If there was a way to stretch the holiday season another three months, I'd be all over it. In anticipation of family visiting from NY this Thanksgiving, the holiday lights at our house went up earlier than usual and have been shining brightly ever since. It seemed a shame to let the lights sit dark for another couple of weeks, so I flipped the main switch well before Thanksgiving and basked in an instant joy that only something magical can create. I just love seeing holiday lights, too bad they disappear after such a brief time.
Another reason I'd like an extended holiday season - the plethora of special events happening throughout the state. Flotillas, tree lightings, special Christmas evening events, parades, daytime events. Who has time to shop, wrap, and send out cards when so many fun things are going on?
With so much to choose from, and not a lot of time to do everything, here are a few suggestions for holiday happenings around the state that you should experience at least once (I'm betting you'll want to go back for more after you do). Please note that dates listed are for the 2014 season. Click on the links for more info.
NC Mountain Region:
Cherokee Lights & Legends Christmas November 28 - January 3
A new holiday event worth a look. Featuring interactive displays telling Cherokee Christmas legends, carnival rides, ice skating, Santa, and plenty of holiday lights. Location: Cherokee Indian Fair Grounds, Cherokee
The Polar Express Train Ride November 21 - January 4
A 1¼ hour round-trip train excursion through the beautiful countryside to the 'North Pole' where Santa climbs aboard for a special visit. Along the way, riders will enjoy a snack and listen to the beloved holiday story. Location: Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City
Candlelight Christmas Evenings November 7 - January 3
Biltmore House is grand at any time of the year, but it becomes pure magic when decked out in its holiday finery. While daytime tours of the house and grounds brilliantly showcase the beauty of the majestic estate, seeing it in the evening takes your visit to a new level. Location: Biltmore House, Asheville
Christmas Town USA December 1 - 26
An entire town decorates for the holiday season. Need I say more? Enjoy the sights and sounds of Christmas while driving or strolling along in this delightful holiday setting. Location: McAdenville
NC Piedmont Region:
Holidays at the Garden November 21 - December 31
One of several Gardens on my list because holiday lights in a nature setting is pure magic. Highlights include holiday lights throughout the garden, special holiday displays, a fire pit, nature-based family crafts, and Santa. Location: Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Belmont (Charlotte area)
Candle Tea at Single Brothers House December 4, 5, 6, 11,12, & 13
This Moravian tradition of sharing with family and friends celebrates the spirit and meaning of Christmas. Visitors can enjoy Moravian coffee and a slice of sugar cake, sing Christmas carols while accompanied by a 1797 Tannenberg organ, see candle making demonstrations, and hear what life was like for the settlers of Old Salem. Location: Single Brothers House, Old Salem, Winston-Salem
Tower Lighting and Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge December 5 - 19
Durham's American Tobacco District is a series of renovated tobacco factories in the downtown area that now host trendy restaurants, stylish shops, creative space and businesses, and condo living for those who love the hip, downtown lifestyle. Each year, the original Lucky Strike tower is decorated with lights and lit, along with the rest of the holiday lights throughout the quad. Next door near DPAC, beautiful trees, decorated by local non-profit groups, line the walkway as part of the Triangle Christmas Tree Challenge. Check them out and vote for your favorite. Location: American Tobacco Campus, Downtown Durham
Winterfest December 6 - February 1 *Outdoor ice skating rink opens Nov. 22
Downtown Raleigh comes alive with an array of events and displays celebrating the holidays and season. Enjoy ice skating at an outdoor rink, pop into one of the many restaurants and bistros for a nosh, visit with Santa, check out the museums - so much to do at this popular annual event. Location: Downtown Raleigh
NC Coastal Region:
Enchanted Airlie November 28, 29; December 5-6, 11-14, 18-22
Another garden setting that is pure magic during the holidays. See the beautiful Airlie Gardens at night with their holiday lights shining bright during Enchanted Airlie, an annual event that frequently sells out fast, so get your tickets early. Location: Airlie Gardens, Wilmington
Christmas By the Sea and Island of Lights November 28 - December 31
Pleasure Island really knows how to celebrate the season. Enjoy the holiday lights and festivities at Carolina Beach along the boardwalk, or take walk around the lake with its holiday decor. Then take a short drive south to Kure Beach for more. It's fun to see the sea and nautical themed decorations mixed in with traditional offerings. Location: Pleasure Island
Tryon Palace Holiday Tours and Events November 28 - January 4
Celtic Christmas concerts, holiday tours, demonstrations, events for kids, candle-light programs, and fireworks are offered during the holiday season. See the Governor's Palace, Stanly House, and Dixon House decorated in traditional finery for the period. Location: Tryon Palace, Historic District, New Bern
Winter Lights at the Elizabethan Gardens December 2 - January 3
Holiday lights in an Elizabethan garden setting in North Carolina's Outer Banks region. Really. As if that isn't enough to make you go there now, they also have special holiday events, tours, classes, and other seasonal offerings to choose from. Location: Manteo, Roanoke Island, OBX
Share an experience you had at any of the events on my list, or recommend something new by leaving a comment below. Have a safe and happy holiday season!