The Biggest Holiday Events in Raleigh, N.C.
Tuesday, November 09, 2021, 4pm by visitRaleigh
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The holidays are the perfect time to come together with friends and family, celebrating the magic of the season and taking part in the Raleigh area'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.
Nov. 19, 2021-Jan. 9, 2022
A super trip-worthy event for the whole family returns for a sixth! Back after cancelation in 2020 due to COVID-19, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival brings more than 20 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 spectacular Chinese Dragon that sits on Symphony Lake!). Beyond beautiful lanterns, the ticketed festival also welcomes a showcase of Chinese culture—nightly performances featuring martial arts, traditional dance, acrobatics, drum performances and more.
Save the date for the Downtown Raleigh Tree Lighting celebration! Arrive early for dinner and socializing in downtown with family and friends, then make your way to Lichtin Plaza at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts to enjoy tasty snacks and beverages from local vendors, holiday music and festive activities. To see the lighting of the tree, be sure to find your spot by 6:15pm!
Nov. 19, 2021-Jan. 2, 2022
A new dazzling, drive-through holiday lights experience at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, Magic of Lights features favorite holiday scenes and characters of the season using the latest LED technology and digital animations. Tickets begin at $20 per car.
The Merry Market at Moore Square
Fri. and Sat., Nov. 19-Dec. 18
Presented by the same organizers of the Raleigh Night Market, this five-weekend holiday evening market at Moore Square will feature more of the same music, entertainment and artisan vendors (with extra holiday spirit!).
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, superheroes 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.
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 in North Hills. 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.
Nov. 20-Jan. 1
New event alert! Come enjoy the thrill of ice skating in a winter wonderland created in the heart of downtown Raleigh! The Rink presented by UNC Health features a natural ice skating rink with stunning views of the Raleigh skyline.
Nov. 20-Dec. 24
Up for a dazzling light show? Illuminated trees, festive light displays and local art installations will delight visitors of all ages at the second-ever Nights of Lights Drive-Thru Light Show at Dorothea Dix Park. The 1.3-mile driving route features towering oak trees, open fields and rolling hills—plus views of the Raleigh skyline peeking above the trees—making it a perfect location for this holiday event. This is a ticketed experience, and purchases must be made in advance ($15 per vehicle with up to eight passengers).
Note: The first day for vehicles is Nov. 26. A 5k race is taking place on Nov. 20, and a special bike night event is Nov. 21!
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 A Family Holiday Concert (11/26) and Holiday Pops (12/10-11).
Nov. 24-Dec. 31
This spectacular, drive-in style light show, featuring more than 400,000 total lights synced to holiday music, was created by the Williams family of Wendell, who painstakingly design and assemble the glowing (and growing) event each year. Visitors park (or stand) and watch the show—which typically runs between 30 and 45 minutes depending on the year—from the viewing area in front of the display. New for this year are walkways that lead to some of the biggest displays. Dogs are welcome (on a leash!). Admission is free, and donations are accepted. Join in on the fun seven days a week from Nov. 24 through the end of the year at 10 S. Cypress St. in Wendell.
Taking place outside of the Cary Arts Center, there will be treats, fun for kids and holiday music to enjoy as the menorah is lit on the third night of Hanukkah.
Dec. 3, 2021-Jan. 7, 2022
Downtown Raleigh comes to light with Illuminate, a light-based art walk. Returning Dec. 3, this five-week activation takes place in downtown Raleigh’s Fayetteville St. and Glenwood South districts. Illuminate will transform plazas and underutilized spaces with a large-scale interactive installation, light-based sculptures and projection art.
After a year off due to COVID-19, Cinderella is returning to Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT) for its 37th year in 2021! This musical comedy is a holiday sugarplum for the whole family. Just the right mixture of comedy and romance can add the sparkle of magic to your holiday season. This visually stunning musical combines elegant costumes and scenery with singing, dancing, conniving step-relatives and resourceful fairy folk. This version of Cinderella is inspired by the style of British Pantos. It's the perfect family outing during the holiday season, with the Royal Ball taking place on Christmas Eve. Join the cast in singing "We Wish You a Merry a Christmas," and celebrate the holidays at RLT!
A perfect chance to experience historic downtown Wendell lit up for the holidays, with a visit from Santa Claus, trolley rides through town, lighting of the town tree, live music, hot chocolate, food trucks, a craft market and more. The previously mentioned Lake Myra Christmas light show—one of the east coast's most dazzling displays—will also be in full swing, featuring more than 400,000 lights—and it's all free! More details on food vendors and toy donation opportunities for the 2021 event are expected to be announced soon.
