Many would panic at the thought of planning for the holidays in the spring or early summer … but for the organizers behind some of Oklahoma’s most beloved Christmas traditions, that idea is a reality.
Annual events like Guthrie’s Territorial Christmas, OKC’s Downtown in December and Tulsa’s Winterfest attract thousands of visitors annually from far and wide. For 2023, organizers offer a variety of events to create and spread holiday cheer.
Guthrie’s Territorial Christmas
Over 35 years ago, Guthrie’s merchants wanted to find a way to boost local business during the holiday season, all while paying homage to the city’s unique history and architecture. Settled in 1889, Guthrie was Oklahoma’s original state capital and is home to many late-Victorian era buildings.
“We want anyone who visits [Guthrie’s Territorial Christmas] to see what Guthrie was like in the late 1800s and early 1900s and be transported back in time,” says Shawnda Rooney, the economic development director for the City of Guthrie and the secretary for Guthrie’s Territorial Christmas Foundation.
Territorial Christmas has since evolved from a small-scale event to include a line-up of festivities beginning in November. To pull it off, the foundation and its board plan year-round.
“We’re basically like Santa’s Elves – we never really take a break from Christmas,” says Rooney.
Territorial Christmas kicked off the holiday season with a Lighted Christmas Parade and Territorial Governor Race. On Dec. 2, the Guthrie Territorial Christmas Foundation puts on its Distinctive Home Tour. Ticketholders can get an exclusive look inside of Guthrie’s historic homes and buildings, all decorated for the holiday season.
On Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, visitors can don their best 19th-century-inspired attire for Guthrie’s Victorian Night Walks. Each evening, the city streets are buzz with musical performances, a live nativity scene, food trucks, shopping and light shows. In the past, the Victorian Night Walks have drawn up to 5,000 people – most of whom are dressed in costume.
“I love seeing the streets of downtown filled,” says Rooney. “We really want visitors to know that Guthrie is the Christmas capital of Oklahoma.”
To learn more about the Victorian-inspired festivities, go to guthriesterritorialchristmas.com.
Downtown in December
Presented by Devon Energy and organized by the Downtown Oklahoma City Partnership (DOKC), Downtown in December returns to the metro for its 22nd year in 2023. A plethora of activities and attractions take place throughout the month and into the new year, including light displays, holiday pop-up shops, ice skating and photo-ops with Santa.
“So many people have told us over the years that they recall seeing old photos of Main Street decked out in holiday décor and busy with shoppers,” says Jennifer Nakayama, president and CEO at DOKC. “[Downtown in December] began as a way to bring the magic of the holidays to Downtown Oklahoma City.”
As you’d expect, planning for the event begins months in advance.
“Springtime becomes the holidays for us,” says Nakayama. “It’s not just about the Downtown OKC Partnership or our focused initiatives; it’s about bringing our community together and promoting all the wonderful holiday programming for our businesses, theaters, restaurants and retailers.”
Downtown in December began its extravaganza with a Tree Lighting Festival in November. On select dates throughout this month, visitors can participate in the 5K Saint Santa’s Run, peruse Christmas gifts under a stunning light display during Lights on Broadway, and enjoy live performances of Lyric’s A Christmas Carol and the Oklahoma City Ballet’s rendition of The Nutcracker.
To facilitate greater turnout, the Oklahoma City Streetcar offers free fare rides into downtown on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
“The City of Oklahoma City and Embark have been great partners to provide transportation and help with traffic bottlenecks,” says Nakayama, who relocated to Oklahoma from Hawaii earlier this year. She hopes that the event will help advance the quality of life and sense of for all who attend the event.
“I’ve heard and read so much about this signature event,” she says. “My family and I are really excited to take it all in and be a part of it.”
To stay up to date, Nakayama recommends checking out FAQs and a calendar of activities at downtownindecember.com.
In 2008, downtown Tulsa opened the BOK Center, marking a turning point for tourism and nightlife throughout the city. Critical to the venue’s success is drawing people downtown. To sustain activity during the holiday season, the BOK Center wanted to create a unique experience: an outdoor ice skating rink.
“We wanted to involve the community, partner with sponsors and connect with all the different groups in Tulsa by bringing a fun holiday festival for all ages to enjoy: skating beneath the skyline and creating a sense of camaraderie,” says Victoria Pittman, BOK Center’s special events manager.
Now going into its 16th year, Tulsa Winterfest runs through Jan. 2, offering a variety of seasonally inspired activities, from canned food and clothing drives to special giveaways, a holiday market and train rides. Pittman expects a turnout of around 200,000 people, and says scaling and creating new activities, along with building the ice rink, takes months of planning.
“We start getting the permits ready and planning the activities in July,” she says. “October is when we start closing down the street to build the rink.”
To add to the ambiance, the BOK Center made the decision to create a rink out of real ice instead of synthetic materials – a time-intensive but worthwhile effort, notes Pittman.
Kiddos wanting to ask Saint Nick for a gift can come out for free photos on Sundays. The BOK Center also offers Breakfast with Santa at the Cox Convention Center on Dec. 16.
“There’s a full breakfast buffet and you get to enjoy an hour and half with Santa,” says Pittman. Tickets are required.
Winterfest offers discounted skate tickets to event-goers who bring canned goods on Mondays and gently used clothing on Wednesdays. All donations benefit Iron Gate and the Eastern Food Bank of Oklahoma. Check out a full list of activities and attractions at tulsawinterfest.com.
“Winterfest has definitely continued to grow each year,” says Pittman. “It’s always great to see all the kids’ smiling faces and everyone enjoying the hard work that went into the event.”