

Negative thought patterns won’t help maintain your positive plan. Do the best you can each day, and take one day at a time.

10. Don’t give up

Maybe you hit the Valentine’s Day wall – or even the Jan. 15 wall. But that’s not a reason to give up.

Start with one meal, then one day. You can do anything for 24 hours. Once you start building on the 24-hour increments, before long you’ll be back in the groove.

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5 epic New Year's Eve destinations that aren't New York 

Published: Sunday, December 31, 2018 @ 12:04 PM
Updated: Sunday, December 31, 2018 @ 12:04 PM

Here are 5 interesting facts about this celebratory drink!

The thought has probably crossed your mind: someday I'll spend New Year's Eve at Times Square in New York City.

You'll be part of that massive crowd as the whole country watches and counts down to the moment the crystal ball drops. With your friends or significant other, you'll toast the New Year with champagne and, just maybe, one of those TV cameras will take notice and your faces will flash across screens throughout the country.

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It's a lovely dream, but the reality? New Year's Eve in the Big Apple means shelling out big bucks on hotels rooms, which need to be booked well in advance. On top of that, if you want any shot of being close to the center of Times Square when that giant crystal sphere falls, you'll have to stand for hours and hours in the cold ahead of the big moment.

It will certainly be memorable and it's a worthwhile bucket list item. But if you didn't plan ahead, don't feel like making the effort or simply want a less mainstream New Year's Eve experience, there's a lot of other great cities to consider. 

Here are our five suggestions, all of which are sure to help you bring in 2018 with lots of crazy memories:

Chicago, IL(Pixabay/For the AJC)

Chicago, Illinois

The Windy City offers all the excitement and fun you need this New Year's eve. From exciting parties to unique concerts, you'll definitely find something up your alley. For those interested in an epic party, check out the gala at the Congress Plaza Hotel. Canadian electronic duo Adventure Club will also be headlining the Reaction New Year's Eve event at the Aragon Ballroom, for those wanting to party it up at an EDM bash. And if you're looking for the perfect way to mark the start of 2018,  swing by Navy Pier for the spectacular annual fireworks display. 

Austin, TX(Flickr/Trey Perry/For the AJC)

Austin, Texas

Austin is one of those up-and-coming cities that everyone is talking about. So, why not check it out while welcoming 2018. You can bring in the New Year in roaring 20s style at Gatsby House, or party it up at Maggie Mae's Neon Party. For a more family friendly option, check out the city's event at Auditorium Shores. Fireworks go off at 10 p.m., so you can enjoy them with the kids and then go out for a night cap after tucking them in. 

New Orleans, LA(WikiMedia/For the AJC)

New Orleans, Louisiana

It may not be Mardi Gras, but New Orleans promises to be lively as ever on New Year's Eve. Not to be outdone by the Big Apple, the city drops a fleur-de-lis at midnight in Jackson Square. Leading up to the big moment, you can enjoy live music and then ring in 2018 with a giant fireworks display. After midnight, swing by the bars of the city's famous French Quarter to welcome the new year with a toast.

Orlando, Florida

Where better to welcome the New Year than at the most magical place on Earth? Disney World's Magic Kingdom will never disappoint and offers fun for the entire family. For those wanting to catch the Disney magic without shelling out big buck for park passes, Downtown Disney offers great views of the castle's fireworks, and you'll only have to pay for parking.

RELATED: Atlanta named one of the best cities in the US to celebrate New Year’s Eve

Atlanta, Georgia

If you can't wander far this holiday, no worries! Atlanta definitely knows how to ring in the New Year. Don't miss the city's iconic midnight Peach Drop. A slew of concerts and other parties will also be happening throughout the city.

Regardless of where you end up this New Year Eve, make sure you're surrounded by people you love. Whether you're in Atlanta, Chicago or the Magic Kingdom, the people you're with will create the most special memories.