Things to Do in North Carolina in December

Last Updated on September 23, 2021

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Being the last month of the year, there’s a lot of pressure on December in North Carolina to deliver one last bang on behalf of 2019. It’s when winter really sets in but with all these warm, festive events happening throughout our state, I can take my mind off those dropping temperatures.

Our first section in this guide is dedicated to Christmas events and more holiday celebrations. After that, we continue with even more things to do in December, rounding out at more than 80 for the month.

There are even a few that members of our Facebook Group and email subscribers mentioned, so thanks for that, friends! And as we’ve done with previous monthly roundups, we’ve grouped each section of December events by starting date and alphabetized by city or town.

So with all that out of the way, let’s close out 2019 with all the things to do in North Carolina in December, with a few that stretch into January, shall we?

Many of these things to do in December are also mentioned in our guide that covers winter things to do in North Carolina.

Things to Do in North Carolina in December

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Christmas in North Carolina

To make the more popular types of events more convenient to find, we grouped a few of them together. Those include Christmas parades, Christmas-themed musicals and productions, and tree lightings.

Lights Festivals

In this section, you’ll find events that have carried over from November.

Festival of Lights at Chetola Resort, Blowing Rock (December 1-January 31, 2020)

Chetola Resort’s annual Festival of Lights is free and open to the public. You can drive or walk around Chetola Lake, where glittering ice skaters, carolers, and more illuminations await.

Christmas Train & Light Spectacular, Wilmington (December 10-30)

Head to the Wilmington Railroad Museum for some magical lights as it turns into a winter wonderland! The Christmas Train & Light Spectacular shimmers with 25,00 lights, musical animations, and twilight model train displays. Only $5/person

Island of Lights Festival, Carolina Beach and Kure Beach (Through December 31)

Head out to Pleasure Island any time until December 31 and witness a holiday celebration of the area. During the Island of Lights Festival, you’ll find nightly lighted displays around Carolina Beach Lake, a Christmas Flotilla, a tour of homes, and more.

Chinese Lantern Festival, Cary (November 22-January 12, 2020)

The Lantern Fest in Cary NC Image

One of our favorite December events in the Triangle, Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre continues into December with the lighted fun of the North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival. All-new displays headline evenings filled with music, hot cocoa, and more fun!

We share more about the festival here!

Speedway Christmas, Concord (Through January 5, 2020)

4 million lights twinkle around the 3.75-mile course that includes the oval and the ROVAL at Charlotte Motor Speedway Christmas!

You can drive through the track and enjoy the festive lights. Don’t forget to stop by the Christmas Village which includes a 100-foot slide, carousel, and Ferris wheel!

We also included Speedway Christmas in our guide to kid-friendly events in North Carolina.

Christmas in the Country, Rocky Point (Through December 31)

Old Homestead’s 175,000 lights illuminate a mile-long drive during Christmas in the Country. Sip on hot chocolate and watch faces light up in awe. You can also pick out the perfect Christmas tree at this fun event.

Additional Lights Festivals and Events in North Carolina

Christmas Musicals and Productions, Various

During December in North Carolina, there are plenty of Christmas musicals and productions to keep you busy. Here are a few traditional favorites, followed by others that you can only find in one place.

A Christmas Carol

Versions of “A Christmas Carol” can be found throughout North Carolina in December, including one in Davidson that focuses on Jacob Marley (December 5-8, 11-15, & 18-22). Here are more locations in the state where you can watch the more traditional version of the story:

Holidays with the Symphony, Various (December 13, 20, 21, and 31)

You’ll have a few chances to catch a Holiday Pops concert in North Carolina. Here are dates and locations for this year’s Holidays with the Symphony:

  • New Bern (December 13)
  • Wilmington (December 20)
  • Southern Pines (December 21)

The Nutcracker

We can think of a few places for you to go and get your Nutcracker fix. Winston-Salem’s version (December 13-22) features the Triad’s largest Nutcracker orchestra.

At the Crown Complex in Fayetteville, Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker (December 17) will wow spectators with immaculate sets, 200-plus costumes, and more.

