As the holidays draw near, nostalgia and extra time on their hands bring families out to enjoy the season's greenery and twinkling lights.

As the holidays draw near, nostalgia and extra time on their hands bring families out to enjoy the season's greenery and twinkling lights.

Around Southern Oregon, local towns and neighborhoods have developed a following for their individual approaches to welcoming good ol' Saint Nick. Some spots are ideal for dinner and shopping while others cater to families, loaded with pajama-clad youngsters eager to make sure that Santa's path has been well lit.

Medford
At Medford's Vogel Plaza, tucked downtown alongside the Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, the Heart of Medford Association displays animated elves and twinkling trees dotting nearby streets. The downtown offers plenty of spots for hot cocoa, last minute holiday shopping or taking in a concert or play. In fact, Ballet Rogue's annual Nutcracker performances will take place at the Craterian December 19-21 with a special family night offering reduced rates.

Another Medford favorite, Greystone Court and nearby Cherry Lane draw some 1,200 or more vehicles to stroll the picturesque neighborhood — usually donating a non-perishable food item or two — with hardly a house not decked out in thousands of lights. An added bonus, Santa takes a much-needed break on weekends and shows up to greet visitors.

In addition to Greystone, a complete list of decorated house and neighborhoods around the valley appears in the Mail Tribune's holiday guide online at www.mailtribune.com

Ashland
To the South, the city of Ashland hosts weekend events through December in their brightly lit plaza. This year, the popular Festival of Light will be celebrated each weekend in December with strolling carolers, photos with Santa Claus, storytelling with Mrs. Claus and kids' candy cane workshops. Chamber volunteer Judi Pocan says the natural allure of Ashland is hard to describe with the holiday décor in full swing.

"We're a picturesque town anyway but to see all the buildings outlined in thousands of little white lights and colored lights in the shape of the building is truly beautiful," she says.

"You can see all of downtown from the plaza. We have craft fairs going on, music "¦ it's very festive during the entire month."

For details, call the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, 482-3486.

Jacksonville
For holiday fun with a feeling of yesteryear, Jacksonville's Victorian Christmas atmosphere is tough to resist, says Jacksonville Information Center director Sandi Torrey.

"We have free wagon rides, free hot cider, free roasted chestnuts, Santa, the town crier, carolers, all that stuff going on," she says. "And our whole town is decorated with live greenery and tiny white lights. It's just beautiful."

What sets the town's display apart, and draws thousands of visitors throughout the month, Torrey noted, is that it's far from the typical "plastic-fantastic" or "Santa at the mall" experience most common today.

She adds, "It just looks like a fairy tale, something off a tabletop display. We use real greenery and outline the buildings so it's like a perfect little gingerbread town, except you don't eat it."

For details, contact the information center, 899-8118, or visit online, www.jacksonvilleoregon.org

Eagle Point
As for neighborhood displays, the city of Eagle Point's "Christmas Around Town" decorating contest finds a number of neighborhoods going all out. On the way into town, the Eagle Point Historical Society decorates the historic Walter Wood House (c.1879), making for a picturesque display on a dark night.

A particularly "decked out" neighborhood, the Eagle Mobile Home Park (233 South Shasta) is known for its holiday displays — with surrounding neighborhoods sure to try and keep up as well.

Central Point
Finally, the city of Central Point's agricultural roots are evident in its rendition of Christmas in small-town America. Some two dozen trees throughout the downtown are lit this year along with the town's annual holiday tree near the Premier West Bank on Pine Street. The town has an increasing number of dining and shopping spots so a visit could combine sightseeing and some holiday shopping.