2019 Holiday Events: Santa Visits, Christmas Tree Lightings, Sleigh Rides, Parades, Festivals and More

Tickets for many events are on sale now
Photo courtesy of Moscow Ballet
Be dazzled by Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker,” which graces The Carolina Theatre stage Dec. 18-19 in Durham.

Triangle towns offer plenty of festivities to get families into the holiday spirit, from Christmas parades to Santa sightings, to joyous Hanukkah and Kwaanza celebrations. The events below are 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:



Chapel Hill




Other Triangle Towns



Sleigh rides, caroling and a tree lighting ceremony highlight Christmas on Salem Street in downtown Apex Dec. 6, 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. 6-8. Visit etix.com for show times and to purchase tickets.

The Rockin' Reindeer Hop, featuring music, dancing and refreshments for ages 14 and older with disabilities, is Dec. 13, 7-9:30 p.m. at the Apex Community Center. The admission fee is $5/person. apexnc.org/parks.



Bass Pro Shops in Cary offers Santa’s Wonderland on select days in November and December. The event features crafts, games and a free photo with Santa. cabelas.com.

Tasty treats, family activities, a visit from Santa and a tree lighting ceremony usher in the holidays at Waverly Place in Cary Nov. 22, 6-8:30 p.m. waverlycary.com/whats-happening/events.

See 20 light displays illuminated by thousands of LED lights at the Chinese Lantern Festival at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary Nov. 22-Jan. 12. 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/events/detail/nc-chinese-lantern-festival.

Light up the holidays at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary Nov. 22-Jan. 12.

PHOTO COURTESY OF Matthew lewine

Cary Players present “The Best Christmas Pageant Ever” Dec. 6-9 at the Cary Arts Center. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets, $20 for adults and $18 for kids. caryplayers.org.

More than 130 community groups provide handcrafted ornaments for the Town of Cary’s community tree lighting ceremony Dec. 7 at 6 p.m. The event also showcases musicians, singers and actors from the community. The Cary Arts Center hosts a Menorah Lighting Dec. 23, 5:30-6:30 p.m., as well as the town’s 25th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration, which features family activities and live performances, Dec. 27, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. townofcary.org.

The Town of Cary Christmas Tree Lighting event on Dec. 7 features actors, singers, and musicians from the community.


Cary Community Choir presents "Messiah" at White Plains United Methodist Church Dec. 8, 7:30-9:30 p.m. This is the 49th annual performance of George Frideric Handel's beloved oratorio. carycommunitychoir.org.

The Cary Jaycees host the 40th Cary Christmas Parade Dec. 14, 2-4 p.m. along South Academy Street in downtown Cary. caryjaycees.org/events-1/2019/12/14/town-of-cary-christmas-parade.

Cary Ballet Company presents “The Nutcracker Suite” Dec. 21, 11 a.m.-noon, at the Cary Arts Center. Purchase tickets, $12, at etix.com. Children can decorate a teacup and take photos with featured dancers at a Ballerina Tea after the performance; tea tickets are an additional $12 per child at etix.com.

Enjoy the debut of “Jamie Laval’s Celtic Christmas: Music and Stories for the Deep Midwinter” Dec. 30, 7:30 p.m., at the Cary Arts Center. Learn more at jamielaval.com/tour-dates. Purchase tickets, $35-$40, at bit.ly/CelticChristmasTriangle.

Jamie Laval's Celtic Christmas weaves a tapestry of music, dance, poetry, and stories that hearken back to the ancient Celtic celebrations associated with the Winter Solstice and Christmas.

Photo courtesy of JamieLaval.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.


Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill. Show times are Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets, $23.50 and up, at carolinaperformingarts.org.

North Carolina Symphony’s “Holiday Pops Extravaganza” concert Dec. 10 at 7:30 p.m. at Memorial Hall in Chapel Hill features carolers, falling snow and a singalong. Purchase tickets, $44-$73, at ticketmaster.com.

The Chapel Hill-Carrboro Holiday Parade is Dec. 14, 10 a.m.-noon. This annual parade on East Franklin Street showcases the community's rich diversity, and begins on East Franklin Street, weaving its way to Carrboro Town Hall. visitchapelhill.org.



