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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!
 

Skate the Square at Fenton

Nov. 5 through Feb. 5, 2024
At Fenton—the mixed-use, 440,000-square-foot live-work-play district in Cary—an outdoor skating rink is set to be put to good use this holiday season. Surrounded by spectacular food, trendy shops and wintry holiday cheer, the skating rink will be open every day—including Thanksgiving and Christmas—through Feb. 5.

More holiday events at Fenton:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Fenton (@fentonnc)

 

North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival-Cary

Nov. 17 through Jan. 14, 2024
A super trip-worthy event for the whole family, the eighth annual North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival will bring 50 larger-than-life lantern displays 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. 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. 

More than 200,000 visitors are expected to come from across the state to see these glowing works of art!

 

Downtown Raleigh Tree Lighting

Nov. 17 
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 Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts to enjoy tasty snacks and beverages from food trucks and local breweries, live holiday music and festive activities before the grand finale of the tree lighting.

 

THE DESSERTERY

Nov. 17-Dec. 23
This pop-up, holiday-themed dessert café inside downtown Raleigh's Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts features elaborate decor, all-you-can eat sweet treats (including hot cocoa) and live entertainment on select nights—the perfect stop before or after a show for the whole family!

 

Annual Christmas Tree Lighting Celebration at North Hills

Nov. 18 
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 Shop & Stroll to knock out some shopping at local retailers while enjoying complimentary hot chocolate and cider.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by North Hills (@visitnorthhills) on

 

79th Annual ABC11 Raleigh Christmas Parade

Nov. 18
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, giant balloons, superheroes, Santa Claus and more. Bring the whole family (including pets!) plus some chairs—there's great street-side viewing everywhere along the 1.4-mile route.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by visitRaleigh (@visitraleigh)

 

THE RINK presented by UNC Health at Red Hat Amphitheater

Nov. 18 through Jan. 15, 2024
Enjoy the thrill of ice skating in a wintry village created in the heart of downtown Raleigh! THE RINK features a natural ice skating rink with stunning views of the downtown Raleigh skyline, cozy lounging stations with heat warmers and fire pits, a snack bar, games, photo opportunities and more! This is a ticketed event, with recommendation that your purchase in advance ($6 for non-skaters, $15 includes skate rental).

 

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 Holidays at Hogwarts (Nov. 22-25), Handel's Messiah (Dec. 1 and 2), Holiday Pops (Dec. 8 and 9) and A Candlelight Christmas (Dec. 22 and 23).

 

Lake Myra Christmas Lights

Nov. 22 through 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, plus use walkways that lead to some of the biggest displays. Dogs are welcome (on a leash!). 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Circle Limit Images (@circlelimitimages) on

 

Holiday Express at Pullen Park (sold out)

Nov. 29 through Dec. 15
This year-round favorite destination for families is now all dressed up for the holiday season, festively decked out 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. Note: This incredibly popular event sells out quickly when tickets are made available (the on-sale date was Oct. 4 this year)—mark your calendars to plan ahead for next year!

 

Downtown Raleigh Illuminate Art Walk

Dec. 1 through Jan. 5, 2024
Downtown Raleigh comes to light with Illuminate, a light-based art walk. This free, five-week activation takes place in downtown Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street and Glenwood South districts, transforming plazas and underutilized spaces with a large-scale interactive installation, light-based sculptures and projection art. 

Details about art pieces and locations for this year will be revealed soon!

 

Raleigh Little Theatre presents Cinderella

Dec. 1-17
Cinderella returns to Raleigh Little Theatre (RLT) for its 39th year in 2023! This musical comedy is a holiday sugarplum for the whole family, showcasing just the right mixture of comedy and romance that 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.

 

Wendell Wonderland

Dec. 1
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 2023 event are expected to be announced soon.

 

Lighting of Wake Forest

Dec. 1
A chance to visit beautiful downtown Wake Forest to experience the wonder and magic of the holiday season! Presented by Wake Forest Downtown, Inc., this year's ceremony will begin with musical performances by local groups followed by the lighting of a 30-foot-tall Christmas tree and Santa's exciting arrival upon a Wake Forest fire truck.

 

Santa’s Reindeer Roundup Express

Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10 and 16
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!

