2018 Holiday Events: Santa Visits, Christmas Tree Lightings, Sleigh Rides, Parades, Festivals and More
Tickets for many events are on sale now
Be dazzled by Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” which takes place Dec. 11-13 in Durham.
Photo courtesy of Moscow Ballet
Celebrate the warmth and charm of the holiday season with your family at these events taking place across the Triangle. Mark your calendar now for parades, tree-lighting ceremonies, sleigh rides, Santa visits and more, listed alphabetically by town. Tickets for many events are on sale now. Be sure to check with event organizers before heading out, since plans can change based on weather or unexpected conditions. Events are free unless otherwise noted.
Jump to events in:
Sleigh rides, caroling and a tree-lighting ceremony highlight Christmas on Salem Street in downtown Apex Nov. 30, 5-9 p.m. The following day, families can enjoy a pancake breakfast at the Salem Street firehouse and take pictures with Santa at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in the afternoon before the town’s Christmas parade, which begins at 5 p.m. apexdowntown.com/downtown-apex-events.
The Halle Cultural Arts Center presents two holiday productions in December. Infinity Ballet performs “Dances of the Nutcracker” Dec. 1-2. Enjoy two musicals in one with “Last Minute Wishes” and “Karaoke Christmas” Dec. 7-9. Visit etix.com for show times and to purchase tickets.
Santa makes his grand arrival at Bass Pro Shops in Cary Nov. 10 at 5 p.m. The event features crafts and a free photo with Santa until 8 p.m. Santa's Wonderland Christmas village through Dec. 24 offers remote control trucks, laser/ foam toy arcade, Lincoln Logs building area and much more. Features include rustic Christmas cabins, holiday characters and live elves set amongst a dazzling backdrop of snow-covered hills and illuminated Christmas trees. basspro.com/cary.
Musical performances, family-friendly activities, a visit from Santa and a tree-lighting ceremony usher in the holidays at Waverly Place in Cary Nov. 16, 6-8:30 p.m. The tree will be lit at approximately 6:55 p.m. waverlycary.com.
See 20 light displays illuminated by thousands of LED lights at the Chinese Lantern Festival at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary Nov. 23-Jan. 13. The hours are 6-10 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday. The festival also features cultural performances and artisans. Purchase tickets, $15 for adults and $10 for ages 3-17, online at boothamphitheatre.com/nc-chinese-lantern-festival-cary.
Light up the holidays at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary Nov. 23-Jan.13.
photo courtesy of booth amphitheatre
Cary Players present “A 1940s Radio Christmas Carol” Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at the Cary Arts Center. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets, $20 for adults and $18 for kids. etix.com.
The Town of Cary lights its tree, which features handcrafted ornaments from more than 130 community groups, Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. at Town Hall Campus. The ceremony also showcases musicians, singers and actors from the community. The Cary Arts Center hosts a Menorah Lighting Dec. 6, 5:30-6:30 p.m., and the town’s 24th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration is Dec. 28, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. townofcary.org.
The Town of Cary Christmas Tree Lighting event on Dec. 1 features actors, singers, and musicians from the community.
Photo courtesy of The Town of Cary
The Cary Jaycees hosts the 2018 Cary Christmas Parade Dec. 8, 1-5 p.m. See the website for the parade route. caryjaycees.org.
Cary Ballet Company presents “The Nutcracker Suite” Dec. 15 at 11 a.m. at the Cary Arts Center. Purchase tickets, $12, at etix.com.
PlayMakers Repertory Company presents the holiday musical, “She Loves Me,” at Paul Green Theatre on the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campus Nov. 14-Dec. 2. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets, which start at $12. playmakersrep.org/show/she-loves-me.
North Carolina Symphony’s Holiday Pops Extravaganza concerts Nov. 23 at 7 p.m. and Nov. 24 at 3 p.m. at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill feature singalongs, falling snow and a chorus line of dancing Santas. Purchase tickets, $47-$70, at ticketmaster.com.
Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 1-2 at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill. See website for show times and to purchase tickets at carolinaperformingarts.org.
Talented dance students from Triangle Youth Ballet perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 1-2 in Hanes Theatre at Chapel Hill High School and Dec. 8 at Carolina Theatre in Durham. See website for show times and to purchase tickets at triangleyouthballet.com.