Several holiday shows in November and December grace the stage at Durham Performing Arts Center. Disney Junior’s “Holiday Party On Tour” with special guest Santa Claus is Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. Grammy-award winning guitarist Brian Setzer and his orchestra rock out in retro-holiday style Nov. 27 at 7:30 p.m. The tenor powerhouse Il Divo delivers their renditions of familiar Christmas melodies Nov. 29 at 8 p.m. “Hip Hop Nutcracker,” a contemporary re-imagination of Tchaikovsky’s timeless classic, is Nov. 30 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Experience the magic of Christmas as dazzling performers and breathtaking cirque artists deliver “A Magic Cirque Christmas,” accompanied by favorite holiday music, Dec. 1 at 7:30 p.m. Irving Berlin’s timeless musical “White Christmas” is Dec. 3-5 at 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 6 at 8 p.m.; and Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

Duke Chorale’s Christmas Concert, which features traditional carols for the audience to sing, as well as stories and special treats for children, is Dec. 3 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-3.

Step back in time to the 1800s as Duke Homestead in Durham hosts its annual Christmas by Candlelight Dec. 6 and 13, 5:15-9:15 p.m. This popular event features costumed interpreters who lead visitors on candlelit tours of the decorated homestead. Storytelling and caroling round out the fun. Tickets are $6 for adults, $3 for ages 3-12 and are free for ages 2 and younger. Purchase tickets online. dukehomestead.org/christmas-by-candlelight.php.

On Dec. 6 and 13, experience the holidays as they were celebrated in the 1870s at Duke Homestead in Durham.


Usher in the holiday season with the City of Durham. A Holiday Open House, featuring historic holiday decorations, festive music and holiday crafts, is Dec. 8, 1-5 p.m., at West Point on the Eno Park. Santa Paws, a holiday celebration for canine friends offering photos with Santa and a holiday pet market, is Dec. 13, 6-8:30 p.m., at the Durham Armory. Durham’s Holiday Parade with all the trimmings is Dec. 14 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, 1-4 p.m., at the Holton Career and Resource Center. dprplaymore.org.

Durham’s Holiday Parade with all the trimmings is set for Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. on Main Street in the downtown district.

Photo courtesy of durham parks and recreation

Talented dance students from Barriskill Dance Theatre perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 13 at 7 p.m.; Dec. 14 at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.; and Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. in Reynolds Theater at Duke University. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets at barriskilldance.com/nutcracker.

Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 14 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Durham Performing Arts Center. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets at carolinaballet.com.

Christmas in the Piedmont During the Civil War at Bennett Place State Historic Site in Durham celebrates the season Dec. 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., with living historians who demonstrate cooking and gift-wrapping in the 19th century. St. Nicholas visits with families during the event. Candlelit tours of the site take place from 6-9 p.m. Tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for ages 5-16 for the daytime event. Evening candlelight tours charge $3 for adults and $2 for ages 5-16. bennettplacehistoricsite.com.

World-class Russian dancers, nesting dolls and giant puppets grace Carolina Theatre’s stage in Moscow Ballet’s “Great Russian Nutcracker” Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., and Dec. 19 at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

The Moscow Ballet performs the "Great Russian Nutcracker" Waltz of the Magical Snow Forest.

Photo courtesy of Moscow Ballet



The Orange Community Players present the holiday classic, "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play," Dec. 5-8 at the Passmore Center. Purchase tickets online. ocpnc.com.

"Nutcracker on Ice" is a youth figure skating and ice skating show with performances on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 11 a.m. at the Orange County Sportsplex. ocsportsplex.com



Lafayette Village in Raleigh hosts a Lighting of the Tree, Nov. 16, 3-6 p.m. A Holiday Open House concert is Dec. 7, 2-4 p.m., featuring camel rides, trackless train rides, a live Nativity and more. A Menorah Lighting and Gelt Drop on The Green is Dec. 22, 2:30-4:30 p.m. See “The Polar Express” outdoors on a large screen Dec. 21, 7-10 p.m. 8450 Honeycutt Rd., Raleigh. lafayettevillageraleigh.com.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s all-new holiday spectacle, “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” is Nov. 20 at 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

Carolina Youth Ballet delivers the pageantry of the “The Nutcracker” alongside professional dancers from Carolina Ballet Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. and Nov. 23 at noon and 5 p.m. in Fletcher Theater at Duke Energy Center in Raleigh. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

Local celebrities host the ABC 11 Raleigh Christmas Parade Nov. 23, 9:40 a.m., in downtown Raleigh. The parade begins at the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets and features holiday-themed floats, marching bands, and large helium balloons. grma.org/christmas-parade.


Don't miss the spectacular WRAL Christmas Parade Nov. 23 in downtown Raleigh. 

PHOTO COURTESY OF parlez-vous photography, rachael fineman-nichols

The annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration, located in the Commons of North Hills, features snow slopes, trackless train rides, kids crafts and activities, a bounce house and a vendor village Nov. 23, 3:30-7:30 p.m. As Santa Claus arrives at 6 p.m., a 41-foot tree will be lit amidst a joyous chorus of “Santa Clause Is Coming to Town.” visitnorthhills.com/events/annual-tree-lighting/

North Carolina Symphony presents “Cirque de Noel” in Meymandi Concert Hall Nov. 27 at 3 p.m.; Nov. 29 at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and Nov. 30 at 3 p.m. Holiday Pops concerts are Dec. 13 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical” lands at Fletcher Theater for performances Nov. 29-Dec. 24. Purchase tickets, $26 and up, at ticketmaster.com.