 

A Gift to Cary (including Official Tree Lighting)

Dec. 2
A holiday season kick-off event at the new Downtown Cary Park (official park opening is Nov. 19), featuring Santa, an ice skating rink, snowball fights, photo opportunities, the official tree lighting ceremony and more surprises. 

More holiday events in Cary:

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by EnjoyCary (@enjoycary)

 

Apex Rotary Christmas Parade

Dec. 2
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!

 

Fuquay-Varina Christmas Parade

Dec. 3
A wonderful local tradition, the Fuquay-Varina Christmas Parade is thrilled to present marching bands, Santa Claus, decorated floats and more for attendees that line the streets!

 

State Capitol Tree Lighting Ceremony

Dec. 7
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. While the inside of the Capitol is currently closed due to construction, after the lighting of the tree guests are invited to visit the North Carolina Executive Mansion to see the residence decked out for the holidays.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by visitRaleigh (@visitraleigh)

 

Theatre In The Park presents A Christmas Carol

Dec. 8-10
Celebrating 50 years of magic in 2023, 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, is among the Raleigh area's top holiday traditions and most anticipated performing arts event of the year. 

It was announced earlier in 2023 that this will be Ira David Wood III's final year performing as Scrooge. Don't miss your opportunity to see this iconic production!

 

North Carolina Theatre presents Elf: The Musical

Dec. 9-17
This hilarious musical follows the hit 2003 movie that’s now a holiday classic (after all, the best way to spread Christmas cheer is by singing loud for all to hear). When Santa breaks the news to him that he is, in fact, a human, Buddy—played by Max Chernin—sets out from the North Pole determined to win over his new family and help New York remember the true meaning of Christmas.

 

Happy Holly Days Christmas Parade

Dec. 9
Floats, bands, dancers, decorated vehicles, horses, marching groups and other entertainment are ready to take to the streets in Holly Springs!

 

52nd Annual Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour

Dec. 9 (sold out) and 10
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Brad Murray Realtor (@raleighhomeoftheday) on

 

The Justice Theater Projects presents Black Nativity in Concert

Dec. 9 and 10
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 gospel concert had an admission fee of just $5 for adults, taking place at the outdoor amphitheater at the North Carolina Museum of Art!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Justice Theater Project (@justicetheaterproject) on

 

Downtown Raleigh Menorah Lighting

Dec. 11
The eight-day Jewish holiday of Hanukkah begins on Dec. 7 this year, and the city of Raleigh’s annual menorah lighting happens Dec. 11, 6pm, at the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts, with Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin presiding. Enjoy plenty of warm drinks, fresh latkes and traditional doughnuts!

 

North Carolina Master Chorale presents Joy of the Season

Dec. 12
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, percussion, piano and all the holiday spirit you can handle!

 

Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve

Dec. 13
Multi-platinum, progressive rock group Trans-Siberian Orchestra is bringing its highly anticipated winter tour back to PNC Arena for 2023! Celebrating more than 25 years of the bring-the-whole-family rock holiday tradition which has now been played to more than 17 million fans all across the nation.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by PNC Arena (@pncarena)

 

Carolina Ballet presents The Nutcracker

Dec. 14-24
Grace, grandeur and mysterious illusions. Carolina Ballet's holiday classic is a can't-miss tradition for locals, visitors, families and friends. Artistic director Zalman Raffael unveiled an updated version of the production in 2022, featuring new choreography, sets, costumes and more that will dazzle audiences again in 17 performances at the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts this year.

 

Raleigh Ringers Holiday Concerts

Dec. 16 and 17
There’s no better way to ring in the holidays than by joining The Raleigh Ringers for their annual holiday concerts, featuring the group’s unique interpretations of sacred, secular and popular music, including a little bit of rock ‘n’ roll.

 

New Year's Eve with The Avett Brothers

Dec. 31
The Avett Brothers, one of the state's most celebrated homegrown bands, brings their annual New Year's Eve show back to Raleigh's PNC Arena with special guest Marcus King. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by PNC Arena (@pncarena)

 

WRAL First Night Raleigh

Dec. 31
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.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Rob Laughter (@roblaughter) on

 

More holiday events in Raleigh, N.C.

 

Header photo via North Hills and Terrence Jones Photography

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