It's beginning to look a lot like the holidays in Raleigh, N.C.! And while it's still totally fall for another few weeks (as evidenced by the gorgeous foliage photos from William B. Umstead State Park), we won't blame you one bit for reaching into the closet for scarves and gloves, dreaming of hot chocolate and planning out your winter bucket list. 'Tis the season for holiday events—traditions to be enjoyed with family and friends, some dating back to nearly 50 years in the Raleigh area.

Holiday Arts Productions

Take Theater In The Park's production of A Christmas Carol (12/6-10), for example. The beloved musical comedy, celebrating its 43rd year this holiday season, has wowed more than a million guests throughout the years. Produced by local passionate mind Ira David Wood III (whose performance as Ebenezer Scrooge is known to steal the show), A Christmas Carol is suitable for all ages and has been a longstanding tradition for families in the area. Also not to be missed? Theatre In The Park's A Charlie Brown Christmas (12/1-10). 

Ira David Wood

Grace, grandeur and mysterious illusions take stage again with Carolina Ballet's The Nutcracker (12/15-24), a holiday classic that's a can't-miss tradition for locals, visitors, families and friends. Carolina Ballet, celebrating their 20th anniversary season in 2017-2018, puts on the only production in the country using illusions created by renowned magician Rick Thomas. Nutcracker characters will levitate, disappear and reappear before your eyes in 14 performances at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts.  

Nearly 25 performances are ready to soar off the screen and onto the stage with Broadway Series South's production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical (through 12/24). All your favorite characters from the animated television classic—including Santa and Mrs. Claus, Hermey the Elf, Bumble the Abominable Snow Monster, Clarice, Yukon Cornelius and, of course, Rudolph—will come to life in this holiday tradition that speaks to the misfit in all of us. 

For a much larger list of upcoming arts events, check out these 20+ Arts Events You Can't Miss in Raleigh, N.C., This Winter.

Tree Lightings and a Capitol Tour

The Downtown Raleigh Tree Lighting Celebration (12/2) officially kicks off winter festivities in downtown Raleigh with a visit from Santa and Mrs. Claus, plenty of live music, a 35-foot-tall, 90-feet long Snowzilla Slide, holiday refreshments, a Gingerbread House Contest and more, all culminating with the Mayor's lighting of the 35-foot spruce tree in Raleigh's City Plaza. Not far behind, the State Capitol Tree Lighting Ceremony (12/6) will have Capitol Square lit up with luminaries and holiday music by the Raleigh Concert Band and Oak City Voices. Plenty of hot chocolate and cookies will be on hand, and (of course!) a visit from Santa is on the schedule. Both the State Capitol and the North Carolina Executive Mansion will be open to the public for a chance to see the holiday decoration from 6-8pm that evening.

Downtown Raleigh Tree Lighting

Larger-Than-Life Light Displays

Of course a holiday season wouldn't be much without larger-than-life, imaginative light displays. You'll find more than 400,000 dancing, glowing lights in downtown Wendell at Lake Myra Christmas Lights (through 12/31), one of the main attractions at Wendell Wonderland (12/1)—a holiday kick-off party in downtown Wendell with music, food and beverages, ice carvings and other seasonal activities. The choreographed, drive-in style light show at Lake Myra, animated to sync with your favorite holiday music, gets bigger and better each year—plus it's totally free all season long (donations are accepted).

At Cary's Koka Booth Amphitheatre, the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival (through 1/14) runs for a third year. This super trip-worthy event features 20 light displays crafted out of hundreds of handmade lanterns lit up by thousands of LEDs. The signature display, the Chinese Dragon floating on Symphony Lake, stands 200 feet long and 21 feet tall!

North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival

In Wake Forest, Piper Lights (through 1/6)—a family-run light display that's been in action for 30 years now—is set for another big holiday season. The seven-acre light display that connects yards and jumps across a pond received national recognition in 2016 when they were named winners on ABC television network's Great Christmas Light Fight.

Ringing in the New Year

As always, the City of Oaks will close out the calendar year in spectacular fashion in downtown Raleigh. One of the state's biggest New Year's Eve celebrations, First Night Raleigh (12/31) is way more than just a countdown to midnight (where, yes, a giant copper acorn drops from the sky as the clock strikes 12). A full day of live music and other entertainment (100+ performances across 35 venues), plus a Ferris wheel, pop-up wedding chapel, mini golf course and fireworks make this one of the year's most anticipated events for locals and visitors.  

