Christmas Traditions in Utah Valley

The Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons have rich traditions in most families.  It’s the time of year where thoughts are centered around family, friends and service.  One can just close their eyes and remember the sights, sounds and smells of a large family dinner, decorating sugar cookies or putting up the Christmas tree.

Having lived in Utah County virtually my entire life, most of my traditions have been right here in Utah Valley.  So I thought it would be fun to make a list of some of our family’s favorite Christmas Traditions in Utah Valley.  Hopefully this will spark memories of your families’ traditions and possibly share ideas for some new ones.

Characters shopping-christmas traditions utah valleyShopping

Holiday Shopping has sure changed over the decades that I have lived in Orem. Today we have numerous malls, big box stores and strip centers. Orem’s University Mall kind of kick-started it all.  I was almost in High School when it opened.

So where did we go to create our pre-mall holiday shopping traditions? Downtown Provo!  This now-historic section of the county was once the main shopping district for not only the whole valley but for miles and miles south.  Today you still have a couple of the stores that have not only survived but have thrived for over 100 years, Mullett Hoover and Heindselmans. I still love to shop University Avenue & Center Street of Downtown Provo. The crowds are pretty scaled down compared to box stores and malls. I’m always amazed at the number of unique gifts  I find in these old, history-rich buildings.  With so much discussion about bringing business home, visit your historic downtown shops in our Utah County cities and towns this year for a traditional shopping experience!


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A Christmas Carol - Hale Center Theatre-Orem-christmas traditions utah valleyPerformances & Concerts

It wouldn’t be Christmas without some live theater and concerts at the SCERA, UVU’s UCCU Event Center, Hale Center Theater Orem and the Covey Center in downtown Provo.  At the Hale Center Theater Orem,  Charles Dickens’  A Christmas Carol is a favorite tradition! This is such a popular show, it runs throughout the Christmas Season with as many as three performances on some days!

At the UCCU Event Center, we love the long running classics – Michael McLean’s Forgotten Carols and Bar J Wranglers who always make their way down from Jackson, Wyoming.


Festival of Lights - Spanish Fork, Utah-christmas traditions utah valleyLights

Driving around to see the Christmas lights. Spanish Fork Festival of Lights at the golf course and Luminaria at Thanksgiving Point are always a big hit. We love to try to identify the new displays that have been added that year. With the car windows down and the heater on full bast, you can’t help but feel the Christmas spirit in the night’s crisp air as you listen to the music as you make your way through the magical displays.  Two more light displays we plan to visit this year:  Christmas in Color at the Provo Towne Center and Pond Town Christmas at the Salem City Pond.

Tubing at Tibble Fork - American Fork Canyon-christmas traditions utah valley


Sledding and Tubing

Sledding in American Fork Canyon or Rock Canyon Park is a must for every holiday season.  Make your favorite flavor of hot chocolate and pick up a dozen donuts and you’re all set for some great family time in the winter sun.  Here are some other great locations to try:

Payson: 10 S. 600 East, Peteetneet Academy

Lindon: Oak Canyon Junior High, 111 S. 725 East

Golden Corral - Orem, UT

Alpine: South side of Swiss One subdivision

American Fork: Evergreen Park, 200 N. 700 East • Shelley Elementary (back side), 600 N. 100 West

Lehi: 1900 North and 300 East

Orem: City Cemetery, 1520 N. 800 East • Cascade Park, about 900 East and 200 North • Cherry Hill Elementary, 250 E. 1650 South

Provo: Bicentennial Rotary Park (north of old county jail site on south State Street)

Eagle Mountain: Silver Lake Amphitheater, Pony Express Road

Spanish Fork: Spanish Oaks Elementary, 2701 E. Canyon Crest Drive


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skating santa-christmas traditions utah valleyIce Skating

There is just something about being bundled up and ice skating to Christmas music that makes you feel the years slip away; even better when you add some hot chocolate enjoyed around a fire.  When I was a teenager we went ice skating on Utah Lake at the Provo Boat Harbor.  Since the 2002 winter Olympics, the tradition has been moved indoors to the Peaks Ice Arena.  Although not in Utah County, Midway’s outdoor ice rink is another great rink relatively close by.


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visiting Santa-christmas traditions utah valleySanta!

Of course, if you have children, a visit to Santa and some photo proof are a tradition!  Each year as the Christmas boxes are unpacked we have to line them all up by year to see how everyone has grown.  From the ones with screaming babies to the beaming faces to the “cooperative” teens; those pictures are priceless mementos.  For years, we always went to the University Mall.  Included below is the information for 2017.   For a detailed list of 50+ places you can see Santa Claus in Utah Valley click here.

Santa’s Grand Arrival at University Mall, November 24, 2017 at 9:30 a.m.
Officially welcome Santa and Mrs. Claus to University Place in grand style! Kids can take a train ride, spend time with Olaf, get their face painted, take home a keepsake while supplies last, and more!  Enjoy live entertainment plus free hot cocoa and treats sponsored by University Place’s Starbucks, California Pizza Kitchen, and The Aston (while supplies last).



making a gingerbread house-christmas traditions utah valleyFood

Of course we all have certain foods that make our christmas complete because of the way they taste or smell or who we always make it with or made it for us or any number of other things attached to our Christmas must-have foods.  Egg nog, candy canes, gingerbread and pomegranates come to my mind from childhood but the list has grown with the years.  Certain treats that we expect in a christmas stocking and other nostalgic dishes with christmas dinner can create strong attachments to the holiday and our loved ones.


Be Flexible

Regardless of what your traditions are for christmas to “feel like christmas”, it’s important to keep it do-able and realistic.  Be flexible! If there are years that planning and expectations don’t work out, don’t allow yourself to fall into an “all is lost” attitude.  Enjoy the season and the spirit of love and giving that accompany it.  If need be, put in the effort to shun the commercialism or whatever things pop up that push away the joy we are meant to feel this time of year.  It’s intriguing to look back and realize how our traditions evolve; new and old.  Watch for and take advantage of opportunities to spend time with loved ones; creating new memories, especially for those who will have them to treasure in the years to come.