2021 Holiday Events: Santa Visits, Christmas Tree Lightings, Sleigh Rides, Parades, Festivals and More

Tickets for many events are on sale now
Cinderella202018 4
Raleigh Little Theatre's “Cinderella” charms audiences of all ages Dec. 3-19. PHOTO COURTESY OF CARRIE SANTIAGO

Triangle towns offer plenty of festivities to get families into the holiday spirit. 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.

Jump to events in:



Chapel Hill




Other Triangle Towns



A Christmas tree and wreath auction and tree lighting ceremony highlight Christmas on Salem Street in downtown Apex on Dec. 3. The following day, families can tour homes and business that have signed up to participate in the Holiday Tour of Lights; displays will be up and running by 6 p.m. Find out more at apexnc.org/1508/Holiday-Events.

The Halle Cultural Arts Center presents two holiday productions in December. Infinity Ballet performs “Dances of the Nutcracker” Dec. 4-5; the Halle Cultural Arts Center also sees performances of “The Christmas Carol” Dec. 11-12. Visit etix.com for show times and to purchase tickets.

The Rockin’ Reindeer Hop, featuring music, dancing and refreshments for ages 13 and older with disabilities, is Dec. 10, 7-9:30 p.m. at the Apex Community Center. The admission fee is $5/person. activekids.com.

Get the whole family together in hopes of winning a holiday ham—it’s all fun and games at the Family Basketball Ham Toss, at JMB Community Center on Dec. 20. Participation is free, but preregistration is required. apexnc.org.



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

Live music, family activities, a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus and a tree lighting ceremony usher in the holidays at Waverly Place in Cary Nov. 19, 4-8:30 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. 19-Jan. 9. Among the ticket types available are Twilight Tickets (gates open at 4:30 p.m.) and VIP tickets. Prices run $15-$35. The festival also features cultural performances and artisans. Gates open at 6 p.m. boothamphitheatre.com/events/detail/nc-chinese-lantern-festival.

The Cary Arts Center hosts a Menorah Lighting Nov. 30, 5:30-6:30 p.m., with holiday music, treats and fun for the kids. townofcary.org.

Cary Players present “It’s A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” Dec. 3-6 at the Cary Arts Center. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets, $17-$20. caryplayers.org.

Cary’s Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony takes place on Dec. 4 at the Town Hall Campus and features actors, singers, and musicians from the community. townofcary.org.

Light up the holidays at the Chinese Lantern Festival in Cary Nov. 19-Jan. 9.


The Cary Town Band puts on a free Winterfest celebration that features its popular carol sing-along at the Cary Arts Center Theater. Dec. 9, 7:30 p.m., open seating. carytownband.org.

The Cary Jaycees host the 42th Cary Christmas Parade Dec. 11, 2-4 p.m. along South Academy Street in downtown Cary. caryjaycees.org/events-1/2019/12/14/town-of-cary-christmas-parade.

Join the Concert Singers of Cary for a Holiday Pops Concert, a joyful celebration following the Cary Christmas Parade. Dec. 11, 7:30 p.m., Cary Arts Center. concertsingers.org.

Cary Community Choir presents “Messiah” at Westwood Baptist Church Dec. 5, 7:30-9:30 p.m. This is the 50th annual performance of George Frideric Handel’s beloved oratorio. carycommunitychoir.org.

“‘Tis the Season: The Snowman” is an annual screening of a short, animated film with the soundtrack performed live by the Triangle Wind Ensemble. The delightful movie tells the story of a young boy who builds a snowman which magically comes to life; together, they take a magical journey around the world.Dec. 12, 4 p.m., Cary Arts Center.trianglewind.org.

The Cary Ballet presents “The Nutcracker Suite,” a condensed, narrated version of the holiday classic, “The Nutcracker.” Dec. 18, 11 a.m., $13. Part of the family series. Full productions will also take place. caryballetcompany.org.

The Town of Cary Christmas Tree Lighting event on Dec. 4 features actors, singers, and musicians from the community.



Celebrate the holidays at Spring Haven Farm and take in a Winter Wonderland with Goats, Nov. 17-Dec. 31 (Wed.-Sun.) from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. $13.50. Purchase fresh Christmas trees and wreaths, take a spin on the Polar Express Tractor Train Ride, make ornaments in Santa’s Workshop and of, course, hobnob with goats, cows, pigs and other animals in the Festive Wonderland Barn. fareharbor.com.

The Lollipop Series Puppet Show at Carrboro Century Center brings you a double-header puppet show to kick off the season. First up is “The Shoemaker and the Elf,” followed by “The Wish Tree.” Dec. 1, 10:30 a.m., $3. puppetshowinc.org.

The 15th Annual Elf Market takes place Dec. 4 and raises funds for The ArtsCenter’s Youth Education Scholarships. Shop local and find wares from vendors in Carrboro, Chapel Hill and the Triangle area. The ArtsCenter, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. artscenterlive.org.