First Night Raleigh

At PNC Arena, the Grammy Award®-nominated Avett Brothers (12/31) bring their New Year's Eve tradition to Raleigh for the second time. The alternative folk luminaries are on the road in support of their number one album and ninth release, "True Sadness."

Trip-Worthy Shopping

What goes better with light displays and hot chocolate dates than a shopping spree? Consider this your free pass to explore Raleigh, N.C.'s thriving "maker" scene this holiday season. That means authentic, handcrafted, local (and sometimes delicious!) products are waiting to be discovered.  

Start with Moon and Lola, the jewelry and accessories company from Kelly Shatat with locations in downtown Apex, downtown Raleigh, Cameron Village and Crabtree Valley Mall. Known for their acrylic monogrammed pieces and DIY charm bar, Moon and Lola has caught the attention of some big names and publications, to say the least—they've been featured as one of Oprah's Favorite Things twice, in 2014 and 2015. 

Those that are fashion conscious (or shopping for those that are!) will certainly want to stop in two more downtown Raleigh spots—Holly Aiken - Stitch and Raleigh Denim Workshop. At Stitch, Holly Aiken's purses, wallets and cases, made on-site, fill the shop with color and fun designs. Spend any time around the city and you're sure to spot a number of these unmistakable handbags hanging off shoulders wherever you go. Just a few blocks away at Raleigh Denim you'll find handcrafted denim using materials 100-percent sourced from N.C., plus other clothing and accessories for men and women.

Holly Aiken - Stitch

In need of some more local shopping or gift ideas? Check out these 12 Raleigh-Made Holiday Gift Ideas and these 18+ Raleigh-Made Eats and Drinks (perfect for stocking stuffers!).

More December Picks

Raleigh Little Theatre's musical production of Cinderella (12/1-17) brings just the right mixture of comedy and romance to the stage in a performance that's fun for the whole family.

The NHL's Carolina Hurricanes, squarely in the playoff hunt, have a flurry of home games in Dec. They'll take on the Florida Panthers (12/2), Columbus Blue Jackets (12/16), Buffalo Sabres (12/23), Montreal Canadiens (12/27) and Pittsburgh Penguins (12/29). 

Two more major events come to PNC Arena this month: Disney On Ice: Dare to Dream (12/6-10) skates into town with all your favorite Disney characters in tow—Elsa, Moana, Belle, Cinderella and more. Just a few days later, Trans-Siberian Orchestra: The Ghosts of Christmas Eve (12/13) hits the stage with a jaw-dropping audio and visual experience rooted in more than 20 years of tradition. 

The 46th Annual Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour (12/9-10) opens up the Historic Oakwood neighborhood—a community of homes most of which are dated from the mid 1800s to the early 1900s—for visitors to tour the proprieties, which are dressed up for the holidays and have docents on hand to enlighten you on the rich history of each property.

Looking to treat yourself (and the family) on Christmas day? It's hard to beat Christmas Dinner (12/24-25) or Christmas Brunch (12/25) at Herons at The Umstead Hotel and Spa

A celebration for all people, focusing on family and friends, Town of Cary and the Ujima Group, Inc., will host the 23rd Annual Kwanzaa Celebration (12/29) at the Cary Arts Center, featuring performances by the African American Dance Ensemble, Kuumba Dance Company and Ms. Lois Deloatch.

Goodnight's Comedy Club, the legendary stand-up spot that's been a staple in downtown Raleigh for more than 30 years, will host Tom Green (11/30-12/2), Joe Zimmerman (12/7-9), Jon Reep (12/13-16) and more this month.

The Wells Fargo IMAX Theatre at Marbles, boasting N.C.'s only 3D-capable giant screen, is showing holiday favorite Polar Express (in 2D and 3D—see website for showtimes) during the holiday season. 

Head to the North Carolina Museum of Art to see a new featured exhibit, Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair (through 1/21/18). The exhibition explores the history of the Ebony Fashion Fair (1958-2009), a traveling fashion show that provided an empowering image for black women and features 40 stunning ensembles (gowns, coats, suits) by designers such as Stephen Burrows, Pierre Cardin, Christian Dior and more.

For a complete calendar of events in the area, click here.