Published by Carl Hedinger. Last Updated on November 14, 2023.
Christmas in North Carolina is about religious celebrations and getting together with family, but it’s also about spreading joy and community. That’s why we’re always searching for Christmas events for everyone.
Of course, we love those familiar sights like Christmas lights, holiday train rides, and more festive fun. But thanks to our state’s incredible diversity, there are special events during the Christmas season that celebrate different cultures, too.
We’ve organized these ways to celebrate Christmas in North Carolina (and other festive holidays) by categories, from Christmas Festivals to Outdoor Recreation:
- Christmas Festivals (Santa, Christmas Markets, and Holiday Markets)
- Christmas Light Displays
- Christmas Musicals
- Christmas Parades
- Christmas Tree Farms
- Christmas Tree Lightings
- Holiday Home Tours
- Holiday Train Rides
- More Holiday Celebrations (NC Chinese Lantern Festival, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Gita Jayanti)
- Outdoor Recreation (Hikes, Skiing, and More!)
- The Best Places to Spend Christmas in North Carolina (Our Top 5)
You can skip ahead to any section or continue reading about NC Christmas Festivals!
Read More: Winter in North Carolina
Christmas Festivals (Christmas Markets and Holiday Markets)
Christmas festivals stand out as one of the best things to do in North Carolina during the holidays. We start with a popular Santa tradition before sharing a list of many more markets and festivals.
Santa on Chimney Rock (Chimney Rock State Park)
2023 Dates: December 2 and December 9
Santa on the Chimney is a fun tradition that showcases Santa “practicing” for his trek from the North Pole to travel across the globe and deliver presents to all the children.
A regular admission ticket is required to attend this Christmas Event.
Not only will you get to witness Santa scale the 315-foot Chimney Rock, but you can enjoy breakfast with his elves, Christmas crafts, and Christmas stories.
Santa “practices” multiple times during the day, and he and Mrs. Claus are available for photos between those times. This event is included with regular Chimney Rock State Park admission.
The park’s cafe, Old Rock Cafe, hosts breakfast between 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m.
Read More: All of North Carolina’s State Parks Sites
More Christmas Festivals
Here are some more festivals to enjoy during Christmas in North Carolina:
- Christmas Market at Tryon International Equestrian Center in Mill Spring (November 24-26)
- Christmas Market Weekends at The Olde Mecklenburg Brewery in Charlotte (Starting November 24-26 and Weekends in December)
- Christmas In Davidson (November 30 to December 2)
- Four Oaks Christmas in Four Oaks (November 30 and December 2)
- Christmas Tree Lighting (November 30)
- Parade (December 2)
- A Small Town Christmas in Banner Elk (December 1 to 3)
- The Holiday Flea in Wilmington (December 1 to 3)
- Winterfest Artisan Market in Jacksonville (December 2 to 4)
- Christmas Village in Belmont (December 2)
- Christmas Craft Fair at Pace Family Farms in Clayton (December 2)
- Carolina Christmas Fest in Lumberton (December 2)
- Scandinavian Christmas Fair at the State Fairgrounds in Raleigh (December 2)
- Triangle Pop-Up Holiday Market at the NC Museum of Art in Raleigh (December 2)
- Christmas Craft Show at WoodMill Winery in Vale (December 2)
- Outdoor Holiday Gift Market at Legacy Architectural Salvage in Wilmington (December 2)
- Harbor District Christmas Market in Washington (December 2 to 3)
- Holiday Patchwork Market at the Durham Armory in Durham (December 3)
- The Durham Hotel‘s Annual-ish Holiday Market (December 6)
- St. Nicholas European Christmas Market at the Holshouser Building in Raleigh (December 8 to 9)
- Uncommon Holiday Market at the Mission Health/AB Tech Conference Center in Asheville (December 9 to 10)
- Great Topsail Flotilla & Christmas Market in Surf City (December 9)
- Durham Craft Market Holiday Show at Central Park in Durham (December 10)
Christmas Light Displays
Seeing festive displays of lights is an NC Christmas tradition for us. Here are some of our favorites throughout the state.
Speedway Christmas (Concord)
2023/2024 Dates: November 17, 2023-January 7, 2024
Speedway Christmas is a tradition among many during Christmas in North Carolina, and it’s not hard to see why. Take in the dazzling lights throughout the four-mile drive-thru course at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.
