When you google the phrase “best places to spend Christmas in America,” what you get are lists of the usual suspects. Our favorite is “North Pole USA.” Well, duh.

But there’s a potential problem with that. The North Pole will be virtually empty next Monday and Tuesday, as Santa and his army of helpers finish spreading out across the planet, doing that special-delivery thing.

Other names that make the list include Orlando and Anaheim, which is to be expected, since Mickey and his perpetually happy friends make those places this nation’s wonderlands. But hey, they do that all year long, which sort of undercuts the Christmas spirit.

Besides, we all know where Christmas is truly special, and it’s right here in the Santa Ynez Valley. Now it’s official, two times over — Solvang has been named by Reader’s Digest “The Best Christmas Town in California,” and by the New York Post as one of "The 10 Best Christmas Towns in America.”

More feathers in our collective caps. The awards were announced last week by Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau. Talk about getting fresh ammo in the tourism wars.

Reader’s Digest editors say, “Visiting this captivating town north of Santa Barbara at holiday time will have you thinking you’ve been transported to the Old World. Founded by settlers from Denmark, the village features architecture (including a windmill!), restaurants, and goodies that are distinctively Danish. In December, Solvang goes all-out for its Julefest …”

Reader’s Digest and the Post aren’t the only publications that have acknowledged Solvang’s lofty status at Christmas time. Solvang has previously been honored by the website MSN.com as one of the "50 Best Christmas Towns in All 50 States" and “America’s 50 Most Charming Small Towns for the Holidays.” Time Magazine calls us one of the “Most Christmassy Towns in America.”

There are a lot of reasons for Solvang making these prestigious lists, and everyone who lives here is aware of what those reasons are. This year’s Solvang Julefest, which is the Danish word for “Christmas Festival,” started Dec. 1 and runs through Jan. 6.

Of special interest this year are the return of Free Candlelight Tours and the addition of new VIP Candlelight Tours. There will also be visits with Santa “Julemanden” in Solvang Park, Mingle & Jingle Weekends, the spirits — as in, omg that tastes good! — Skål Stroll, Live Nativity Pageant and more.

It’s all capped off by the annual Christmas Tree Burn behind the mission. The burn celebration begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 4, and is not to be missed, in large part because an integral part of the show is local fire officials putting on a demonstration of how quickly a dry holiday tree can go up in flames, potentially taking your home with it.

This is truly one of the best times of the year in Solvang, and not just for the kiddies. There is a special feeling about this place, which we have throughout the year, but it really bubbles to the surface as the winter chill creeps in and the sparkling lights come out.

We have a holiday request — share that special feeling with those who may not be as fortunate as you. There are many Valley families for whom the holiday season is stressful because of financial difficulties.

So, if you really want to light up the Christmas season for everyone, find a local charitable organization and offer your help, either as a financial donor or volunteer.

Holiday cheer is definitely something we can all pay forward.

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