What are the best Vegas holiday traditions?

You mean aside from letting your bonus ride on black 17? Yup, surprising as it may seem, there are plenty of seasonal traditions here, and a few even have nothing to do with catering to tourists. When I was a kid, one of my favorite family rites was piling in the Pontiac cradling a steaming thermos of hot chocolate and cruising Rancho Circle (and various other fancy ’hoods) to ogle the elaborate residential light displays of monied Las Vegas. Today, that kind of trolling (if you can make it past the gates) might get you arrested (or, at least, an alert on the neighborhood Facebook page). Thankfully, you have other options, especially when it comes to lights.

Opportunity Village is in the 21st year of presenting its primary annual fundraiser, the Magical Forest. The nonprofit, with the help of sponsoring local businesses, transforms its plot of West Oakey Boulevard into a winter wonderland worthy of Rankin/Bass, complete with Santa photos and train rides. For something more desert-appropriate, I suggest Henderson’s Ethel M Chocolates factory, which sugarcoats its cactus garden with a half-million twinkling holiday lights. It may sound odd, but cactus-plus-lights equals a very-Vegas experience. Across town, something similar stages at the Springs Holiday Spectacular: nearly a million LED lights illuminate its expansive desert diorama, and on Dec 8-9 and 15-23, the grounds turn into a family festival featuring food, a craft fair and more.

For those who demand a scene more Currier & Ives than Ansel Adams, a trek to Mount Charleston is in order. Given the right conditions, visitors can take an honest-to-goodness sleigh ride (On actual snow! With actual horses!) and then warm up at the lodge with a fire pit and a (brandy-spiked) Mount Charleston Coffee, just like grandma used to make. Well, my grandma, anyway. Alternatively, the Cosmopolitan is getting into the winter mood by covering its pool with an ice-skating deck. And, hey, if you are too lazy (or, uh, “cold”) to enjoy the weather, Vegas accommodates. The Gift of Lights (relocated to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway from its longtime home at Sunset Park—don’t ask) raises funds for local charities with its immersive, drive-through holiday light experience. It makes me all misty-eyed for the cruising days of Fremont Street.