And finally, the Cary Arts Center and the Marvelous Music Family Series present The Nutcracker Suite (December 21) just a few days before Christmas.

“A Magical Cirque Christmas,” Durham (December 1)

Things to Do in Durham NC in December DPAC Performances Image

Tickets might be hard to come by when the night of “A Magical Cirque Christmas” arrives in Durham. There will be two performances at DPAC, with a magical collection of cirque artists coming to Bull City from all over the world.

We also mentioned this and a few more festive events in our guide covering Christmas in Durham!

Long Like the King – Elvis Tribute Holiday Edition, Roanoke Rapids (December 14)

Matt Lewis, also known as the “Best Elvis in Vegas,” returns to Roanoke Rapids for another round of “Long Like the King Elvis Tribute Holiday Edition.” On the evening of December 14, he’ll pay tribute to Elvis Presley’s legacy and you can, too, when you grab a ticket to this show.

Additional Christmas Musicals and Productions in North Carolina

Christmas Parades

There are so many Christmas parades in North Carolina this December and so little time to choose which one you’ll be attending. Each one is a wonderful showcase of each city and town that we just can’t pick. Which of these parades should we attend and why?

  • Selma (December 3)
  • Kenly (December 5)
  • Edenton (December 6)
  • Bryson City (December 7)
  • Goldsboro (December 7)
  • Hope Mills (December 7)
  • Oak Island (December 7)
  • Randleman (December 7)
  • Archdale (December 8)
  • Mebane (December 8)
  • Andrews (December 14)
  • Cashiers (December 14)
  • Clayton (December 14)
  • Hatteras (December 14)

Tree Lightings

One of the best community events a person can attend is a good tree lighting. Some have already happened in November, just after Thanksgiving, but there are still a few more worth checking out during December in North Carolina. Here are a few of them.

More Tree Lightings in North Carolina

Holiday Home Tours

A tour of one of North Carolina’s amazing historic homes and properties is a must during December.

Christmas at Biltmore, Asheville (Through January 4, 2020)

Christmas at Biltmore is the state’s largest-scale home tour during the holidays. Dozens of Christmas trees are decorated with thousands of ornaments, with luminaries joining lit candles and fireplaces.

All of this together keeps your memory glowing long beyond your visit to America’s largest home. Just like Christmas at Biltmore, some holiday home tours started in November and run through January. Of course, the peak visit time happens during this month.

Here are some more holiday home tours that we’re keeping an eye out for you during December in North Carolina.

Things to Do in Fayetteville NC in December Holiday Jubilee Image
We featured the Holiday Jubilee in our guide to Christmas in Fayetteville.

Christmas Festivals

The season also takes over small towns throughout North Carolina this December, with full-on Christmas festivals.

A Millstone Creek Christmas Hayride, Ramseur (December 7, 14, & 21-23)

Christmas Events in NC Millstone Creek Orchards Randolph County Image

We’ll keep coming back to Randolph County’s Millstone Creek Orchards for those delicious apple cider donuts but there’s also a wonderfully festive hayride to celebrate during December. Before you ride through the lit-up trail, enjoy firepit-roasted marshmallows and S’mores, too.

If you’re lucky enough to be near one of these, don’t miss out on a truly festive experience.

More Holiday Celebrations

Celebration of Gita Jayanti, Statewide (December 8)

Hindus throughout the world honor the Bhagavad Gita during this celebration, and temples and centers in our state will be doing so, too. New Goloka Temple in Hillsborough is one in particular and if you know about one that we should mention, please let us know about it here.

Kwanzaa Celebration, Statewide (December 26-January 1, 2020)

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 throughout the Triangle, in Charlotte, and also in Fayetteville. If you know of more Kwanzaa festivities, please let us know here.

Holiday Trains

Tweetsie Christmas, Blowing Rock (December 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, & 27-28)

Tweetsie Christmas continues the fun for visitors to the High Country. Families flock for the nighttime train surrounded by beautiful lights. Of course, they’ll be there to say “Hello” to Santa and his Gingerbread House, and enjoying more fun, too!