Carolina Inn’s annual Twelve Days of Christmas event series Dec. 1-Jan. 2 welcomes families to dine with Santa on select days, enjoy train rides around the inn, take part in gingerbread house-making, and more. carolinainn.com/twelvedays-events.
Carolina Inn sparkles with its Twelve Days of Christmas event Dec. 1-Jan. 2.
photo courtesy of emily kristine photography
Southern Village lights its tree Dec. 3, 5-6:30 p.m., on the Village Green. Live performances and free hot chocolate and cookies highlight the event. southernvillage.com.
Themed floats, marching bands and Santa welcome families to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade Dec. 8, which begins at 10 a.m. at Morehead Planetarium on E. Franklin Street in downtown Chapel Hill and ends at noon at Carrboro Town Hall. townofchapelhill.org.
Take a ride on the Polar Express at Northgate Mall Dec. 1-24. Trains leave the Center Court station Saturdays, Dec. 1, 8 15 and 22 from 12-7 p.m.; Sundays Dec. 2, 9 and 16 from 1-5 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 23, 12-5 p.m.; and Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tickets are $3/person. northgatemall.com.
Duke Chorale’s Christmas Concert, which features traditional carols for the audience to sing, and stories and special treats for children, is Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. at Duke Chapel. Admission is one nonperishable food item for needy families in Durham. music.duke.edu/events/duke-chorale-christmas-concert-2.
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents several holiday shows in December. The modern-day holiday classic “ELF: The Broadway Musical” is Dec. 4-9 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. See the website for show times. An autism-friendly version of the show takes place Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. The Beach Boys perform Christmas songs and their timeless hits Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. Mannheim Steamroller Christmas by Chip Davis, a holiday extravaganza, is Dec. 18-19 at 7:30 p.m. “Hip Hop Nutcracker,” a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovsky’s timeless classic, is Dec. 20 at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.
Step back in time to the 1800s as Duke Homestead in Durham hosts Christmas by Candlelight Dec. 7 and 14, 6:45-9:15 p.m. This annual event features costumed interpreters leading visitors on candlelit tours of the decorated homestead, storytelling and caroling around a fire. Tickets are $6 for adults, $3 for kids and are free for ages 1 and younger. Purchase tickets online. dukehomestead.org/christmas-by-candlelight.php.
On Dec. 7 and 14, experience the holidays as they were celebrated in the 1870s at Duke Homestead in Durham.
photo courtesy of bryan wiggins
Enjoy Christmas at Historic Stagville in Durham Dec. 8, noon-4 p.m. Admission is free. Explore the Christmas celebrations of enslaved African-Americans in the 1800s, and the Christmas traditions of the Bennehan and Cameron families. Historic decorating, tours of historic buildings, and hands-on activities included. stagville.org.
The City of Durham hosts Santa Paws, a holiday celebration for canine friends offering photos with Santa and a holiday pet market, on Dec. 7, 6-8:30 p.m. Durham’s holiday parade with all the trimmings is Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. on Main Street in the downtown district. A Holiday Fun Fest takes place later that afternoon, 1-4 p.m., on Blackwell Street featuring live entertainment, snow sledding, kids’ activities, vendors and a visit with Santa. The city’s Kwanzaa Celebration is Dec. 30, 2-5 p.m., at the Holton Career and Resource Center. durhamnc.gov.
World-class Russian dancers, nesting dolls and giant puppets grace Carolina Theatre’s stage in Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” Dec. 11-13 at 7 p.m. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.
Barriskill Dance Theatre’s talented students perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 14-16 in Reynolds Theatre at Duke University. See website for show times and to purchase tickets at barriskilldance.com/nutcracker.
Christmas in the Piedmont During the Civil War at Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham celebrates the season Dec. 15, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with living historians who demonstrate cooking and gift-wrapping in the 19th century. Santa visits with families during the event. Candlelit tours of the site take place from 6-9 p.m. Tickets are required for the tours and are $3 for adults and $2 for ages 5-16. 919-383-4345. bennettplacehistoricsite.com.
Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 29-30 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets at carolinaballet.com.
Holiday-themed floats, marching bands, local celebrities and large helium balloons highlight the ABC 11 Raleigh Christmas Parade Nov. 17, 9:30 a.m., in downtown Raleigh. The parade begins at the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets. grma.org/christmas-parade
Don't miss the spectacular WRAL Christmas Parade Nov. 17 in downtown Raleigh.