You’ll drive through various displays, lights, and animations synchronized to Christmas music. Don’t forget about the Christmas Village inside, either, as you can roast marshmallows and s’mores by a fire pit, buy souvenirs, and grab a meal from a local food truck!
Read More: Restaurants in Concord and Cabarrus County
Winter Lights at NC Arboretum (Asheville)
2023 Dates: November 17, 2023 to December 31, 2023
WinterLights at the NC Arboretum is one of the best things to do in Asheville in winter. Light displays, new and old, will greet both Arboretum members and guests. The traditional 50-foot tall lighted tree and Quilt Garden make an appearance again as well.
Tickets are per vehicle, and the price depends on a few factors:
- Length/size of the vehicle
- Whether or not tickets were purchased in advance or at the gate
- Event Date (levels of bronze, silver, and gold to differentiate)
In addition, two locations will have food and drinks for purchase: The Cocoa Shack, located in the Gardener’s Shed, and The Bent Creek Bistro, located in the Educational Center.
Snacks, alcoholic beverages, hot cocoa, treats, and s’mores kits will be available.
Read More: Awesome Asheville Restaurants
Winterlights at Elizabethan Gardens (Manteo)
2023 Dates: Select Nights from November 17, 2023 to December 30, 2023
WinterLights is the best Outer Banks holiday tradition, so make sure to get your tickets this year to see why! Walk through and experience the lights, displays, and sounds that fill the 10-acre gardens.
They even filled the indoor areas with festive trees and decorations.
Ticket prices range from $8 to $18 depending on age, and the event is also dog-friendly for a $6 additional fee. You must purchase tickets in advance, and this is a weather-dependent event.
You can buy holiday gifts or plants from their Royal Exchange and enjoy outdoor holiday entertainment with a large open-air fire pit.
Christmas Town USA (McAdenville)
2023 Dates: December 1, 2023 to December 26, 2023
McAdenville (AKA Christmas Town USA) is a magical place for people of all ages to take in the holiday spirit. The entire town transforms into a wonderland of beautiful lights that can be viewed by driving or walking.
Two traditions are the Tree Lighting Ceremony on the first night at 5:30 p.m. and the Yule Log Ceremony on December 14. You don’t want to miss these special events!
There are no specific food vendors for the Christmas Town displays, but you can find restaurants in McAdenville and nearby Gastonia.
More Christmas Lights Displays
Here are more light displays to check out during Christmas in North Carolina.
- Mike’s Farm Hayride and Dinner Show at Mike’s Farm in Beulaville (November 16 to December 23)
- Tanglewood Park Festival of Lights in Clemmons (November 17 to January 1)
- Tryon Resort Winterfest in Mill Spring (November 17 to January 1)
- Winter Wonderlights at the Greensboro Science Center (November 22 to December 31)
- Enchanted Airlie at Airlie Gardens in Wilmington (November 24 to 25 and December 1 to 21)
- Holiday Lights at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville (December 1 to 21)
- Lights & Luminaries in Dillsboro (December 1 to 2 and 8 to 9)
- Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla in Beaufort (December 2)
- Christmas in the Park in Fayetteville (Dates 3 to 7, 10 to 14, and 17 to 21)
- Northern Lights of Lake Norman Boat Parade (December 9)
- Winterfest Flotilla in Southport (December 9)
Read More: Christmas in Fayetteville
Christmas Musicals and Productions
During December in North Carolina, there are plenty of Christmas musicals and productions to keep you occupied. Here are a few traditional favorites, followed by others you can only find in one place.
The Nutcracker (Starting December 3)
We can think of several places for you to go and get your Nutcracker fix during Christmas in North Carolina.
- Thalian Hall in Wilmington (December 1 to 2)
- Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte (December 8 to 23)
- Bardo Arts Center at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee (December 8 to 9)
- Nutcracker Tea Party at the Stevens Center in Winston-Salem (December 16 to 17)
- Raleigh Memorial Auditorium (December 14 to 24)
- Nutcracker Magic at the High Point Ballet (December 14 to 17)
- The Hip Hop Nutcracker at Durham Performing Arts Center (December 2) and Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte (December 26 to 27)
Read More: 50+ Awesome Things to Do in Wilmington
Holidays Pops (Starting November 21)
You’ll have a few chances to catch a Holiday Pops concert in North Carolina. Here are the dates and locations for this year’s Christmas events in NC:
- Statewide Holiday Pops
- Goldsboro (November 21)
- Chapel Hill (November 28)
- Wilmington (2 Performances on December 3)
- New Bern (December 10)
- Southern Pines (December 19)
- Jacksonville (December 20)
- Tarboro (December 21)
A Christmas Carol (Starting December 10)
Seeing A Christmas Carol is one of the most memorable holiday events in NC. Here are some locations in the state where you can watch the more traditional version of the story:
Read More: Christmas in Durham
Ho! Ho! Christmas Show (Mike’s Farm in Beulaville)
2023 Dates: Wednesday to Saturday November 24 to December 23 and December 26
Hop on their hayride to view their Festival of Lights or enjoy their Ho! Ho! Ho! Christmas show or the Wilmington Show Choir Jubilee.
