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Between 600 and 800 handblown ornaments will be on display for the 24th Annual Ornament Extravaganza at Blake Street Glass Studio. Photograph courtesy of Blake Street Glass Studio.

9 Free Things to Do in Denver and Beyond, December 2018

From holiday lighting ceremonies to fine arts festivals and fireworks, here are nine free things to do in the Mile High City and beyond this month.

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Parades of Lights Across the Front Range | Various Dates

Forego downtown Denver’s Parade of Lights for less crowded—and totally open to the public—celebrations across the Front Range. The Candlelight Walk in Golden kicks off on Friday, November 30, at 6 p.m., when thousands of folks sing carols and stroll down Washington Avenue; afterward, Mayor Marjorie N. Sloan and Santa will switch on the city’s festive lights. The 34th annual Festival of Lights will kickoff in Colorado Springs at 5:50 p.m. on Saturday, December 1, while Boulder‘s showcase will start at 6 p.m. In Longmont, a Jingle Bell Rock–themed Parade of Lights will take place in in Roosevelt Park on December 7 and 8. Incredibly, Santa Clause is slated to appear at all of the parades. All options are free. Check individual websites for details on each event.

Sweet Cooie’s and Little Man Ice Cream Light up the Holidays | December 1, December 3 (respectively)

Break in the holiday season with two of Denver’s favorite ice cream shops, Little Man Ice Cream and Sweet Cooie’s, as they host lighting ceremonies to kick off the holiday season. Sweet Cooie’s is partnering with its fellow Congress Park shops and businesses (including TAG Burger Bar, Wild Flowers, Blue Pan Pizza, and more), to host the second Miracle on 12th and Madison on December 1. This year’s event will include a tree and menorah lighting, sleigh rides through the neighborhood streets, a Santa Clause photo op, and much more. Two days later, LoHi’s Little Man hosts its Pajama Christmas Carols and Hora-Around-the-Menorah lighting ceremony, which will boast carols and festive tunes courtesy of local elementary and high school students. Free. A Miracle on 12th and Madison runs from 5-8 p.m., 3506 East 12th Avenue. Pajama Christmas Carols and Hora-Around-the-Menorah runs from 6-8 p.m., 2620 16th St. 

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59th Annual Georgetown Christmas Market | December 1–2, 8–9

The Annual Georgetown Christmas Market is an unforgettable showcase of the mountain-town’s old-timey, Victorian-era character. The festival includes carolers dressed in Victorian garb, horse-drawn carriages, and a plethora of handcrafted gifts. Although there will be food vendors waiting to serve you, no trip to Georgetown would be complete without a stop at the Georgetown Valley Candy Company for some of its delicious fudge and sweet caramel corn. Free, December 1 through 2 and 8 through 9, 10 a.m.-5 pm., 6th St., Georgetown

Photograph courtesy of the Gardens on Spring Creek

Gardens of Lights at the Gardens on Spring Creek | December 1 through January 1

Head up I-25 anytime this month and take in the winter celebration at Fort Collins’ Gardens on Spring Creek. Thousands of LED lights illuminate the 18-acre community botanic garden, which extends its hours to remain open until 9 p.m. every night of the month, including holidays. Special events take place each weekend of the month and include Santa visits, Christmas caroling, a magic show, and several performances from the Sugar Plum Dog Troupe, which comprises many Golden Retrievers donning festive costumes. $5 suggested donation for adults, $2 for children over 2, December 1 through January 1, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., 2145 Centre Ave., Fort Collins

24th Annual Ornament Extravaganza & Open House | December 7–9, December 15–16

Check out the one-of-a-kind, hand-blown Christmas ornaments coming out of Kit Karbler’s 39-year-old studio, Blake Street Glass Studio. Karbler and his team of glass blowers are kicking off the 24th Annual Ornament Extravaganza and Open House the night of RiNo’s First Friday Art Walk on December 7. During the subsequent two weekends, Denverites will have the opportunity to see Karbler’s quality work firsthand, which sometimes sells for as much as $15,000. Ten percent of the ornament sales made throughout the festival will benefit Children’s Hospital Colorado. Free entry, December 7, 5-8 p.m., December 8 and 15, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., December 9 and 16, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 3433 Blake St.

Jackalope Indie Artisan Fair | December 8–9

“Friends Don’t Let Friends Shop at Chain Stores,” reads one of the images gracing Jackalope’s “About” page. Jackalope, the brainchild of Denver’s own Melissa Shipley and California-native Sara Diedrich, hosts semi-annual events across the United States geared toward bringing communities closer to their local makers. Fortunately for Mile High DIY-art enthusiasts, one of those events is coming to Denver’s McNichols Civic Center Building in Civic Center Park this month. Jackalope’s Indie Artisan Fair will be showcasing the work from more than 150 local artisans and crafters whose work includes fashion, wall art, food, jewelry, and much more. Although the event is free, donations are encouraged. All proceeds benefit the Golden Retriever Rescue of the Rockies. Free but donations encouraged, December 8 through 9, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., 144 W Colfax Ave.

119th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count | December 15

Anyone looking for an excuse to hit up the Garden of the Gods should take part in the longest-running wildlife census in the world: The 119th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count. Every year, the National Audubon Society invites expert and beginner bird watchers alike to partake in what has become something of a holiday tradition among seasoned bird watchers. It’s worth noting that you aren’t required to travel to the Garden of the Gods (see the Backyard Bird Count), but one of Colorado’s most popular landmarks is never a bad choice to visit. Some common birds of the park include the Red-Tailed Hawk (look out for that one flying around Gray Rock), the Prairie Falcon (observed around North Gateway Park), and the Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (found near the feeders around the Nature and Visitor Center). Free, December 15, 8 a.m.-noon, 1805 North 30th St., Colorado Springs 

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Closing Party for Art Gym’s Holiday Fine Arts Festival | December 20

The Art Gym, which provides a more economical option for artists who would rather not shell out the big bucks leasing or renting a private studio, is throwing a party to close out its 2018 Holiday Fine Arts Festival. Food will be provided from the Art Gym Café, which serves treats from Crumble’s Bakery, Cultura Craft Chocolate, and Bee Ranch—all of which are made in Denver. There will be art up for sale as well, but for those just looking to enjoy a night out in a cool space alongside local makers, this is one holiday you won’t want to miss. Free, December 20, 5-8 p.m., 1460 Leyden St.

15th Annual New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the 16th Street Mall | December 31

Few city sights are more fun to take in than the fireworks shows that ring in the New Year directly above the heart of Denver. Live deejays will be playing tunes from 8 p.m. to midnight along the illuminated 16th Street Mall, which will almost certainly be a lively scene once again for the year-end celebration. There are two fireworks shows (each are identical and last about eight minutes) at 9 p.m. and midnight. Free, December 31, the first show is at 9 p.m. and the second is at midnight, 16th Street Mall

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