Long before Branson, Missouri became the Live Music Capital of the World, long before it became the home of arguably the foremost holiday destination in the country, it was the home of a holiday event that developed a following all its own.

Branson's 72nd annual Adoration Parade and Lighting Ceremony takes place Sunday, December 5.

Though after all these years, the parade gets top billing, it was the lighting ceremony that came first.

The original idea, back in 1949, revolved around what they called "a big Christmas card" as a thank you to the community. That "card" was a giant lighted Nativity scene, covering the area of a football field, at the top of the bluff known as Mt. Branson, across Lake Taneycomo from what is now Branson Landing.

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The Adoration Parade became part of the holiday tradition in 1953.

By the way, if you don't know your Branson history, the live entertainment explosion didn't fully take hold in Branson until the early 90s.

So, every year on the first Sunday in December, festivities begin about 5 p.m. with the lighting of the Nativity scene, entertainment and other activities preceding the parade itself, with the usual array of floats and marching bands from Missouri and Arkansas making their way through the streets of the downtown area.

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I know this is a busy weekend, but if you'd like to sneak out of town to check this out, we'll understand (here's a thought - if you head for Columbia Friday to see the Pirates win a state championship - once the game is over, it's only about another three hours to Branson. Just sayin').

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On the list, there's a robust mix of offerings from great schools and nightlife to high walkability and public parks. Some areas have enjoyed rapid growth thanks to new businesses moving to the area, while others offer glimpses into area history with well-preserved architecture and museums. Keep reading to see if your hometown made the list.

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