With all the Thanksgiving leftovers gone from your fridge, are you ready to celebrate the most popular holiday in the country and the world? Well, Asheville is! Luckily, our city features many Christmas events and festivities that are fun for the entire family.
From welcoming the season with an original holiday parade to fantastic light displays and a famous gingerbread house competition, we have everything you need to make your Christmas in Asheville memorable.
There are so many things going on in Asheville in December it’d be impossible to list them all. We’ve chosen something for everyone, always keeping the kids in mind because those little creatures tend to adore Christmas!
Whatever you get up to during the festive season in Asheville, we hope you have a peaceful and joyous holiday season with lots of fun surprises. If you are a big Grinch like me, take this time of the year to rest and enjoy the crisp air and all the gingerbread cookies.
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15 Christmas Festivities and Events in Asheville
1. Watch the Asheville Holiday Parade
The annual Asheville Holiday Parade is a great chance to experience some of Asheville’s many tribes in one place. It features between 75 and 100 entries, including marching bands and dance teams dressed for the occasion, an enthusiastic crowd of local families, and a big finale with Santa and Mrs. Claus saying goodbye before they head off to the North Pole.
This fun Asheville Christmas event occurs on the third Saturday of November at 11 am on Biltmore and Patton Avenues in downtown. Don’t forget to snap some photos with Santa after the parade.
Past events have included bouncy houses in Pack Square, Christmas tree competitions, and other holiday events all over downtown. Follow the Asheville Downtown Association on Facebook to get the complete schedule and updates.
Finally, the Asheville Holiday Parade is one of the best places to volunteer during the holidays – it takes 100 volunteers to make it happen! Sign up here!
2. See the Grove Arcade’s Tree-Lighting Ceremony
Asheville’s oldest mall and historical landmark celebrates the holiday season with plenty of spark. Its annual Winter Wonderland festival begins with a tree-lighting ceremony on the evening of the Asheville Holiday Parade and includes live music, a 20-foot tree, and the presence of Santa.
Winter Wonderland at the Grove Arcade takes place throughout December and features Christmas decorations, holiday gift-shopping specials, bar crawls, kids’ activities (storytelling with Mrs. Claus, anyone?), holiday movie screenings, and many opportunities to see Santa brought to you by Smokey Mountain Santa. Follow the Grove Arcade on Instagram to get updates about the weekly holiday events.
The Grove Arcade is home to many stores where you can get your holiday shopping done, including gem stores, art galleries, handmade clothing, and a foot spa for when you get tired of all that walking downtown. In addition, some of the best restaurants, cafés, dessert places, and breweries in Asheville are located here, so you won’t have to go far to satisfy your food cravings!
Finally, if you’re looking for a unique way to end the year and welcome a new cycle, check out the NYE at Grove Arcade, a dance party with live music and entertainment, 1920s-style decor, games, and lots of fun.
3. Try Holiday Treats at French Broad Chocolate Lounge
Asheville was named Yelp’s “Top US Foodie Destination of 2020,” especially for the handcrafted artisanal chocolates of French Broad Chocolates. These treats are to die for all year round, but their special holiday ones are the bomb!
Stop by the iconic blue building in Pack Square and get their chewy ginger cookie dipped in dark chocolate or a fudgy brownie topped with a creamy mint swirl to get in the spirit of the season. Pair it with the Liquid Truffle, their signature chocolate drink that they describe as a “thick and velvety melted chocolate.” It will make you discover life’s meaning with just one sip.
This is also a great place to buy local Christmas gifts. If you want an authentic Asheville souvenir, choose one of two gift sets, including seasonal bonbons featuring the traditional aromas and flavors of the season (Champagne, Peppermint, and Eggnog), as well as chocolate bars and sipping chocolates.
Some festive winter flavors are Cinnamon Caramel Apple White Chocolate, Cranberry Orange White Chocolate, and Peppermint Chocolate Chip. Peppermint Bark features a layer of their “bean-to-bar” dark chocolate, creamy peppermint white chocolate, hand-painted naturally colored cocoa butter stripes, and a sprinkle of peppermint candy. Yum!
Finally, if you are a chocolate lover, you must book a tour of this chocolate factory, which is one of Asheville’s iconic landmarks.
4. Attend the Winter Lights Festival at the NC Arboretum
Nothing screams Christmas in Asheville louder than the Winter Lights festival. This walk-through, open-air light show attracts tons of locals and tourists every year, including New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, and it’s one of the best ways to celebrate the holidays in town.
This festival features over one million lights and runs from the third week of November to the end of the year. The display changes yearly, but some features always return. You’ll love the 50-foot Christmas tree by the fire pit where you can roast marshmallows with Santa (who, of course, makes a comeback every year!) and the cute G-scale model holiday train, which is always a kid favorite.
Your family will enjoy the live music, the friendly staff and volunteers, and the festive atmosphere. There are plenty of local treats, including hot cocoa, cider, wine, beer, cookies, and s’mores kits. Be sure to get your tickets in advance and remember that prices vary depending on the date.