Snow White's seven dwarves try to save Christmas from her wicked aunt in "A Snow White Christmas" Nov. 30-Dec. 8 at Memorial Auditorium. This witty retelling of the classic fairy tale in British Panto style features a score of well-known songs. Purchase tickets, $25 and up, at ticketmaster.com.

Play with Santa’s elves, enjoy a family dinner, roast s’mores outdoors and sing along with the Snowflake Fairy Dec. 6, 6-8:30 p.m., at Marbles’ Evening With Elves event. Purchase advance tickets, $27/member and $30/nonmember, at marbleskidsmuseum.org. Week-of-tickets, if available, are $32/member, $35/nonmember.

“Cinderella,” Raleigh Little Theatre’s holiday sugarplum for the whole family, is Dec. 6-22. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets. raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/cinderella.

Raleigh Little Theatre's Cinderella charms audiences of all ages Dec. 6-22. 


Horse-drawn carriage rides, handmade crafts, hot apple cider, live music and more highlight Historic Oak View County Park’s annual Sleigh Rides and Cider event Dec 7, 5-7:30 p.m. in Raleigh. wakegov.com/parks/oakview.

Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 7-29 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium. See the website for show times and purchase tickets at carolinaballet.com.

Theatre in the Park presents “A Christmas Carol” is Dec. 11-15 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and Dec. 18-22 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. See the website for show times and purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

Mordecai Historic Park invites families to tour Raleigh’s oldest home and birthplace of President Andrew Johnson its annual Holiday Open House Dec. 14, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., and Dec. 15, 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. raleighnc.gov.

The renowned Raleigh Boychoir presents “Carols of Christmas” Dec. 20 at 7 p.m. at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. Purchase tickets, $10-$22, at raleighboychoir.org.

Raleigh Ringers’ Holiday Concerts at Meymandi Concert Hall Dec. 21-22 at 4 p.m. showcase unique interpretations of sacred, secular and popular music arranged just for handbells. Purchase tickets at rr.org.

Ring in 2020 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 7 p.m. and again at midnight. A First Night button, $11-$15, 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. 6, 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.

"Kids, Cookies & Candy Canes" is Carrboro's annual nod to the holidays, and one that kids of all ages will enjoy. The event takes place Dec. 12, 10:30 a.m.-noon, and features, cookies, crafts and a children's show at The Century Center. carrbororec.org.

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.

Main Street in Clayton is transformed into a Christmas Village Dec. 5, 5:30-8 p.m., with live music, train rides, student vocal performances and visits with Santa from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The town’s tree lighting ceremony begins at 7:45 p.m. at Town Square. Enjoy a holiday parade on Main Street Dec. 14 at 3 p.m. townofclaytonnc.org/downtown-clayton/christmas-village-tree-lighting.aspx and townofclaytonnc.org/downtown-clayton/events.aspx.

Hubb’s Farm in Clinton presents “Polar Express and Santa Too!” Nov. 30, 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. Hubb Farms’ annual Christmas on the Farm event is Dec. 13-15 and Dec. 20-22, 6-9 p.m., and features Hubb’s Express train rides through an inflatable wonderland, hayrides, Christmas music, s’mores, visits with Santa, and a Nativity scene beneath the stars. Ticket prices range $5-$10 per person (free for ages 1 and younger). hubbsfarmnc.com.

Four Oaks’ Christmas Festival on Main Street Dec. 7, 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. johnstoncountync.org/event/four-oaks-christmas-festival/237.

Families in Fuquay-Varina can enjoy sleigh rides and a visit with Santa Dec. 5, 6-8 p.m., during the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony. Fuquay's Downtown Sleigh Ride Dec. 5, 6-8 p.m., is a ticketed event during the town's tree lighting ceremony. Tickets are distributed to Sponsors and Friends of Downtown. Remaining tickets are available to the public at a ticket sale the night before the Sleigh Ride. The annual Fuquay-Varina Christmas Parade is Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. on Main Street. fuquay-varina.org and fuquay-varina.com

Garner’s Light Up Main event Dec. 6, 6-8 p.m., showcases a tree lighting ceremony and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Face painting, a local talent showcase and an Elves on Main Scavenger Hunt for kids round out the fun. garnernc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-resources/events.