Hayride & Dinner reservations are required to eat at their family-style restaurant during this season. You can also reserve a time for a private hayride, accommodating up to 8 people.
Mike’s Farm has its family-style restaurant and the Christmas Show and Supper with Santa, offering buffet-style dinner!
Read More: The Best Things to Do in Jacksonville
Additional Christmas Musicals and Productions in North Carolina
Here are some other amazing musicals and productions to add to your Christmas in NC calendar:
- Playhouse Christmas in Flat Rock (November 24 to December 21)
- Raleigh Ringers at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in Raleigh (December 16 to 17)
- A Magical Cirque Christmas in Charlotte
- Carolina Christmas Show at Old Rock School Auditorium in Valdese (December 20 to 22)
A few Christmas parades in North Carolina take place in November, including Raleigh on November 18. Most parades, though, will take place in December.
- Concord (November 17)*
- Hickory (November 17)*
- Raleigh (November 18)
- Mooresville (November 21)
- Cleveland (December 2)
- Four Oaks (December 2)*
- Goldsboro (December 2)
- Highlands (December 2)
- Mint Hill (December 2)*
- Murphy (December 2)*
- New Bern (December 2)
- Pilot Mountain (December 2)*
- Valdese (December 2)
- Wilson (December 2)
- Youngsville (December 2)*
- Fuquay-Varina (December 3)
- Indian Trail (December 3)
- Kernersville (December 3)
- Rolesville (December 3)
- Morganton (December 5)
- Tryon (December 6)
- Kenly (December 7)
- Cary (December 9)
- Clayton (December 9)
- Durham (December 9)
- Kannapolis (December 9)
- Knightdale (December 9)
- Robbinsville (December 9)
- Warrenton (December 9)
- Waxhaw (December 10)
- Mount Holly (December 16)
- Norlina (December 17)
*Denotes Christmas Parade held in conjunction with, before, or after a Christmas Tree Lighting.
Christmas Tree Lightings
Like Christmas parades, some tree lightings in North Carolina take place in November. More than a few occur in conjunction with Christmas parades, typically held afterward.
Here are a few of them:
- Concord (November 17)*
- Hickory (November 17)*
- Clayton (November 30)*
- Four Oaks (November 30)
- Harrisburg (December 1)
- Knightdale (December 1)
- Youngsville (December 1)*
- Mint Hill (December 2)*
- Pilot Mountain (December 2)*
*Denotes Christmas Tree Lighting held in conjunction with or after a Christmas Parade.
^Denotes Christmas Tree Lighting held in conjunction with a Christmas Festival.
Christmas Tree Farms
A big part of many family traditions is finding the perfect Christmas Tree to put up for the holidays.
Holiday Home Tours
Holiday home tours are one of the most festive ways to celebrate Christmas in North Carolina. Here are some popular places to take in the holiday spirit.
Christmas at Biltmore in Asheville
2023/2024 Dates: November 3, 2023-January 7, 2024
Biltmore Estate in Asheville is the perfect place to celebrate Christmas in North Carolina’s mountains. During Christmas at Biltmore, more than 100 decorated trees, 10,000 ornaments, 100,000-holiday lights, and festive Christmas displays all come together.
There are two special events to keep in mind. They include the Daytime Celebration and the Candlelight Christmas Evenings.
- The Daytime Celebration allows you to travel from room to room inside the house and take in all the decorations, fragrant wreaths, garlands, and ornaments.
- The Candlelight Christmas Evenings show the spruce trees lit up and pathway luminaries that welcome you to the estate. Inside, candles and lit fireplaces create a warm, welcoming environment.
Both celebrations continue into Antler Hill Village and offer the opportunity to participate in the immersive Legends of Art & Innovation experience.