5. See a Show at the Asheville Community Theatre
To welcome the holiday season, Asheville’s most beloved community theater presents Elf: The Musical, an adaptation of the film following the adorable story of Buddy, a man raised by elves who leaves the North Pole to go to New York City in search of his biological father and explore his identity (and the complications of being human).
The show runs from December 1 to the day before Christmas, and, like every show at the Asheville Community Theatre, a fun, energetic, and entertaining performance is guaranteed. You’ll leave the theater in a joyful, light mood and… singing!
The Asheville Community Theatre was founded in 1946 and is the oldest continuously operating theater in Asheville and one of the oldest community theaters in the country. They have adult and youth productions, offer classes for all ages, and have acting camps.
Follow them on social media or subscribe to their newsletter for updates about their upcoming shows and events, and don’t forget to grab some local festive snacks, cookies, and drinks to enjoy during the performance.
6. Hop on the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley
Driving around to see the Christmas lights is one of the simplest, most fun things to do in December in Asheville. While there are many places to see these twinkling holiday displays, from professional light shows to private homes with synchronized light and sound decorations, the Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley Tour offers a unique experience.
Your family will love riding the trolley around town to enjoy the festive light displays while caroling with onboard musicians (songbooks are provided!). The route includes downtown Asheville, Biltmore Village, the historic district of Montford, and the Grove Park neighborhood. Local Christmas tales are also part of the mix.
The awarded Gray Line Asheville Trolley’s Hop-On/Hop-Off Tour is one of the most popular Asheville city tours, endorsed by The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County. It offers a ticket valid for two consecutive days and the opportunity to jump off the bus at any point during the 15-mile route through Asheville.
7. See the National Gingerbread House Competition
The Omni Grove Park Inn is one of Asheville’s top attractions, and during the holidays, it hosts the acclaimed annual National Gingerbread House Competition. The event began in 1992 with just a few gingerbread houses and quickly became a competitive event enjoyed by hundreds of locals and visitors.
The display starts on the third weekend of November and runs till the first week of January. Past winners include creations like “When Dreams Have Wings,” featuring a whimsical Peter Pan Christmas scene, and the adorable “Christmas Morning Paper Dolls.” There are different age-group categories and $40,000 in cash and prices.
Walking around the resort is a beloved Asheville Christmas activity. There are 80 illuminated Christmas trees (all different!), hot chocolate from the adorable Great Gingerbread House in the Great Hall, and fantastic photo ops (including one of Asheville’s best sunset views from the terrace and the huge roaring fireplaces). So, dress accordingly!
The Omni Grove Park Inn also has many beautiful stores where you can get your holiday shopping done, including unique Asheville souvenirs and Christmas tree ornaments and decorations. Of course, you can complete your experience with a fabulous dinner at one of the inn’s restaurants, but be sure to make reservations well in advance.
You don’t need to make reservations to see the gingerbread houses. Walking around the resort is free, but there is a parking fee during the holidays. Also, non-guest visitors have restrictions on when they can visit the exhibition. Please read this page carefully to avoid having to turn back with a car full of disappointed little humans.
8. Attend a Holiday Spectacular Drag Brunch
Asheville Drag Brunch is Asheville’s original and longest-running professional drag brunch show and a nonprofit partnering with other organizations to raise funds for their causes. The events occur at different venues, and tickets always include a donation to a local nonprofit, a seat at a table or bar, a brunch, and a super fun hour-long show.
This family-friendly event has many opportunities for everyone to sing along, laugh out loud, and watch some of the best local and visiting drag queens work their magic in “a celebration of diversity, community, and charitable giving.” Yes, all the profits go to charity!
Some local nonprofits they partner with are Beloved Asheville, Blue Ridge Pride, Healing Solutions Counseling, Loving Food Resources, Open Hearts Arts, Make a Wish Foundation, OUR Voice, and Youth OUTright. Make sure you follow Asheville Drag Brunch on social media so you can get updates about their upcoming holiday events.
9. Have a Self-Care Party at Asheville Salt Cave
Let’s face it: the end of the year can be intense on many levels, and sometimes, we need a moment to unwind and regroup to enjoy ourselves more during the festivities. Asheville Salt Cave‘s “Salty Soirée – Mini Wellness Retreat” is ideal for relaxing during a busy holiday season.
This wellness experience includes a 15-minute salt cave session, a 15-minute table massage session, and a 15-minute herbal foot soak and exfoliation in the hammam (a traditional Turkish steam bath that will leave your skin glowing).
Of course, the holidays are all about sharing yummy food, and you’ll love the dessert charcuterie board, including locally made treats from Well Bread Bakery, Poppy Handcrafted Popcorn, Nothing But Bundt Cakes, Dolci di Maria, and the magical non-alcoholic elixirs of The MerTails.
The salt cave recreates the microclimate of a salt mine using 30 tons of pure pink salt from Poland, the Dead Sea, the Himalayas, and the Celtic Sea. The air in the cave is saturated with negative ions, anti-bacterial, uncontaminated by dirt, free of toxins and pollutants, and great for you! Salt therapy has many health benefits, especially regarding respiratory and skin conditions.