Cabela’s in Garner offers Santa’s Wonderland on select days in November and December. The event features crafts, games and a free photo with Santa. cabelas.com.

The Hillsborough Holiday Parade is Dec. 1, 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. 13, 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. 14 at 11 a.m. on Main Street. hollyspringsnc.us/343/festivals-events.

During Christmas on First Avenue in Knightdale Dec. 7, 5-8 p.m., families can enjoy a holiday fair featuring vendors, food trucks, live music and a tree lighting at 6 p.m. Knightdale’s Christmas Parade begins at 6:30 p.m. knightdalenc.gov/departments/parks-recreation-and-cultural-programs/festivals-and-events/christmas-1st-avenue.

Kris Kringle visits with kids at Mebane’s Hometown Holiday Celebration Nov. 23, 4-9 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. 6 at 7 p.m. cityofmebane.com.

Christmas Lights on the Farm in Middlesex is a Christmas extravaganza that welcomes families on select days in November and December. Enjoy a hayride through a country town decorated for the Christmas season and continue through the Field of Lights. The hay ride ends at Big Daddy’s General Store, where kids can meet Santa and Bucky the Reindeer.  While the kids visit with Santa and Bucky, parents can wander through the general store and select their favorite old-fashioned candy.  Roast marshmallows on an open fire and, on special nights and times, hear Christmas carols performed by local singers. christmaslightsonthefarm.com.

Morrisville’s Lighting of the Tree on Dec. 6, 7-8 p.m., 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. townofmorrisville.org.

Storytime with Santa, live music and magical winter lights illuminate Park West Village’s Winter Wonderland in Morrisville Nov. 22-24, 5:30-8:30 p.m. parkwestvillage.net/event/winter-wonderland-2.

Help Santa find Rudolph and his other lost reindeer during Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express, hosted by New Hope Valley Railway in New Hill. Hop aboard an open train car with all the trimmings and take pictures with him during the hour-long ride. Frosty the Snowman greets families in the rail yard. Trains run Dec. 7, 8, 14, 15 and 21, departing at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 4 p.m. Purchase tickets, $11-$13, at triangletrain.com.

Ride the rails with New Hope Valley Railway in December.  


The Pittsboro Christmas Parade is Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. and features seasonal floats, tractors, vintage vehicles, Santa and more. pittsboronc.gov.

Rolesville's annual tree lighting ceremony is Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. in Main Street Park. Take the family and enjoy musical performances by local schools. rolesvillenc.gov.

Selma ushers in the holidays on Raiford Street with performances by local choirs Dec. 3 at 5 p.m. See Miss Railroad Days Queen 2019 light the town’s tree at 6 p.m., just before the start of the Selma Christmas Parade at 7 p.m. selma-nc.com

Smithfield’s Christmas Tree Lighting is Dec. 5 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. 12 at 7 p.m. on Market Street. smithfield-nc.com.

The Lighting of Wake Forest on Dec. 6, 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. 7, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., when kids can enjoy free pictures with Santa, face painting and a gingerbread house display 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. 14 at 1 p.m. in downtown Wake Forest. Kids can enjoy brunch with Santa Dec. 8, 10:30 a.m.-noon, at Joyner Park Community Center. Admission is $10 per child, free for ages 2 and younger. wakeforestnc.gov/citizen-engagement/community-calendar/christmas-wake-forest. "Walk Through Bethlehem" at Wake Forest Presbyterian Church features a living Nativity program featuring authentic costumes and scenery Dec. 6-8. Visit wakeforestpres.org/wtb for hours. 

Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville comes alive during its Festival of Lights. Take a covered wagon hayride through the holiday lights, and enjoy bonfires, a jumping pillow, train rides and music Nov. 28-Dec. 29, 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, and 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Admission is $10 for ages 2 and older Mon.-Wed.; $12 for ages 2 and older Thursday through Sunday. hillridgefarms.com/festival.php.

Wendell Wonderland is Dec. 6, 5-9 p.m., and features trolley rides, live music, a holiday market, food trucks, the Lake Myra Lights Show, a cookie walk and Christmas cantata, dance and chorus performances, a tree lighting ceremony, snow machine, and a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus at this free downtown event. townofwendell.com.

The Town of Zebulon’s tree lighting ceremony is Nov. 22, 6-9 p.m. The Zebulon Christmas Parade is Dec. 1 at 2 p.m. townofzebulon.org. Both events take place in the downtown district. Kids can pose with Santa Claus for free photos Dec. 6 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. in Zebulon Town Hall. townofzebulon.org/services/parks-and-recreation/events.


Updated Nov. 14, 2019

Janice Lewine is the associate editor at Carolina Parent.


Categories: Cultural, Day Trips, Festivals, Seasonal Fun, Things To Do