The Light Up the Night Parade & Tree Lighting is Dec. 5 at 4 p.m. The parade kicks off with the Running of the Elves at 4 p.m., followed by the Tree Lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. visitchapelhill.org.

Carolina Inn’s annual Twelve Days of Christmas event series Dec. 4-24 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.




Three holiday shows grace the stage at Durham Performing Arts Center in December. The holiday classic, “A Christmas Carol,” is onstage from Dec. 15-18 with a cast of almost 100. Times vary by performance date. Holiday mash-up “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” is a contemporary dance spectacle set to Tchaikovsky’s timeless music and takes place Dec. 26 at 2 p.m. Last but certainly not least, the popular 1983 movie “A Christmas Story: The Musical” comes to hilarious life on the stage, Dec. 28-Jan. 2; times vary by performance date. Purchase tickets at dpacnc.com.

The Duke Chapel by Candlelight: Christmas Open House is a chance to see the chapel fully decorated for the holidays and listen to popular Christmas music. Dec. 15, noon-2 p.m., free. chapel.duke.edu.

Step back in time to the 1870s as Duke Homestead in Durham hosts its annual Christmas by Candlelight Dec. 3 and 10, 5:30-9 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. Purchase tickets online. dukehomestead.org/christmas-by-candlelight.php.

On Dec. 3 and 10, 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. Bull City Holidayz offers holiday-themed events in December. All events are free, but preregistration is required. Santa Paws, a holiday celebration for canine friends offering photos with Santa and a holiday pet market, is Dec. 3, 6-8:30 p.m., at the Durham Armory. A festive holiday-themed Laser Light Show gives families something new to experience this holiday season. The drive in-style event on Dec. 11 has three showings, at 5:30, 7:30 & 9:30 p.m., at Durham County Memorial Stadium. Durham’s Holiday Parade with all the trimmings is Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. on Main Street in the downtown district. dprplaymore.org.

Talented dance students from Barriskill Dance Theatre perform “The Nutcracker” Dec. 17-19 and “The Nutty Nutcracker” Dec. 11-12 in Reynolds Theater at Duke University. See the website for show times and to purchase tickets at barriskilldance.com/nutcracker.

Husband-and-wife team Drew & Ellie Holcomb’s Neighborly Christmas plays a one-night engagement at the Carolina Theatre’s Fletcher Hall on Dec. 21. 8 p.m., $35-$49.50. carolinatheatre.org.

Durham’s Holiday Parade with all the trimmings is set for Dec. 18 at 11 a.m. on Main Street in the downtown district.

Photo courtesy of durham parks and recreation


The Hillsborough Holiday Parade is Dec. 5, beginning at 4 p.m., in the downtown district. hillsboroughchamber.com/pages/parade.

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. 17-18 at the Orange County Sportsplex. ocsportsplex.com.



Carolina Ballet presents “The Nutcracker” at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium, Dec. 17-24. Show times vary by performance date. $27-$80, at carolinaperformingarts.org.

Lafayette Village in Raleigh hosts a Lighting of the Tree, Nov. 20, 3-6 p.m. A Menorah Lighting on The Green is Dec. 5 at 5 p.m. See “The Polar Express” outdoors on a large screen Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. 8450 Honeycutt Rd., Raleigh. lafayettevillageraleigh.com.

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra celebrates the 25th anniversary of its album “Christmas Eve and Other Stories,” in a show on Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. at PNC Arena. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

Local celebrities host the ABC 11 Raleigh Christmas Parade Nov. 20, 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. 20 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. 20, 4-7 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 “A Family Holiday Concert” in Meymandi Concert Hall, which features music from “The Polar Express” and “Babes in Toyland,” in addition to holiday favorites. Nov. 26 at 1 & 4 p.m. “Holiday Pops” concerts are Dec. 10-11 at 8 p.m. (additional matinee at 3 p.m. on Dec. 11). Purchase tickets, $40-$61, at ticketmaster.com.

Play with Santa’s elves, enjoy a family dinner, roast s’mores outdoors and sing along with the Snowflake Fairy Dec. 10, 6-8:30 p.m., at Marbles’ Evening With Elves event. Purchase advance tickets, $20/member and $25/nonmember, at marbleskidsmuseum.org. Also in December, create sweet masterpieces at the Gingerbread Jamboree, Dec. 18 at 9:30 a.m., 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.; Dec. 19 at 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. marbleskidsmuseum.org.

“Cinderella 2021,” Raleigh Little Theatre’s holiday sugarplum for the whole family, is Dec. 3-19. 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. 3-19.


Theatre in the Park presents “A Christmas Carol” is Dec. 9-12 at Raleigh Memorial Auditorium and Dec. 15-19 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. Tour the home as it would have been decorated for Christmas during colonial days through the World War II era. Admission is free. Stay tuned to the website for 2021 date information. raleighnc.gov.

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

Raleigh Ringers’ Holiday Concerts at Meymandi Concert Hall Dec. 12 at 4 p.m.; Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. showcase unique interpretations of sacred, secular and popular music arranged just for handbells. Purchase tickets at ticketmaster.com.