The Asheville Salt Cave also hosts massage therapy inside the cave, a family-friendly play session for kids, and an array of wellness events, including sound healing concerts and a Solstice Blessings to welcome the new year.
10. Get a Tree at Sandy Hollar Farms
Sandy Hollar Farms in Sandy Mush Valley in Leicester is one of the most famous farms to pick a Christmas tree. Yet, unlike other places, it never feels too crowded. Locals love heading out there the weekend after Thanksgiving to kick off the Christmas season.
You’ll ride a wagon around the farm, which is home to sheep, llamas, longhorn cattle, goats, and miniature donkeys. In addition to Christmas trees (there are many sizes available.), you can leave home with fresh Fraser Fir wreaths, garlands, and ornaments. The best part? Leashed dogs are welcome so the entire family can participate in this festive tradition.
The on-site gift shop has cute offerings, including wool scarves and hats, hand-spun knitted or crocheted shawls and afghans, and quilts.
Have you ever wondered where the tradition of the Christmas tree started? While the modern tree began in Germany and was inspired by Christianity, the custom of worshiping evergreen trees and using them to symbolize eternal life and scare away demons dates from pagan ancient cultures around the world.
11. See the Nutcracker
Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” is the most-known ballet and a Christmas staple in the Western world. The story is vaguely based on the fantastic children’s book “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by E.T.A. Hoffmann and follows Clara and her Nutcracker friend in their battle against the vicious Mouse King (my favorite character, of course!).
The Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet returns to Asheville year after year to perform this classic at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, featuring artists from around the globe and offering a super tight experience with beautiful costumes and incredible performances that your family will cherish.
Of course, there are Nutcracker-related souvenirs and plenty of holiday treats to enjoy.
12. See ‘The Nutcracker and the Mouse King’
“The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” is an excellent book written in 1816 that my kids and I still read every Christmas. The Nutcracker ballet is loosely based on the story, which is much more fun, rich, and exciting!
Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre (ACDT) also performs its rendition of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King yearly at the Wortham Center of the Performing Arts, recreating the original version of this Christmas classic.
The production always surprises and “couldn’t be farther from the famous ballet.” It features modern dance, contemporary dance, hip-hop, ballet, acrobatics, and aerials. The music is so fun, too!
The overall experience is energetic, humorous, and very entertaining without compromising the holiday feel. This is The Nutcracker Asheville-style! Kids will love this show because it feels less stiff (and much louder) than the ballet.
Asheville Contemporary Dance Theatre is a nonprofit professional dance company created in 1979 devoted to local and international work, developing collaborations and partnerships between Asheville artists and dance artists worldwide. Anyone interested in taking dance lessons in Asheville should check it out.
13. Embark on The Polar Express Train Ride
“On Christmas Eve, many years ago, I lay quietly in my bed. I did not rustle the sheets. I breathed slowly and silently. I was listening for a sound – a sound a friend had told me I’d never hear – the ringing bells of Santa’s sleigh.” ~ Chris Van Allsburg, “The Polar Express.”
If you believe this sound exists, go to Bryson City Depot and take a historic train to the North Pole to find it! The 1¼- hour ride will be filled with hot chocolate and holiday treats. The best part? You’ll meet Santa at some point, and he’ll give each passenger the first gift of Christmas. Can you guess what it is?
The Polar Express Train Ride is inspired by the award-winning book following a child’s journey from disbelief to certainty on Christmas Eve. The experience includes storytelling, caroling, and many surprises! Please get your tickets in advance.
14. Go to Marquee’s Holiday Party
Marquee is set in a converted 50,000-square-foot warehouse on Foundy Street in the River Arts District. Here, you’ll find something for everyone, and you could spend hours (I’m not exaggerating) checking out the 291 vendors (called “cast members”) and finding antiques, vintage decor and clothing, jewelry, art, and even plants.
In the past, the free Miracle at the Marquee Holiday Party has been a big success. It includes extended shopping hours to get unique ornaments, Christmas decorations, and fabulous gifts for your loved ones.
The celebration also features live music, sweet treats, and drinks from the on-site Saint Brighid’s bar, an Uglier Sweater Competition that involves taking your ugly Christmas sweater and making it even uglier. Before you think about how ridiculous this is, consider the prize: a $100 Marquee All Access Pass.
Make sure you follow Marquee on social media to get updates about their upcoming events!
15. Experience Christmas at the Biltmore
The Christmas season at the Biltmore starts at the beginning of November and ends during the first week of January, so locals and visitors can make this outing part of their Thanksgiving and Christmas experiences.
The Candlelight Christmas Evenings invite you “to imagine yourself [as] a guest at the first Vanderbilt family Christmas in 1895,” so you get the idea. Imagine cozy fireplaces, live music, and thousands of ornaments, twinkle lights, and candles adorning the indoors and outdoors of America’s largest home.
Although not as ostentatious, the Christmas at Biltmore Daytime Celebration will still give you the holiday feeling, adding the experience of a visit to appreciate the gardens’ decorations and The Conservatory adorned with hundreds of blooming poinsettias.
Book a stay at one of the onsite hotels to experience Christmas like a true Vanderbilt!
Merry Christmas y’all!