The Polar Express Train Ride in the Smokies, Bryson City (Through December 31)

The Polar Express Train Ride brings the holiday magic along the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, taking off from Bryson City! This 75-minute train ride reenacts the classic story and there’s talk that Santa himself makes an appearance!

The Polar Express Train Ride, Spencer (Through December 22)

You can also take a trip to the North Pole in Spencer at the North Carolina Transportation Museum. During their three-day Polar Express Train event, hot chocolate, cookies, and Santa will be around to greet kids and families who are lucky enough to snag a ticket.

Christmas Train & Light Spectacular, Wilmington (December 6-7, 13-14, 20-21, & 27-28)

The Wilmington Railroad Museum brings back its annual Christmas Train & Light Spectacular each weekend in December. This is already one of our favorite family-friendly places to visit in Wilmington, but add in lights and a Polar Express and we’re absolutely sold on it!

Santa Train, Selma (December 14)

Santa stays busy throughout December and will be in Selma for their round-trip train ride, with juice and cookies also on the table. Attendees are encouraged to wear their PJs and to be ready for sing-alongs and carols during this fun one-day event.

More Things to Do in North Carolina in December

If you thought these were the only things to do in North Carolina in December, think again. Here are 20-plus more events in our state to close out the year.

As with other sections, we’ve ordered them by date and alphabetically by city or town when multiple events occur on the same day.

Moravian Lovefeast, Elizabeth City (December 5)

Elizabeth City’s First Baptist Church hosts its annual Moravian Lovefeast with a community choir, soloists, and an ensemble to accompany traditional refreshments.

Members of all denominations are welcome to attend this event, which has long been a Moravian Church tradition.

Core Sound Christmas & Waterfowl Weekend, Harkers Island (December 6-8)

Held every first weekend in December, this Harker’s Island event celebrates local waterfowl art, seafood, educational exhibits, music, and more.

The Core Sound Christmas & Waterfowl Weekend also encourages young people to attend and on Sunday, children under the age of 17 get in for free!

ACC Football Championship, Charlotte (December 7)

Things to Do in Charlotte NC in December Bank of America Stadium Image

Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium will again host the ACC Football Championship Game, with a playoff spot on the line as well. I’m in no way biased, but I do have two eyes. That’s why I think Clemson will win against whoever shows up against them.

Duck Yuletide Celebration, Duck (December 7)

If you’re enjoying your week in the Outer Banks, head up to Duck for their Yuletide Celebration. The fun includes an “Elf Passport,” treats provided by local businesses, music, caroling, and much more.

Appalachian Potters Market, Marion (December 7)

McDowell High School will host dozens of clay-workers from all around our state during the Appalachian Potters Market. Live demonstrations, music, and lunch ala Bruce’s Fabulous Foods will be there waiting, so don’t miss out!

Chatham Studio Tour, Pittsboro (December 7-16)

Chatham County’s artists are opening up their studios during a series of tours hosted by the Chatham Artists Guild. 56 local artists will be appearing at nearly 40 studios, so you’ve got your work cut out for you if you want to see them all.

Gifts from the Earth, Seagrove (December 7-8)

Christmas in North Carolina Seagrove Pottery Image

Head to the Pottery Capital of the US for “Gifts from the Earth,” a weekend holiday tour of Seagrove’s potters. This year’s theme is “Wrap the Love of Handmade Pottery,” which further ensures this is going to be a wonderful experience for all who attend.

Holiday Ornament Sale, Star (December 7)

Montgomery County’s finest glass and ceramics makers are at it again, with a Holiday Ornament Sale at STARworks Gallery. 2,500 ornaments will be waiting for you and all who hope to purchase more than a few.

And come hungry, because the Smokehouse Mobile Bistro will be outside dishing out deliciousness during the day.

Wild Under the Stars, Burlington (December 13)

The Animal Park in Burlington is blessed with some of darkest night skies, which makes it perfect for winter astronomical viewing.

Bring binoculars or a telescope and you’ll be able to see Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn during “Wild Under the Stars” in December.

Holiday Art Walk, Beaufort (December 14)

Starting at the Beaufort Historic Site at 130 Turner St, the Holiday Art Walk is a self-guided tour that’s held in conjunction with the town’s Candlelight Tour.

