12 Holiday Celebrations in North Carolina's Mountain Region

Photos of North Carolina Mountain Region

12 Holiday Celebrations in North Carolina's Mountain Region

Christmas in the North Carolina mountains is a memorable experience. Against the backdrop of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian crests are thousands of twinkling lights. The frosty air and holiday cheer transform mountain towns into destinations for making lasting family memories. If you're looking for how to celebrate the holidays this season, check out these twelve events. 

#1- Candlelight Christmas Evenings, Biltmore Estate

The holiday season amplifies the splendor of the Biltmore Estates. Everywhere you turn, you'll find Christmas decorations, from the giant decorated spruce tree on the front lawn to the wreaths and greenery over the mantles. Dozens of Christmas trees are spread throughout the house, for a total of over 30,000 Christmas lights and 150 hand-lit candles.

Enjoy live performances of holiday music at the estate. Find at the Biltmore Winery a special Christmas wine. Estate restaurants serve special seasonal menus and holiday meals.

Find the estate adorned with holiday decor starting at the beginning of November to the first week of January. Holiday festivities are included with admission, but there may be extra fees for special events. 

#2- Tweetsie Railroad, Blowing Rock

One of two special railroad-themed holiday events, the Tweetsie Railroad Wild West theme park hosts Tweetsie Christmas, a special event that includes Santa Claus arriving on the Tweetsie Railroad. Take a three-mile nighttime train ride pulled by one of the historic steam locomotives to admire the Christmas lights and scenes. The train runs every 30 minutes beginning at 5:30 pm.  

During the event, enjoy a live Christmas show at the Tweetsie Palace. Visit Santa at his magical Gingerbread House. Classic amusement rides are available, and the family can roast some s'mores by the outdoor fire pit. 

The event takes place on select evenings starting November 19 and runs through December 30. The festivities begin at 5 pm. Advance tickets are strongly recommended as a limited number of guests are admitted. Adults start at $44, children ages 3 to 12 are $38. 

#3-Polar Express Train Ride, Bryson City

Based on the popular book The Polar Express, The Great Smoky Mountain Railroad operates a Polar Express Adventure through the mountains from Bryson City during the Christmas season. The family-friendly magical train ride includes reading the story, a cup of hot cocoa and freshly baked cookies, and a stop at the North Pole. Santa boards to greet all the children and passes out a special bell for them to take home. Ticket prices range from $43-$93.

#4- Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries, Dillsboro

The mountain town glows under the thousands of lights, candles, and luminaries. This free event is about preserving the feel of the holidays in yesteryear. The luminaries light your way to the various shops and studios, where shopkeepers offer holiday treats, cider, and cocoa. Listen to live music as you stroll the charming downtown Dillsboro. Kids can visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus. The festival is free and starts at 5 pm on the first two Fridays and Saturdays in December.

#5- Winter Lights, Asheville

Be dazzled at the three-acre light display of Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum. The themed collections are inspired by the native beauty of the gardens and local wildlife. The 50-foot tall lighted tree and the Quilt Garden are popular attractions. 

Winter Lights opens on November 19, 2021, and stays open until New Year's Day. It is a walkthrough light display, but admission is sold per vehicle. A non-member personal vehicle up to 20 ft long starts at $40 at the gate or $30 with advance purchase. 2021 tickets are timed entry. 

#6- National Gingerbread House Competition, Asheville

If you like creating gingerbread cookies or houses, then stop at the Omni Park Grove Inn for the annual National Gingerbread House Competition. At this prized Asheville holiday event, the international competitors compete for $25,000 in prizes, resulting in some incredible displays all put together with gingerbread and candy. The official judging will be on November 21, 2021, and the award ceremony is on November 22. After the ceremony, the creations will be available for public viewing after 3 pm Sundays or Monday-Thursdays until January 2. 

