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People line Main Street in downtown Franklin, Tennessee for the annual Christmas parade with Santa Clause. Photo Courtesy Visit Franklin.

7 Ideas for Safe & Magical Memories This Holiday Season

While many holiday festivities have changed this year amidst the need for social distancing, the wonder of Christmas still fills Franklin with cheer. From take-home activity kits to local celebrations to exploring the beauty of Franklin’s “wintry” outdoors, these family-friendly ideas—some free—cultivate that yuletide charm that we look forward to year-round.

Celebrate Holiday Magic On Main

Downtown Franklin’s “Holiday Magic on Main” celebration has a whole jolly lineup of safe events for families this December. Heritage Foundation CEO Bari Beasley says, “[Holiday Magic on Main] offers residents and visitors the chance to celebrate the winter holidays by spending time with their loved ones in our beautiful downtown district, making memories at our unique restaurants, and shopping for distinctive gifts at our locally owned shops.” With Franklin’s iconic NOEL sign as a backdrop, Main Street brightens up with a live nativity at Historic First Presbyterian Church, a holiday window decorating contest, pop-up appearances from Dickens characters, dancers, and musicians—and, of course, thousands of lights. Find the schedule of events here.

Experience A Neighborhood Visit From Santa

Santa’s taking a little time off this holiday season to make personalized drive-by sleigh visits around Franklin! The magic of Christmas (and some free family fun) could be right outside your door this December. Escorted by the Franklin Fire Department, Saint Nick, and his sleigh will be arriving in more than 50 neighborhoods on the four Saturdays between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Parades take place between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., and families can track Santa’s schedule here. It’s an at-home Christmas activity you won’t want to miss.

Decorate The Best Gingerbread House You’ll Ever Eat

Locals anxiously await the announcement from beloved Triple Crown Bakery that gingerbread houses are back for the holidays! While pastry chef Alena Vaughn brings all kinds of incredible treats to Triple Crown’s cases come December—think intricate yule logs, mini iced gingerbread houses to perch on the rim of mugs filled with hot cocoa, and any holiday cookie idea you could ever dream up—it’s the take-home gingerbread house kits that really fly off the shelves. These aren’t your partially-edible dry cookies; they’re freshly-baked gingerbread panels with warm spices. The entire family will love decorating these oh-so-sweet houses. Plus, they make the perfect holiday gift to leave on a friend’s porch! Price: Varies based on size. Hours: Tuesday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at their new location, 118 4th Ave. N. in downtown Franklin.

Plan An Imaginative Family Painting Night

Set aside a night to show off your festive creativity with take-and-paint pottery from Third Coast Clay. Guests can go and pick out their pieces in-person, or even choose over the phone through FaceTime with the help of Third Coast employees. Christmas pottery options include Santa’s cookie jar, a variety of pre-printed or vintage ornaments, and a Tic-Tac-Toe board—but anything in the shop can carry your favorite holiday designs. Next, pick your colors! Grab to-go paints and brushes to complete your kit. After perfecting your artwork, bring the ceramics back to Third Coast Clay to be fired in the kiln. Seven days later, you’ll have polished ornaments or decor to commemorate your vision of sugarplums. Return the pieces by Dec. 13 to have glazed and in the kids’ stockings by Christmas. Co-owner Deborah Brannan says, “If you miss our deadline for Christmas turnaround, you can use a craft acrylic paint and don’t have to bring your pieces back to fire!” (Please note that acrylic-painted pieces will not be food-safe.) Price: Cost of pottery (ornaments $6-$8, larger platters and figurines $20-$40) + paints ($2/container) + brushes ($2/each). Hours: Open daily at The Factory at Franklin.

Go For A Marshmallow Hike

Sounds pretty delicious, if you ask me. For an active holiday outing that suits kids of all ages, sign up for a Marshmallow Hike at Owl’s Hill Nature Sanctuary. Located in Brentwood, Owl’s Hill is a 160-acre private nature sanctuary wonderful for both curious children and adults who love exploring the outdoors. On Marshmallow Hikes, families enjoy a wintry morning or early afternoon hike through the sanctuary followed by hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows. Social distancing will be enforced, and all visitors 12+ must wear a face covering if unable to social distance with guests outside of their household. Owl’s Hill recommends wearing comfortable, closed-toed shoes and bringing plenty of water. Marshmallow Hikes take place on Dec. 28-31 and select Saturdays in January at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., and 1 p.m. Spots fill quickly! Price: $10 per person in advance; $12 at the door. Buy ticketsowlshill.com

Explore The Shimmer Of Local Holiday Lights

Mere hours after Thanksgiving, families around Franklin light up their homes with holiday shine. Some take decorating to the next level, having prepared a light display months in the making. Others add candles, spotlights, blow-up figurines, or snowflakes in colorfully-lit trees. One of my family’s most memorable traditions—and one that lends itself well to social distancing—is piling into the car for our very own lights “tour.” Here’s a round-up of some of our favorite spots. Polish off your tour with a cup of silky, best-you’ve-ever-had drinking chocolate from downtown Kilwin’s on Main (which stays open until 9 p.m. on weeknights) or a seasonally-spiced Eggnog Latte from Frothy Monkey near Five Points.

Watch A Christmas Classic At The Drive-In

Families with kids will especially love this unique Christmas experience! Join The Field At Franklin for a mid-December viewing of cult classic Elf to kick off the holiday. Grab some snacks (we’d recommend cookies from Sugar Drop Bakery or a bag of Music City Popcorn), throw on some very-merry pajamas, and buckle up for a festive showing at the drive-in. The Field At Franklin will be showing Elf on Saturday, Dec. 12 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 13 at 5:30 p.m. for a suggested price of $25 per car. In keeping with the spirit of the season, The Field At Franklin allows families to pay what they can—or pay a little more so another family can see the show for less. Tickets must be purchased online in advance. Price: $25 per car. Buy tickets: fieldatfranklin.com