New Festivities Brighten the Holiday Season in North Carolina

Nov. 22, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. ― A first-time Christmas Village in Charlotte and a new Battleship North Carolina event join the lineup of celebrations across North Carolina. From the mountains to the coast, travelers can immerse themselves in grandeur, savor small-town moments and create memories worth reliving.

“One-of-a-kind celebrations and settings add to the glow of the holidays in a state known for its natural beauty,” said Wit Tuttell, executive director of Visit North Carolina. “The 35-foot Fraser fir at Biltmore, the entire town of McAdenville decked out in lights, flotillas on the coast and inland waters are authentic experiences that reflect a sense of place and local culture.”

In the season of making lists, the holiday highlights below create a starting point for a holiday trip. From there, fills in details about lodging, dining, attractions and events with easy-to-use filters to refine the search. And travel deals can lighten the load.

Christmas at Biltmore
Through Jan. 8, Asheville
America’s largest home has a larger-than-life tradition that involves 65 decorated Christmas trees inside the 250-room mansion. The trees reach a crescendo with a 35-foot Fraser fir in the seven-story-high Banquet Hall. Out front, a lighted 55-foot-tall Norway spruce is encircled by 20 illuminated evergreens, and 44 additional trees are decorated at the Winery, Antler Hill Village, restaurants and other points on the 8,000-acre estate. Through Jan. 7, visitors can catch the glow in a candlelight tour of Biltmore House.

Christmas Town USA
Dec. 1-26, 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 a car count in the hundreds of thousands on the 1.3-mile route, be prepared to relax and enjoy a very slow ride, especially on weekends ― or cover the route by foot.

Christmas at Old Salem
Through Dec. 31, 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 Museum & 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
Through Dec. 31, Concord
One of the largest holiday light shows in the United States features 3.5 miles of LED displays — and a drive on the 1.5-mile superspeedway. On Thursday through Sunday and all Christmas week, visitors can stop at the Speedway Christmas Village, which includes a Bethlehem Village, a petting zoo, horse-drawn wagon rides and time with Santa. And every night the village is open, holiday movies ― “Elf,” “A Christmas Story,” “Frozen,” The Polar Express,” “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” and animated features ― will be shown on one of the world’s largest high-definition screens.

Charlotte Christmas Village
Nov. 24-Dec. 24
Romare Bearden Park, a magnificent urban masterpiece, transforms into a European-inspired Christkindlmarkt featuring juried crafts and other merchandise plus an irresistible array of holiday fare to enjoy on site or take home. Temptations include classic Austrian strudels, bratwurst with sauerkraut, roasted nuts, lebkuchen, stollen and marzipan. Performances and holiday movies add to the fun.

National Gingerbread Competition
Nov. 27-Jan. 5, Asheville
Sugar and spices lay the foundation for the competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn, 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. Even without the gingerbread, the inn’s roaring fires, splendid décor and music raise holiday spirits. Also of interest to gingerbread lovers: masterpieces from the Gingerbread House Competition at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, on view Dec. 1-Jan. 2 as part of the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Holiday flotillas
Nov. 25-26, Wrightsville Beach
Wrightsville Beach launches the holiday season with the North Carolina Holiday Flotilla, an extravagant boat parade on the Intracoastal Waterway. About two dozen boats, from personal watercrafts to yachts, channel their owners’ creativity into delightful light displays against the night sky. The weekend includes a Friday night party, an all-day festival Saturday and then the main event followed by fireworks. Other holiday boat parades include the Swansboro Christmas Flotilla on Nov. 25; the Ocean Isle Beach Flotilla on Nov. 26; Edenton’s Dickens of a Christmas Tree Lighting & Flotilla on Dec. 2; the Crystal Coast Holiday Flotilla, running from Morehead City to Beaufort on Dec. 3; the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla at Carolina Beach on Dec. 3; the Cliffs of the Neuse Christmas Tree Lighting & Flotilla in Seven Springs on Dec. 9; the Southport Christmas Flotilla on Dec. 10; and Cornelius' Lighted Boat Parade at Lake Norman on Dec. 10.

Santa on the Chimney
Dec. 3 and 10, Chimney Rock
How could Santa resist a 315-foot granite monolith shaped like a chimney? As he has done for more than two decades, 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.