#7- Cut Your Own Christmas Trees

The North Carolina mountains are perfect for finding the right Christmas tree to decorate your home for the season. Make a special family memory selecting and cutting your fir or spruce to take home. You can find Christmas tree farms in Marshall, Waynesville, Boone, Glenville, Laurel Springs, Leicester, Topton, Vale, and more mountain towns. 

#8- Forest City Christmas Lights, Forest City

Visit a small town with a massive holiday spirit in Forest City, a tradition dating to the 1930s. Home Town Holidays decorates Downtown Main Street with over a million lights. Everywhere you turn, the lights sparkle. Find them wrapped around live oak trees, twinkling overhead, around the town fountain, and in the square. Add to the festive feeling with a horse-drawn carriage ride. Walking around the downtown lights is free. The Home Town Holiday lights turn on after Thanksgiving and run until New Year's Day.

#9- Santa on the Chimney, Chimney Rock

Watch Santa Claus get ready for the big night for his chimney climbs on the big night by climbing the 315-foot Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park. In 2021, Santa will practice on December 4 and December 11. Watch Santa rappel down the granite face while assisted by his professional rock-climbing buddies from Fox Mountain Guides. The event is accompanied by live music, family-friendly activities, and the opportunities to take pictures on Santa's sleigh. Regular park admission applies, but there is no additional fee to attend Santa on the Chimney.

#10- Christmas Wonderland Light Show, Tryon

The Tryon International Equestrian Center lights up with a drive-through Christmas light show synchronized to music. Christmas Wonderland has two miles of custom-built animated lights. Select nights have live performances from Christmas characters and a live nativity scene at the Winterfest Village. Your light show admission includes admission to this attraction open Thursdays-Sundays every weekend in December. See Santa, take a carriage ride, let the kids participate in activities, and ride a carousel.  

The lights run seven days a week from 6-10 pm, rain or shine. Admission is by vehicle. A standard ticket starts at $30/vehicle, and it runs up to $100 for a tour bus ticket. The light show starts on November 24 and runs until January 2.

#10- A Small Town Christmas in Banner Elk

Experience an authentic small-town Christmas in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Banner Elk hosts a festival December 3-5 featuring live performances, caroling, and an official town tree lighting. A holiday variety show is on Fridays at 7 pm at the Historic Banner Elk School. Saturday begins with a 5K Reindeer Run and continues with breakfast with Santa. A Christmas market with kids' craft activities is the Cultural Arts Center. The celebration wraps with a synchronized holiday light show, train rides through luminary lights, and Santa and Mrs. Claus's visit. Events hosted downtown are free; some special events may have an admission charge.

#11- Winter Wonderland Nights, Franklin 

In the Smoky Mountains, experience a unique holiday festival on November 27 and December 4. Walk around the downtown stores to admire living window displays. Stores extend their shopping hours. Free holiday attractions include a tree lighting ceremony the first weekend, visits with Santa Claus, and holiday decorations. You'll also find carriage rides, refreshments, hot cider, and live sounds of the season.

#12- Holiday Parades

Be ready for the arrival of Santa Claus during the holiday parades taking place across the Blue Ridge Mountains. Various mountain towns host festivals and parades to herald the holiday season. A few on schedule for 2021:

  • Asheville Holiday Parade, November 23 at 11 am. Travels along Biltmore Avenues
  • Morganton Christmas Parade, December 3, 6 pm from the corner of Meeting Street and Green Street
  • Burnsville Christmas Parade, December 7 at 3 pm from Burnsville Town Square to West Main Street
  • Andrews Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade, November 27 at 5:30 pm 
  • Robbinsville Christmas Parade, December 7 at 6 pm
  • Waynesville Christmas Parade, December 6 at 6 pm down Main Street from the corner of Walnut to the corner of Haywood

Holidays in the North Carolina Mountains

These activities are a sampling of the unique holiday events you'll find in the North Carolina mountains. You'll also find holiday-themed crafts fairs, unique seasonal brews and wines from craft spirit brewers, and more downtown light displays. Make something special of your season with these popular events. If you’re looking for more ways to celebrate the holidays, check out these top 15 holiday celebrations in NC.

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