Holiday Traditions, Old and New, in Raleigh, N.C.
Friday, November 18, 2016, 6am by visitRaleigh
The holidays are the perfect time to come together with friends and family, celebrating the magic of the season and taking part in Raleigh, N.C.'s holiday traditions, old and new. This list, full of events and activities in N.C.'s capital city area, should get you started on planning special ways to capture the holiday spirit this season. From performing arts productions to incredible light displays, these are some of the tried-and-true and can't-miss things to do during the holidays:
72nd Annual WRAL Raleigh Christmas Parade (11/19)
The largest Christmas parade between Atlanta and Washington, D.C., will march through downtown Raleigh for more than two hours, drawing nearly 60,000 visitors to the streets to see marching bands, dancers, classic cars, super heroes and Santa Claus. Bring the whole family (including pets!) plus some chairs—there's great street-side viewing everywhere on the 1.4-mile route.
North Hills Tree Lighting Celebration (11/19)
The annual lighting of a 41-foot-tall Christmas tree, a visit from Santa Claus, trackless train rides for kids, live music and plenty of vendors on hand make this celebration an equally great event for families and a fun date idea. Arrive a tad early to join in on the Holiday Sip & Shop to knock out some shopping at local retailers like Peter Millar, Quail Ridge Books, Scout & Molly's plus more while enjoying complimentary hot chocolate and cider.
Wendell Wonderland (12/2; light show runs 11/23-12/31)
A perfect chance to experience historic downtown Wendell, with a visit from Santa Claus, trolley rides through town, live music local vendors and more. One of the area's most popular light shows, the Lake Myra Christmas light display, will also be in full swing, featuring more than 400,000 lights—and it's all free!
Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical (11/25-12/24)
Based on the animated television special "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" and the stage production directed and conceived by Jeff Frank and First Stage, the characters you know and love—Rudolph, the Abominable Snowman, Santa and Mrs. Claus and more—come to life in this Broadway Series South production. And here's a tip: stroll through downtown Raleigh, before or after the show, for a great meal or to get some shopping done.
North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival (11/25-1/15)
A super trip-worthy event for the whole family returns for a second straight year—the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival brings 20 all new, larger-than-life lanterns to Koka Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Made up of thousands of LED lights, displays light up the skies and mesmerize visitors on this one-hour walking tour. Have your cameras ready for the Chinese Dragon that sits on Symphony Lake!
North Carolina Symphony Performances
If you can only see one or two of the nearly 200 performances by the North Carolina Symphony each year, this may be the time to do it. Special performances include Holiday Pops (11/25-26), Messiah Choruses (12/2-3), A Pink Martini Holiday (12/9-10), A Candlelight Christmas (12/23) and New Year's Eve in Vienna (12/31). Don't miss out!
Pullen Park's Holiday Express (12/1-11)
This year-round favorite destination for families is now all dressed up for the holiday season, festively decorated with thousands of lights. The major attractions? A rideable, miniature train that meanders through and around the park plus a carousel that keeps kids of all ages happy for hours.
Movies at The Cary Theater
The holiday season is one of the most popular times of the year to head to the movie theaters, so try out this unique experience: The Cary Theater, housed in a historic property in downtown Cary, opened up in 2014 and offering independent film showings, music and other live performances. They'll be showing seasonal movies like "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation," "Love The Coopers," "Prancer," "A Christmas Carol," "The Polar Express," "A Christmas Story" and more before the end of the year.
Christmas on Salem Street (12/2-4)
Christmas carols, a tree lighting, horse-drawn carriages, cookie decorating and a visit from Santa in charming historic downtown Apex—this annual tradition has so much to love. Don't miss the Grand Christmas Parade on Sat.!
Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest (12/3)
Officially kicking off downtown Raleigh's winter wonderland experience, Winterfest includes the Mayor's Tree Lighting, games and rides (a Ferris wheel, carousel and super slide!), gingerbread competition, ice skating and more.
A Christmas Carol, presented by Theatre In The Park (12/7-11; pictured in header)
This theater production from local passionate mind Ira David Wood III (meet him in the video below!), celebrating it's 42nd year this holiday season, has wowed more than a million guests throughout the years. The beloved musical comedy, in which Wood himself puts on an incredible performance as Scrooge, has been a longstanding tradition for families in the area—tickets tend to go quickly so plan ahead!
State Capitol Tree Lighting Ceremony (12/8)
With luminaries lighting the Capitol grounds and local choral groups filling the air with seasonal songs, the lighting of the tree at the North Carolina State Capitol Building is a sign for many that the holiday season is officially here. After the lighting of the tree, stick around to tour the inside of the Capitol, covered in wreaths and draped in garland.
45th Annual Historic Oakwood Candelight Tour (12/10-11)
Historic Oakwood, a community of homes, many of which are dated to the mid 1800s to early 1900s, has its own smalltown feel. Elegantly decorated for the holidays, you can step inside 13 private homes, staffed with docents to tell the rich history of this Century Victorian neighborhood.
The Nutcracker, presented by Carolina Ballet (12/16-24)
Grace, grandeur and mysterious illusions. Carolina Ballet's holiday classic is a can't-miss tradition for locals, visitors, families and friends. The only production in the country using illusions created by renowned magician Rick Thomas, The Nutcracker will make characters levitate, disappear and reappear before your eyes in 14 performances at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
An Angus Barn Dinner
Visiting one of Raleigh's most treasured, family-owned restaurants is never a bad idea. Open for more than 55 years, Angus Barn is an institution—an award-winning steakhouse with one of the largest wine cellars in the country. During the holidays, gorgeous decorations adorn the red barn building inside and out. It's no wonder visitors who have experienced Angus Barn around this time keep returning year after year.
22nd Annual Kwanzaa Celebration (12/29)
A celebration for all people, focusing on family and friends, Town of Cary and the Ujima Group, Inc., will host the 22nd annual Kwanzaa Celebration at the Cary Arts Center. The theme this year? "It's a New Dawn; It's a New Day," featuring a performance by a children's dance group and hands-on crafts and activities in the Children's Village.
First Night Raleigh (12/31)
Raleigh's biggest New Year celebration fills the city's center with crowds and activities: sleigh rides, Ferris wheels, a mini golf course, tons of live music, vendors and an epic grand finale that sees a giant copper acorn drop from the sky as the clock strikes midnight.
Strolls Through Town Main Streets
For a classic fall or winter night out, stroll the historic main streets of Raleigh area towns, decorated with wreaths, garland and lights and lined with festive storefronts. In addition to the holiday main street experiences mentioned above (in Wendell and Apex), check out our recent article with some things to do (not only in Nov. and Dec., but also year-round) on the main streets of Cary, Apex, Fuquay-Varina and Wake Forest. Each of those main streets include cozy coffee shops, local-favorite stores to shop for loved ones and awesome restaurants.
North Hills Tree Lighting Celebration photo, Terrene Jones Photography via North Hills; North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival photo, Brian Magee Photography; Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest photo, Craig Carpenter; North Carolina State Capitol photo, Bill Dickinson