Antler Hill Village offers lunch, dinner, and snacks at one of their many restaurants. Visit the Biltmore Winery to try out their wines and buy one for yourself or a loved one as a gift.
Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville
Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition (Asheville)
Viewing Dates: November 27, 2023 to January 2, 2024
The Gingerbread Competition at Omni Grove Park Inn is not necessarily a holiday home tour but we think this fun NC Christmas tradition belongs here. It goes back to 1992 when a small group created gingerbread houses to celebrate the holidays.
Though they didn’t plan to do it again the following year, the tradition continued and grew into what it is today.
The resort has multiple on-site dining facilities ranging from a piano bar and outdoor bar and grill to cafes and formal sit-down restaurants.
Read More: Wonderful Winter Getaways in North Carolina
Victorian Christmas at Korner’s Folly (Kernersville)
2023/2024 Dates: November 21, 2023 to January 6, 2024
Korner’s Folly is a unique historical home built and owned by interior designer Jule Gilmore Korner. This home was a display to show potential clients an in-person portfolio of his work.
You can visit throughout the year, but the site’s volunteers begin decorating for their Candlelight tours in November. Starting November 21, you can see and be taken you back to the Victorian Era, with lights and magical sights all around!
Read More: Fun Things to Do in Winston-Salem
Holiday Train Rides
All aboard for these holiday train rides in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Smokies, and elsewhere!
Polar Express on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad (Bryson City)
Select Dates November 9, 2023 to December 31, 2023
Dive into the Polar Express movie world on this 1-1/4 hour train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City. Guests enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while listening to the motion picture’s soundtrack on their visit to the North Pole.
Once you reach the North Pole, children are greeted by Santa Claus and offered a special gift. Sing carols on the way back to the Bryson City Train Depot.
While no food is served during the trip, there are plenty of food options to explore in Bryson City before or after.
Tweetsie Christmas (Blowing Rock)
Select Dates from November 24, 2023 to December 30, 2023
The event will be held on select evenings from November 24 to December 30.
Admission includes a ride on the train, a visit to Santa’s Gingerbread House, a live Christmas show, classic amusement rides, and an outdoor fire pit to roast s’mores.
Hot food is available at the Tweetsie Palace and the Cowboy Cantina, as well as specialty fudge and the s’mores at the fire pit.
The Polar Express Train Ride, Spencer (Select Dates Through December 23
Select Dates Starting November 10, 2023 to December 23, 2023
You can also take a trip to the North Pole in Spencer at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. Take a ride on their Polar Express Train, where you’ll be greeted with hot chocolate, cookies, and Santa himself!
Read More: The Wilmington Railroad Museum
More Holiday Celebrations
Thanks to the diversity in our state, there are plenty of other holidays to celebrate in NC!
NC Chinese Lantern Festival
2023/2024 Dates: November 17, 2023-January 14, 2024
For another holiday perspective, visit the NC Chinese Lantern Festival over seven weeks at Booth Amphitheatre in Cary. Each year, there are new light displays and more enhanced programming from the previous one!
Chicago-based artisans from Tianyu Arts & Culture hand-build every lantern seen in the festival and stay to perform traditional Chinese acrobatic performances.
There will be different food trucks and vendors on select nights. You can also preorder food the day before you plan to arrive from local favorites such as Lowe’s Foods and Taziki’s.
You can also order food on-site from the Crescent Cafe or the Cobblestone Courtyard.
If you’re looking for a place to stay, check out the Mayton in Cary. We love it for a variety of reasons!
Celebration of Gita Jayanti, Statewide
December 22, 2023
Hindus throughout the world honor the Bhagavad Gita during this celebration, and temples and centers in our state will be doing so, too.
If you know about any in particular that we should mention, please let us know about it here.
2023 Hanukkah Dates: December 7 to 15, 2023
Hanukkah (sometimes spelled “Chanukah” or “Chanukkah”) is celebrated worldwide, especially in North Carolina. Here are a few specific places to join fellow Jewish people from the mountains to the coast:
- Dreidel Exchange at Beth Meyer Synagogue in Raleigh (November 30)
- Traditional Menorah Lighting in Wilmington (December 7)
- Chanukah Concert with Nissim Black in Charlotte (December 10)
- JCC Hanukkah 8K in Asheville (December 11)
- PJ Our Way Avivim Social Group: Community Chanukah Event in Greensboro (December 11)
- Menorah Lighting at Cary Arts Center (December 13)
- Menorah Lighting in Waxhaw (December 13)
- JFS Chanukkah at Abbostwood in Greensboro (December 14)
- Fun Friday Last Day of Chanukah at the Children’s Museum of Alamance County in Graham (December 15)
If you know of more Hannukah celebrations in North Carolina, please let us know here.
