Holidays Sparkle in Signature Events Across North Carolina

Tryon PalaceHolidays Sparkle in Signature Events Across North Carolina

Take a candlelight tour during the holiday celebration at Tryon Palace in New Bern

It begins to look a lot like Christmas – and more – as numerous attractions, venues and destinations throughout North Carolina embark on their signature holiday events. Historic mansions are decorated, gardens are transformed into seasonal wonderlands, museums offer yuletide tales and festive food takes over menus. So, you'll find everything from Santa on the Chimney to a Jonkonnu in picture-perfect destinations throughout the state.


Christmas at Biltmore
Nov. 6, 2015 – Jan. 10, 2016, Asheville
America’s largest home has a larger-than-life tradition that involves 100 decorated Christmas trees; hundreds of wreaths, bows and poinsettias; thousands of lights; and more than 25,000 ornaments. The grandeur reaches a crescendo in the seven-story-high Banquet Hall, where books, dolls and other toys hang from a 35-foot Fraser fir. Catch the glow of the 250-room mansion by candlelight through Jan. 3.

The Polar Express
Nov. 13, 2015 – Jan. 4, 2016, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City
With scenes from The Fugitive filmed on its route, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad had already achieved stardom by the time The Polar Express came out in 2004. The animated film added to the luster with an annual excursion booked by thousands of passengers. The read-along ride features Chris Van Allsburg’s 1985 book, clips from the movie soundtrack, cocoa and a cookie as the train of pajama-clad children clacks to the North Pole, where Santa awaits with a gift. The heritage railroad offers the Southeast’s only licensed Polar Express journey.

National Gingerbread House Competition
Nov. 18, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016, The Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville
Sugar and spices lay the foundation for the competition, and craftsmanship sets it apart. Arrayed in a Blue Ridge Mountain inn with marvels of its own, the edible architecture attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year. Even without the gingerbread, the roaring fires, splendid décor and music raise holiday spirits. Entries are also displayed downtown at the Grove Arcade.

Santa on the Chimney
Dec. 5 and 12, 2015, Chimney Rock State Park
How could Santa resist a 315-foot granite monolith shaped like a chimney? For the 22nd year, the man in red will warm up for his Christmas Eve chimney-thon by rappelling down this iconic natural landmark. Visitors can meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, see critters, and enjoy live music, hot cocoa, cookies and kids’ activities. In 2013, BuzzFeed included this rappelling Santa in its list of eight most extreme Santas in the world.


Holidays at Old Salem
Nov. 13 – Dec. 31, 2015, Winston-Salem
Winston-Salem acquired elements of its rich culture from the Moravians who settled there in the 18th century, and their holiday traditions make Old Salem Museums & Gardens an ideal place for distilling the holiday spirit. Visitors can create special memories on candlelight tours, hear holiday music or attend the Moravian Candle Tea, presented by the Home Moravian Church. Stop by Winkler Bakery, where Moravian sugar cookies and cakes are baked in a wood-burning oven – just as they were in the old days.

Speedway Christmas
Nov. 21 – Dec. 30, 2015, Concord
One of America’s largest holiday light shows, Speedway Christmas features more than 3 million lights in 800 displays along 3.1 miles – plus a drive on the 1.5-mile superspeedway. But the drive is only the beginning. The infield Christmas Village includes live actors and animals at a Bethlehem Village, a petting zoo, games and activities in Santa’s Workshop. And on Friday and Saturday nights, you can watch holiday movies on the world’s largest HDTV. Also, the annual Egg Nog Jog 5K takes place Nov. 21.

Christmas Town USA
Dec. 1 – 26, 2015, McAdenville
In this mill town west of Charlotte, the 375 Christmas trees on view outnumber the households in a celebration that started in 1956 with nine evergreens. From modest (6-foot tree, 500 lights) to dazzling (90-foot tree, 5,000 lights), the displays blaze a trail to the heart of town, where trees ring the lake and reflect their colors. With about 600,000 visitors traveling the two-mile route, be prepared to relax and enjoy a very slow ride, especially on weekends. Also, the annual Christmas Town 5K happens Nov. 28 at 6 p.m.

Twelve Days of Christmas
Dec. 1, 2015 - Jan. 3, 2016, Chapel Hill
Now in its eighteenth year, The Carolina Inn celebrates the Christmas season with enchanting decorations inspired by the traditional holiday song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas." Festivities also include breakfast and brunch with Santa, horse-drawn carriage rides, holiday teas, gingerbread house displays and more.


North Carolina Holiday Flotilla
Nov. 27 – 28, 2015, Wrightsville Beach
Wilmington and neighboring beaches launch the holiday season with a boat parade on the Intracoastal Waterway. More than two dozen boats, from personal watercraft to yachts, channel their owners’ creativity into delightful light displays against the night sky. The 32nd annual event includes a Friday night party, an all-day festival and the main event, complete with fireworks before.

The Twelve Birds of Christmas
Dec. 1 – 31, 2015, Sylvan Heights Bird Park in Scotland Neck
Get ready for a fresh take on the holidays’ most parodied song with a trip to Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Instead of parroting lyrics, you can scan the 18-acre park for swans a-swimming, geese a-laying and other birds chosen for a holiday scavenger hunt. Sylvan Heights is home to 170 species of waterfowl, many of them rare and endangered, from six continents, and the sight of a Scarlet Ibis alone turns a visit into a festive occasion.

Dec. 2, 2015 – Jan. 23, 2016 (Wednesdays - Saturdays in December; Fridays and Saturdays in January), Manteo
Peacocks, butterflies, deer and other enchanting creatures take up temporary residence at the Elizabethan Gardens. Created with flowers, seeds and other natural elements, the lighted displays join permanent art elements – which include the world’s largest bronze statue of Elizabeth I, who sponsored England’s first attempt to establish a permanent New World settlement on the island where these gardens honor her.

Holidays at Tryon Palace
Nov. 27, 2015 – Jan. 3, 2016, New Bern
Overtaxed colonists had a bad case of humbug in December 1770, when Gov. William Tryon threw the first party at the fancy Georgian-style structure where he would live and run the government. Nearly two and a half centuries later, the Tryon Palace historic site re-creates the effect of the event’s candlelight, fireworks and festivity with the 35th Annual Candlelight Celebration Dec. 12 and 19. The event includes tours through historic homes, fire-eating performers and magicians, and a Jonkonnu, which re-creates an African-American celebration from the slavery era.


There’s much to see and do in North Carolina, so read on.

Christmas at Biltmore

Christmas at Biltmore

Christmas at Biltmore is an awe-inspiring holiday destination featuring miles of garland, hundreds of poinsettias and dozens of Christmas trees.

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