PHOTO COURTESY OF nieto photography
Get into the holiday spirit at Cameron Village's Holiday Open House Nov. 15, 5-8 p.m. Enjoy visits with Santa, snow sledding, a Ferris wheel and more. shopcameronvillage.com.
Carolina Youth Ballet delivers the pageantry of the “The Nutcracker” alongside professional dancers from Carolina Ballet Nov. 17 at 1 and 4:30 p.m. in Fletcher Theater at Duke Energy Center in Raleigh. Purchase tickets at triangle-academy-dance.com/cyb-ticket-sales.
Lafayette Village in Raleigh welcomes the holiday season with its Lighting of the Tree, Nov. 17, 3:30-6 p.m., 8450 Honeycutt Rd., Raleigh. lafayettevillageraleigh.com.
“Cinderella,” Raleigh Little Theatre’s holiday sugarplum, is Nov. 30-Dec. 16. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets. raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/cinderella.
Raleigh Little Theatre's “Cinderella” charms audiences of all ages Nov. 30-Dec. 16.
PHOTO COURTESY OF carrie santiago
North Carolina Symphony presents “The Merry Elf” Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. in Meymandi Concert Hall featuring music from “The Polar Express” and “Frozen,” plus a reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Visit with Santa in the lobby, and enjoy face painting and an Instrument Zoo before the show. Purchase tickets for $28 at ticketmaster.com.
“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” lands at Fletcher Theater for performances Nov. 23-Dec. 24. Purchase tickets, $25 and up, at ticketmaster.com.
The Downtown Raleigh Alliance hosts the Downtown Raleigh Tree Lighting Celebration Nov. 30, 6-7 p.m., at Lichtin Plaza at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Live music entertainment, holiday carolers, sweet treats and refreshments highlight the event. Santa Claus and his elves will mingle with the crowd that evening, and families are encouraged to take their cameras for the opportunity to take a free photo with Santa. Visit a pop-up version of Marbles Kids Museum’s Corner Store with unique gifts and stocking stuffers. A menorah will also be on the plaza, lit beginning on Sunday, Dec. 2, to celebrate Hanukkah. downtownraleigh.org.
Theatre in the Park presents “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Nov. 30-Dec. 9, and its 44th annual production of “A Christmas Carol” is Dec. 5-9 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and Dec. 12-16 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. See the website for all show times and purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.
Santa makes an appearance at the Sleigh Rides and Cider event at Historic Oak View County Park Dec. 1, 5-7:30 p.m., which also offers families horse-drawn carriage rides, handmade crafts, hot apple cider, live music and more. wakegov.com/parks/oakview.
The Raleigh State Capitol hosts its annual tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 6. The festivities begin on Capitol Square at 5 p.m. with luminaries and holiday music by the Kaiser Middle School Eighth Grade Concert Band. At 5:30 p.m. the Raleigh Concert Band will perform. The governor and dignitaries will make their way to the South grounds at 6:15 p.m. to officially begin the ceremony. Santa is scheduled to make an appearance and The Junior Woman’s Club will give away cookies and hot chocolate. The Capitol’s annual holiday open house will begin at 6:30 p.m. following the ceremony. The public is invited inside to see holiday decorations and natural greenery located throughout the building, and the Wake Med Chorus will perform in the rotunda Dec. 6-7 from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., and Dec. 8 from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Usher in the holidays at the Raleigh State Capitol tree-lighting ceremony and open house Dec. 6.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES
Play with Santa's elves, take part in holiday activities, roast s'mores outdoors and enjoy museum play Dec. 7, 6-8:30 p.m., at Marbles' Evening With Elves event. Purchase advance tickets, $25/member and $30/nonmember, at marbleskidsmuseum.org. Week-of-tickets, if available, are $30/member, $35/nonmember.
Have a holly jolly time at Gladwell Orthodontics' Santa event Dec. 10, 2-8 p.m. Decorate a gingerbread house, eat holiday cookies, enjoy tasty hot cocoa, and have your photo taken with Santa. No RSVP is necessary. Take a toy donation for Myra's Angels Foundation. 13271 Strickland Rd., Ste. 100, Raleigh. gladwellorthodontics.com.
The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s holiday spectacle, “Ghosts of Christmas Eve,” is Dec. 12 at 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.
Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 14-23 at Raleigh Memorial auditorium. See the website for show times and purchase tickets at carolinaballet.com.
Mordecai Historic Park invites families to tour Raleigh’s oldest home and birthplace of President Andrew Johnson on a lantern tour Dec. 8. One-hour tours run 5-10 p.m. and feature vignettes of the Mordecai family, soldiers and enslaved people during the Civil War. Purchase tickets, $5 per person, at reclink.raleighnc.gov (click on “advanced search” and search for “Mordecai”) or call 919-966-4364. Mordecai Historic Park also hosts its annual Holiday Open House Dec. 15, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Dec. 16, 1-4 p.m. Tour the home as it would have been decorated for Christmas during colonial days through the World War II era. Admission is free.
Raleigh Ringers’ Holiday Concerts at Meymandi Concert Hall Dec. 15 at 3 and 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. showcase unique interpretations of sacred, secular and popular music arranged just for handbells. Purchase tickets at rr.org.
North Carolina Symphony presents "Cirque de Noel," featuring aerial feats, mind-boggling contortions and amazing juggling acts accompanied by festive music, Dec. 21 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 22 at 3 and 8 p.m. at Meymandi Concert Hall. Purchase tickets, $18 and up, at ticketmaster.com.
The renowned Raleigh Boychoir presents “Carols of Christmas” Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. Purchase tickets, $10-$22, at raleighboychoir.org.
Usher in 2019 at First Night Raleigh Dec. 31, 2 p.m.-midnight, in downtown Raleigh. Enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities prior to the Acorn Drop at midnight. A First Night button, $11, is required for entry. firstnightraleigh.com.
Ring in the new year Dec. 31 at First Night Raleigh.
PHOTO COURTESY Of artsplosure/first night raleigh
Benson’s Christmas on Main event is Dec. 7, 6-9 p.m., and showcases live entertainment, a tree-lighting ceremony at 6:45 p.m. and a visit with Santa after the parade, which begins at 7 p.m. johnstoncountync.org/event/christmas-on-main-in-benson/219.
Lights on the Neuse in Clayton is a 1-mile, tractor-pulled Christmas hayride through a magical extravaganza of holiday lights on select nights in November and December. The event also offers a sweet shop and visit with Santa. See the website for hours and to purchase tickets. lightsontheneuse.com.
Hubb’s Farm in Clinton presents “The Hubb’s Express and Santa Too!” Nov. 24, 5-10 p.m., featuring a ride on the Hubb’s Express Train, time with Santa, a showing of “The Polar Express” at 7 p.m., and more. Tickets are $20/person (free for ages 1 and younger) and must be purchased in advance online or by calling 910-564-6709. Tickets will not be sold at the gate. hubbsfarmnc.com.
Main Street in Clayton is transformed into a Christmas Village Nov. 29, 5:30-8 p.m., with live music, a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus from 5:30-7:30 p.m., train rides and downtown businesses offering holiday refreshments. The town’s tree-lighting ceremony begins at 7:45 p.m. at Town Square. Enjoy a holiday parade on Main Street Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. townofclaytonnc.org/downtown-clayton/christmas-village-tree-lighting.aspx and townofclaytonnc.org/downtown-clayton/christmas-parade.aspx.
Families in Fuquay-Varina can enjoy sleigh rides, a visit with Santa and an ice rink in the downtown district Nov. 29, 6-8 p.m., during the town’s annual tree-lighting ceremony. The annual Fuquay-Varina Christmas Parade is Dec. 2 at 3 p.m. on Main Street. fuquay-varina.org and fuquay-varina.com.
Garner’s Light Up Main event Nov. 30, 6-8 p.m., showcases a tree-lighting ceremony and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Face painting, a local talent showcase and kids’ crafts round out the fun. The Garner Christmas Parade on Main Street is Dec. 1 at 2 p.m., where dance troupes, marching bands, decorated floats and Santa usher in the holiday season. garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/events/light-up-main.
Santa makes his grand arrival at Cabela's in Garner Nov. 10 at 5 p.m. The event features crafts and a free photo with Santa until 8 p.m. Santa's Wonderland Christmas village through Dec. 24 offers remote control trucks, laser/ foam toy arcade, Lincoln Logs building area and much more. Features include rustic Christmas cabins, holiday characters and live elves set amongst a dazzling backdrop of snow-covered hills and illuminated Christmas trees. cabelas.com.