Battleship Ho Ho Ho
Nov. 25, Wilmington
The USS North Carolina, the most decorated battleship of World War II, combines its history and the holiday spirit with an event full of hands-on activities. Visitors can fly an American flag with Santa (he’ll give a certificate of authenticity to those who bring their own), create a retro Happy Huladays e-card, type a wish list on USS North Carolina radio message paper and call the North Pole from the radio room. In keeping with the Battleship’s role as a World War II memorial, Ho Ho Ho’ers can create Christmas cards for veterans in VA hospitals. 

“The Polar Express”
Through Jan. 1, Bryson City and Spencer
Bedtime stories are best heard by people in pajamas, and that’s the preferred attire for those boarding “The Polar Express,” a train ride set to the soundtrack for the 2004 adaptation of Van Allsburg’s modern classic. North Carolina’s licensed expeditions (Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, through Jan. 1, and the North Carolina Transportation Museum in Spencer, through Dec. 22) have all the right details, including cocoa, cookies and a gift from Santa.,

Gardens aglow
Through Jan. 6, various locations
Spring bulbs, summer annuals and fall mums pale beside the brilliance of lighted displays at North Carolina’s public gardens. At Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden in Belmont, Holidays at the Garden (through Jan. 1) features a must-see tree made of 300 orchids plus one-of-a-kind train displays. Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo laces traditional and fantastical displays into the gardens’ stunning architecture for WinterLights (Nov. 25-Jan. 6). In Asheville, Winter Lights (through Jan. 1) returns to the North Carolina Arboretum, adding animated displays and activities to the 3-acre walking tour. Wilmington’s Airlie Gardens, often glimpsed in movies and TV shows, lights up with Enchanted Airlie (Nov. 25-Dec. 22). And Cape Fear Botanical Garden in Fayetteville synchronizes music with lights that shimmer over the Cypress Pond during Holiday Lights in the Garden (Dec. 9-30).        

Tanglewood Festival of Lights
Through Jan. 1, Clemmons
Celebrating its 25th season, this holiday classic at Tanglewood Park features a 4-mile route with about 100 displays in a picture-perfect woodland setting. In addition to well-rounded activities ― including hayrides, horse-drawn carriage rides and an eco-minded gift shop ― travelers can consider booking a room at the Manor House Bed & Breakfast at the park or RV camping (until Nov. 30).

Colonial Christmas
Dec. 9-10, Edenton, Bath and New Bern
Three North Carolina State Historic Sites have devised a way to travel through time and space to explore holiday sights, sounds, smells and tastes from the 1700s. The route starts Dec. 9 in Edenton with the Wassail Bowl at the Cupola House as well as the Christmas Candlelight Tour. After an overnight stay, history revelers can head to Blackbeard’s stomping grounds for the Historic Bath Christmas Open House. A quick hour away, New Bern welcomes guests to the Tryon Palace Candlelight Celebration with holiday vignettes throughout the site’s historic homes and buildings. Note that additional dates are available in Edenton and New Bern.

12 Birds of Christmas
Dec. 1-31, 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.

Spirit of Dickens
Through Dec. 31, various locations
Charles Dickens, the great Victorian novelist whose "A Christmas Carol" popularized the "Merry Christmas" greeting, makes a string of appearances on the holiday schedule. In Salisbury, the Lee Street Theatre takes the show on the road with “Scrooge's Christmas Trolley Tour,” an original take that includes a cemetery stop. The tale takes a musical comedy turn with North Carolina native Ira David Wood III’s adaptation, presented in Raleigh and Durham. In the mountains, Flat Rock Playhouse revives its production of Richard Hellesen’s musical adaptation. Edenton’s Dickens of a Christmas Tree Lighting & Flotilla includes a discussion led by Dickens scholar-performer Dr. Elliott Engel in period costume. Fayetteville turns back the clock with A Dickens Holiday, offering horse-drawn carriage rides, Father Christmas and an appearance by Scrooge and the ghost of Jacob Marley. And in Asheville, An Old Fashioned Dickens in the Village Festival continues a tradition of more than 25 years with an event that features horse-drawn carriage rides, freshly roasted chestnuts, gallery stroll and more than 300 performers in Biltmore Village.

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Suzanne Brown

Kyrsten Cazas