A chance to visit beautiful downtown Wake Forest to experience the wonder and magic of the holiday season! Presented by Wake Forest Downtown, Inc., and sponsored by Holding Village, this year's ceremony will begin with musical performances by local groups followed by the lighting of a 20-foot Christmas tree and Santa's exciting arrival upon a Wake Forest fire truck.
Dec. 4, 5, 11, 12 and 18
Visitors to the New Hope Valley Railway—just 30 minutes southwest of Raleigh—are in for a treat this season as they line up to ride a real locomotive. The train and railway route are festively decorated, and Santa Claus will once again be in the rail yard to take photos with families (using your own camera) and young train fans can search for Santa’s nine missing reindeer (including Rudolph) during the 50-minute ride. Children will also receive one individually wrapped candy cane. Tickets for these rides sell out fast!
This festive celebration in downtown Cary will culminate in the official tree lighting ceremony—with the help of actors, singers and musicians—at 6pm. From 3-6pm visitors can also take part in a Victorian Christmas at the Page-Walker Arts and History Center, featuring an old-fashioned Christmas atmosphere with cookies, carolers, an activity for kids, heritage music and opportunities for festive photos in the garden.
Christmas carols, a marching parade, shopping and food vendors and a visit from Santa in charming historic downtown Apex—this annual tradition has so much to love!
A wonderful local tradition, the Fuquay-Varina Christmas Parade is thrilled to be back to an in-person event for 2021. Come out to see marching bands, Santa Claus, decorated floats and more!
The North Carolina Master Chorale, hailed by critics as the area's premier choral ensemble and the recipient of a Raleigh Medal of Arts award, has performed choral masterworks with an orchestra since 1942. Joy of the Season fills Meymandi Concert Hall with nearly 200 voices, guest choirs, a brass ensemble, Meymandi's pipe organ and the Master Chorale’s newly established Youth Choir.
This theater production from local passionate mind Ira David Wood III 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!
Floats, bands, dancers, decorated vehicles, horses, marching groups and other entertainment are ready to take to the streets in Holly Springs! The theme for this year's floats is holiday movies.
Historic Oakwood, one of Raleigh's prettiest and most historic neighborhoods (many of which are dated to the mid-1800s to early 1900s), has its own small-town feel. Elegantly decorated for the holidays, this favorite event gives you the rare chance to step inside about a dozen private homes, each of which is staffed with docents who tell the rich history of this Century Victorian neighborhood.
This gospel music experience, a production of The Justice Theater Project, takes the audience on a journey back to the Bethlehem of Mary and Joseph, resplendent in African costumes and uplifting songs of worship. With a joyous inspirational score, Black Nativity is a legendary family show that shares this unforgettable story of the Nativity through compelling gospel music and the beautiful poetry of Langston Hughes. This year's 45-minute concert is free open to the public, taking place at the outdoor amphitheater at the North Carolina Museum of Art!
There’s no better way to ring in the holidays than by joining The Raleigh Ringers for their annual holiday concerts at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh. This Raleigh holiday tradition will feature the group’s unique interpretations of sacred, secular and popular music, including a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll.
Multi-platinum, progressive rock group Trans-Siberian Orchestra is bringing its highly anticipated Winter Tour back to PNC Arena for 2021! This year’s long-awaited tour celebrates the 25th anniversary of the group’s landmark album Christmas Eve and Other Stories, the 3x certified platinum album that launched the group to superstardom and spawned the bring-the-whole-family rock holiday tradition that has now played to more than 17 million fans all across the nation.
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 12 performances at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.
Raleigh's biggest New Year celebration fills the city's center with crowds and activities: entertainment, live music, vendors and an epic grand finale that sees a giant copper acorn drop from the sky as the clock strikes midnight.
Visiting one of Raleigh's most treasured, family-owned restaurants is never a bad idea. Open for more than 60 years now, 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.
- Lafayette Village Tree Lighting, Nov. 20
- Town of Morrisville Tree Lighting, Dec. 3
- Cary Players present It's A Wonderful Life, Dec. 3-6
- Fuquay-Varina Chorale Holiday Concert, Dec. 3-4
- 14th Annual Christmas Tree and Wreath Auction & Exhibit, Dec. 3-20
- Tree Trail at Ting, Dec. 3-4
- Scandinavian Christmas Fair, Dec. 4
- Marbles Evening with Elves, Dec. 10
- Concert Singers of Cary presents Holiday Pops Concert, Dec. 11
- MAKRS Holiday Fest, Dec. 11
- Nutcracker presented by Cary Ballet Company, Dec. 17-19
- Outdoor movie: The Polar Express, Dec. 18
- Marbles Gingerbread Jamboree, Dec. 18-19
Header photo via North Hills and Terrence Jones Photography
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