The Hillsborough Holiday Parade is Dec. 2, 4:15-6:30 p.m., in the downtown district. hillsboroughchamber.com/pages/parade.
Hayrides, crafts and live entertainment highlight Holly Springs’ Main Street Christmas Dec. 7, 6-8 p.m. Mrs. Claus reads stories at the cultural center and Santa visits children at town hall until 7:15 p.m. The night concludes with a tree-lighting ceremony at 8 p.m. at the cultural center. The Happy Holly Days Parade takes place Dec. 8 at 11 a.m. on Main Street. hollyspringsnc.us.
During Christmas on First Avenue in Knightdale Nov. 29, 6-8 p.m., families can enjoy a holiday fair featuring vendors, food trucks and live music. The next evening, the town lights its tree in a festive holiday celebration from 6-8 p.m. featuring Santa, Mrs. Claus and the head elves. Knightdale’s Christmas Parade takes place Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. knightdalenc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-programs/festivals-and-events/christmas-1st-avenue.
Four Oaks’ Christmas Celebration: A Fairytale Christmas on Main Street Dec. 1, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., includes a visit from Santa, children’s activities, vendors and the town’s annual Christmas parade at 11 a.m. fouroakschamber.com/news/annualchristmasfestival.
St. Nicholas visits with kids at Mebane’s Hometown Holiday Celebration Nov. 17, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. The event also features carolers, a tree-lighting ceremony, marshmallow roasts, a snow slide and crafts. The Mebane Christmas Parade takes place Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. visitalamance.com/event/hometown-holiday-celebration/11239 and cityofmebane.com.
Park West Village in Morrisville hosts a Winter Wonderland Nov. 16-18, 5:30-8:30 p.m., featuring train rides, story time with Santa, live music and magical winter lights. parkwestvillage.net/event/winterwonderland.
Morrisville’s Lighting of the Tree Nov. 30 at Indian Creek Greenway begins with a tree-lighting ceremony at 7 p.m., followed by musical entertainment, trackless train rides, crafts and visits with Santa until 9 p.m. townofmorrisville.org.
Hop aboard an open train car with all the trimmings when New Hope Valley Railway in New Hill hosts Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express. Help Santa find his lost reindeer and take pictures with him during the ride. Trains run Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9 and 15, departing at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Visit the website for prices and to purchase tickets. triangletrain.com.
Ride the rails with New Hoe Valley Railway in December.
photo courtesy of new hope valley railway
The Pittsboro Christmas Parade is Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. and features seasonal floats, tractors, vintage vehicles, Santa and more. pittsboronc.gov.
Selma lights its tree Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. at town hall, just before the town’s evening Christmas Parade that begins at 7 p.m. on Raiford Street. selma-nc.com/christmas.
Smithfield’s Christmas Tree Lighting is Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. at the corner of Third and Market streets. Enjoy hot chocolate, live entertainment and an appearance from Santa. The annual Smithfield Christmas Parade is Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. on Market Street. smithfield-nc.com/page/parks_holiday_events.
The Lighting of Wake Forest on Nov. 30, 6-8:30 p.m., includes performances by local choirs, Santa’s arrival in a Wake Forest fire truck, and the lighting of the town’s 30-foot Christmas tree at town hall on South Brooks Street. The Downtown Merchants Association hosts a Holiday Open House Dec. 1, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., when kids can enjoy free pictures with Santa and face painting at The Cotton Company Event Gallery on South White Street. The town’s holiday parade, featuring high school marching bands, more than 100 colorful floats and Santa, takes place Dec. 8 at 1 p.m. in downtown Wake Forest. wakeforestnc.gov.
Take a covered wagon hayride through the holiday lights, and enjoy bonfires, a jumping pillow, train rides and music at Hill Ridge Farms’ Festival of Lights in Youngsville Nov. 22-Dec. 31, 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 4-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Admission is $10 for ages 2 and older Sun., Mon., Tues and Thurs.; $12 for ages 2 and older Fri.-Sat.; and $8 on Wed. hillridgefarms.com.
Take the family for live holiday entertainment in downtown Zebulon Dec. 1 at 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Kids can visit with Santa from 3:30-5 p.m. The Zebulon Christmas Parade is Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. zebulonchamber.org/holiday-happenings.
Updated Nov. 19, 2018
Janice Lewine is the associate editor at Carolina Parent.