Ring in 2022 at First Night Raleigh Dec. 31, 2 p.m.-midnight, in downtown Raleigh. Enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities including the Acorn Drop, live music and a fireworks show. Tickets are $12 in advance; on-site tickets are $12 for ages 6-12 and $16 for those 13 and older. 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. 3, 5-9 p.m., and showcases live entertainment, a tree lighting ceremony, a parade and a visit with Santa. bensonchamber.com.

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. 2, 5:30-8:30 p.m.; there will also be a tree-lighting ceremony. Stay tuned to Clayton’s Facebook page for more info. d.facebook.com/events/891534451482210. Enjoy a holiday parade on Main Street Dec. 11 at 3 p.m. festivalnet.com/15145/Clayton-North-Carolina/Parades/Clayton-Christmas-Parade.

Hubb’s Farm in Clinton presents “Polar Express and Santa Too!” on Nov. 27, featuring a ride on the Hubb’s Express Train, time with Santa and a showing of “The Polar Express.” Tickets must be purchased in advance online; they will not be sold at the gate. hubbsfarmnc.com.

Four Oaks’ Christmas Festival on Main Street Dec. 4, starting at 11 a.m., includes a visit from Santa, children’s activities, vendors and the town’s annual Christmas parade. johnstoncountync.org/event/four-oaks-christmas-festival/237.

Families in Fuquay-Varina can enjoy sleigh rides Dec. 2, beginning at 6 p.m., during the town’s annual tree lighting ceremony, then follow it up the next day with the Fuquay-Varina Chorale Christmas performance, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. fuquay-varina.org.

Join the town of Garner for the inaugural Garner Holiday Block Party on Dec. 4, 3-5 p.m. The family-friendly event has music from local high school bands, holiday crafts, line dancing, visits from Santa and the Garner Express, a 24-person trail ride. garnernc.gov.

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 sensory-friendly Santa Cares event in Holly Springs takes place Dec. 4 from 10 a.m.-noon and allows families with special needs to experience a traditional visit with Santa in a comforting environment. It’s part of the Tree Trail at Ting! at Ting Stadium, where you can marvel at 50 trees that have been decorated by local organizations. hollyspringsnc.gov.

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.

The Mebane Christmas Parade takes place Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. Although Santa will be making his arrival at that parade, you can see him from the comfort of your own home as Santa’s Tour of Mebane visits area neighborhoods on Dec. 18 starting at 9 a.m. Be on the lookout! 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 Tree Lighting takes place on Dec. 3, 6 p.m., at Indian Creek Greenway. It will be followed by entertainment and visits with Santa. townofmorrisville.org.

Storytime with Santa, train rides, live music and magical winter lights illuminate Park West Village’s Winter Wonderland in Morrisville Nov. 19-20, 5:30-8:30 p.m; Nov. 21, 2-5:30 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. 4, 5, 11, 12 & 18 departing at 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Purchase tickets, $10, at triangletrain.com.

Ride the rails with New Hope Valley Railway in December.


The Pittsboro Christmas Parade is Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. and features seasonal floats, tractors, vintage vehicles, Santa and more. pittsboronc.gov.

Rolesville’s Christmas parade takes place on Dec. 5 from 2-3 p.m. Come out to see the man in the red suit! rolesvillenc.gov.

Selma kicks off the season with a holiday village market on Nov. 21 from 10:30 a.m.-6:30 p.m. There’ll be free horse and carriage rides, free hay wagon rides, the elves’ workshop for the kids, arts, craft and food trucks. selma-nc.com.

Smithfield’s Grinch Stink, Stank, Stunk 5K Toy Run is Dec. 4 at 9 a.m. and has a 5K run and 1-mile Jingle Bell Jog. Bring Whoville to life in the costume contest—there are prizes for Best Kid, Best Adult, Best Dog and Best Family or Duo costumes. The annual Smithfield Christmas Parade is Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. on Market Street. smithfield-nc.com.

The Lighting of Wake Forest on Dec. 3, 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. 4; stay tuned to the website for more information.

Also on Dec. 4 is It’s a Wonderful Wake Forest Historic Holiday Festival, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Wake Forest Historical Museum. The Calvin Jones house will be decorated for the holidays, local musicians perform both inside and outside the museum, and a screening of “It’s a Wonderful Life” will be screened in the museum’s auditorium. 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. 3-5. Visit wakeforestpres.org/wtb for hours.

Hill Ridge Farms in Youngsville comes alive during its Festival of Lights drive-through experience, Nov. 25-Jan. 2, 5-10 p.m. (open Wed.-Sun.) On-site tickets only, $15 (under age 2, free). hillridgefarms.com/festival.php.

The Town of Zebulon is still finalizing its holiday happenings; stay abreast of details on its website.  townofzebulon.org/services/parks-and-recreation/events.


Updated Nov. 10, 2021

Jennifer McKee is a contributor to carolinaparent.com.


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