Downtown shops, galleries, and restaurants will be open for the tour, showcasing works from regional artists inside their doors for visitors.

Holiday Parent/Child Golf Tournament, Elizabeth City (December 14)

Elizabeth City’s YMCA at the Pines will host its Holiday Parent/Child Golf Tournament, with the kids (ages 5-15) playing odd-numbered holes and parents taking the evens.

Each team gets a cart, hot chocolate, and cookies to go with some golf and range balls.

NCHSAA Football State Championships, Various (December 14)

On December 14, eight high school football state champions will be determined through final matchups held at stadiums in Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Winston-Salem.

With North Carolina’s reputation for producing pro talent, this is a great chance to see some future greats right before they make the jump to their respective college teams.

Winter on the Western Frontier, Statesville (December 14)

Winter at Fort Dobbs in today’s Statesville was a tough task for those who had to endure it way back in 1756. During “Winter on the Western Frontier” there, you and others who attend will have a chance to learn about life there.

Displays of camp life and musket and cannon firing demos will also be on hand during the day.

Celebration of the Wright Brothers First Flight, Kill Devil Hills (December 17)

Things to Do in Outer Banks North Carolina in December Celebration of the Wright Brothers First Flight Image

A Berlin Airlift Foundation C-54 and C-47 will be on display during this 116th Celebration of the Wright Brothers First Flight. A flyover and induction of “Candy Bomber” Colonel Gail Halvorsen into the First Flight Shrine.

Iceless Skating Rink, Hendersonville (December 18-January 1, 2020)

Hendersonville’s Iceless Skating Rink is perfect for those occasional warm days that we love during winter. The synthetic rink will be closed for Christmas Day but open every other until January 1.

Scrubbers will love to know that there’s a special section dedicated to curling.

Choose & Cut Christmas Tree Season, Boone (Through December 24)

Stick around in the High Country and take home the perfect Fraser Fir for your home. There are 11 Christmas tree farms participating in Boone’s Choose & Cut Season, including special lodging packages! You can learn more about it here.

Check out these Boone restaurants while enjoying this fun thing to do in December!

Outer Banks Jingle Jog Christmas Run, Southern Shores (December 21)

Choose between a 10k loop or Out-and-Back 5k during your morning Outer Banks Jingle Jog Christmas Run. There’s also a Little Elf 1/4 Mile and Jingle Jog 1 Mile for the kids if you want to bring them along, too!

Half Marathon and 5K, Carolina Beach (December 28)

Carolina Beach State Park’s trails were made for running and during the Half Marathon and 5K, folks will come out from all over to put them to the test.

For the Half Marathon, runners will pass through every single trail offered by the park, which is a fun bucket list-worthy item to tick off.

Belk Bowl, Charlotte (December 31)

The Belk Bowl returns to Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, as the SEC and ACC do battle on New Year’s Eve. Events surrounding this college football game include the Fan Central Party the night before and concert the day of the big game!

New Year’s Eve Extravaganza, Blowing Rock (December 31)

Fireworks, torchlight skiing, and more fun will help you end the year with some snow at Appalachian Ski Mountain in Blowing Rock. A moonlight ice skating rink will also be open from 10:00 pm to midnight with fireworks ringing in the near year.

The Avett Brothers, Greensboro (December 31)

Disclaimer: We LOVE The Avett Brothers and thoroughly enjoyed this show. If you’re going to be at this “December in North Carolina” tradition, too, we look forward to ringing in the new year together at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex.

New Year’s Noon, Wilmington (December 31)

Since not everyone can stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve, the Children’s Museum of Wilmington will hold a New Year’s Noon starting at 9:00 am. Events include a juice toast, giant confetti toss, and more fun before the clock strikes noon!

Got Something to Add?

December in North Carolina is a wonderful and busy time for everyone. We look forward to enjoying these Christmas and holiday events while searching for more to share with you. 

Before looking ahead to our future adventures, we’d love to know what’s on your mind. Which of these things to do in North Carolina in December will you be attending?

Also, what events do you think we should add to this list? 

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