December 26, 2023-January 1, 2024
The seven days of Kwanzaa begin on December 26 and a variety of events throughout the state will celebrate and inform those interested in learning more. Celebrations can be found in Raleigh, in Asheville, and elsewhere in North Carolina.
If you know of more Kwanzaa festivities, please let us know here.
Read More: January in North Carolina
We saved these outdoor activities for last but certainly don’t think of them as least among our favorite things to do during Christmas in North Carolina.
- Skiing and Snow Tubing
- Watch Bird Migrations
- Winter Hikes
Skiing and Snow Tubing
During winter and Christmas in NC, the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains and our Smoky Mountains fill with snow, manmade and natural, and become perfect for skiing and snow tubing!
Watch Bird Migrations
One of the best things to do during Christmas in North Carolina is to travel to the coast and watch the flocks of birds having a pit stop as they move further south.
Tundra swans are one great example and you can likely find them flying through places that include:
- Lake Mattamuskeet
- Pea Island on the Outer Banks
- Phelps Lake in Singletary State Park
- Additional locations in North Carolina that are close to the Atlantic Ocean.
New Year’s Day hikes are a great way to start the year, but you can enjoy hikes throughout the Christmas season in NC.
Sure, the leaves may have fallen and some people may call it the “winter blahs,” but there are many things in your favor during this time. The skies are usually clearer, you can often see things usually covered by trees, and waterfalls may be surrounded by beautiful ice or snow.
Trails are also less crowded and here are some of our favorite places for winter hikes in North Carolina:
- Carolina Beach State Park in Carolina Beach
- Elk Knob State Park near Boone
- Eno River State Park in Durham
- Hanging Rock State Park in Danbury
- Lake Waccamaw State Park in Columbus County
- Max Patch in Madison County near Asheville
Read More: The Best Breweries in Asheville
- Occoneechee Mountain State Natural Area in Hillsborough
- Otter Falls Trail in Seven Devils near Banner Elk (also one of our favorite kid-friendly waterfalls!)
- Roan Mountain near Bakersville and Burnsville
- Stone Mountain State Park near Elkin
- Weymouth Woods in Southern Pines
Read More: 100+ Hiking Trails in North Carolina
The Best Places to Spend Christmas in North Carolina (Our Top 5)
We made some tough decisions when picking our favorite places to spend Christmas in North Carolina. Nevertheless, here’s what we think are the best of the best:
- McAdenville: Christmas Town USA is hard to beat, even though it’s the main attraction in this Gaston County town.
- Boone: Winter in Boone is truly special, thanks to the outdoor recreation and the overall great feeling when hanging out in town.
- Asheville: Asheville is hard to beat as the best place to spend Christmas in North Carolina. Biltmore Estate and NC Arboretum hosting two of the most popular events in NC during Christmas, and there’s an overall festive feel throughout the city.
- Blowing Rock: Thanks to Chetola Resort’s Festival of Lights and the fantastic small-town vibes (also, Tweetsie Christmas), Blowing Rock could probably be higher up on this list.
- Charlotte: It was tough to pick between Charlotte and Raleigh, but there’s just a bit more happening in Queen City’s surroundings. That includes Speedway Christmas in Concord, the Polar Express in Spencer, and even McAdenville.
What do you think is the best place to spend Christmas in NC? Do you have a different top 5? Let us know in the comments or by email.
Ready to Enjoy Christmas in North Carolina (and Similarly Festive Holidays)?
We hope these events have you ready to celebrate Christmas in North Carolina, as well as Lunar or Chinese New Year, Kwanzaa, and more. If you know about any events that we should include, we’d love to hear about them.
Kindly email us and we’ll be happy to take a closer look. In the meantime, we wish you a wonderful Christmas in North Carolina and hope you can get out there and see as many of these holiday events as possible!
Don’t forget to share your NC Christmas adventures in our North Carolina Travel Facebook Group!
More Christmas in NC (Travel Guides)
Of course, we’ve created many more NC travel guides to cover the holiday season. Here are a few of them.