Christmas is a magical time of year when the kid in all of us comes out of hiding. I long for riding on Santa trains, ice skating to holiday jingles, and sipping hot apple cider while strolling through a colorful light display. Now that I have kids of my own, the season is even more special. Regardless of whether home (or family) is near west, middle, or east Tennessee, we have the scoop on the can’t-miss Christmas events around the state.
- Tennessee Aquarium’s Holidays Under the Peaks & IMAX 3D (Nov 22 -Jan 4) Divers, penguin experts, and other animal keepers teach your family about animal families around the world. Enjoy special weekend appearances by SCUBA Claus through Dec. 24.
- Ruby Falls’ Ruby Red Christmas (Fridays & Saturdays in December) Make memories with the family when you meet costumed characters, listen to holiday music, and visit the North Pole Workshop. Activities include story time and photos with Santa.
- Rock City Gardens’ Enchanted Garden of Lights (Nov 22 – Jan 4) Over 1 million lights illuminate the gardens, turning it into a festive fantasyland. After taking a tour, families can decorate gingerbread cookies, sip hot chocolate, listen to music, and more.
- Tennessee Valley Railroad’s North Pole Limited Train Excursions (Nov 16 -Dec 22) Book early for a train trip to the “North Pole”. Kiddos will enjoy a ride with refreshments, storytelling, and caroling. Santa himself makes a visit on the train.
- Creative Discovery Museum’s “Winter Wonders” Exhibit (Nov 16 – Jan 1) Children partake in interactive learning opportunities about cold-weather traditions. Play “house” in the cozy cottage or take a turn in the wintry maze.
- Chattanooga Zoo’s Holiday Lights (Dec 6 – 7 & 13 – 14) See the zoo transformed with hundreds of lights. After getting your picture taken with Santa, play fun holiday games, and watch the animals open their gifts.
- Starry Nights at Shelby Farms (Nov 29 – Dec 27) Families experience one of the largest light shows in the mid-south with over 2.5 million lights. Take a break in Mistletoe Village with some hot cocoa and do some holiday shopping. Kids can ride a camel or roast s’mores by the campfire.
- Christmas at Graceland (Nov 22 – Jan 8) See Elvis’ home dressed in hundreds of blue lights, complete with a life size nativity, Santa displays, and more, all of which were originally displayed by Elvis and the Presley family. Drop inside to see the family Christmas decorations and pose with Santa for a photo.
- Ice Rink at the Zoo and Zoo Lights (Nov 23 – Dec 30) Celebrate with the animals! Enjoy the only tented, outdoor ice skating rink in the region. Tickets can be purchased on site for one-hour skating opportunities. Families will also delight in a spectacular holiday lights display, photos with Santa, the North Pole Express tram, and holiday shopping in the gift shops.
- Snowy Nights At My Big Back Yard – Memphis Botanical Garden (Nov 29 – Dec 30) The children’s garden at the Memphis Botanic Garden has decked the halls for the Christmas season. Play in the “snow,” sip hot cocoa or spiced tea, create winter crafts, and enjoy fun games and a musical light show on the Leaping Lawn.
- Enchanted Forest at Pink Palace (Nov 23 – Dec 31) Kids will adore the animated animals, gingerbread and peppermint houses, dozens of beautifully decorated Christmas trees, and Santa waiting at the end to pose for holiday pictures.
- Reindeer Games and Candy Canes at The Children’s Museum of Memphis (Dec 14) Ring in the season with a children’s bell choir, mini-Nutcracker Ballet, and a special visit from Santa and Rudolph.
- Regal Celebration of Lights (Nov 29) Krutch Park in downtown Knoxville twinkles with more than 100,000 lights. Relish time together with the lighting of the 38 foot tall Christmas tree. Roast marshmallows, enjoy festive music, and ride the holiday train. Families will enjoy free hot cocoa, face painting, activities, and more.
- Holidays on Ice (Nov 23 – Jan 6) Create a family tradition with ice skating on Market Square. Bring a chair and relax while the kiddos skate. See the calendar for nightly events such as Disco Skate or Family Night.
- Christmas at Chilhowee Park (Dec 13 – Jan 1) A forest of lighted trees float on the lake, and a choir sings holiday jingles in the background. Kids will enjoy train rides, free marshmallow roasting, pictures with Santa, and more.
- WIVK / McGhee Tyson Airport Christmas Parade (Dec 6) A Knoxville Christmas favorite, onlookers fill with holiday spirit as they watch a parade of floats, decorated vehicles, marching bands, and dancers making their way through town. Stay until the end of the parade for a special appearance by Santa Claus.
- Holiday Movies at the Historic Tennessee Theatre (Dec 20-22) Take in a Christmas classic, Miracle of 34th Street, at this historic theater. It is a great way to enjoy time with the family as the big day approaches.
- Fantasy of Trees benefiting East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (Nov 27 – Dec 1) Wander through over 350 designer items such as trees, mantles, doors, and more. Shop the vendor marketplace and get inspired at the Gingerbread Village. Children can ride a carousel, decorate cookies, and take part in several kid-friendly adventures including a visit with Santa. Other events include the Babes in Toyland Parade, Tinsel Time for Moms and Tots, and the Walmart Raffle Tree.
- Gaylord Opryland Resort (Nov 15 – Jan 1) Imagine 2 million lights, horse-drawn carriage rides, stunning decorations spanning across acres of land, and a remarkable display of 2 million pounds of carved ice sculptures in a myriad of colors including 20 foot tall ice slides. Enjoy the Radio City Christmas Spectacular starring The Rockettes, and even take part in some of the vacation packages offered including “The Christmassy DreamWorks Experience” package, featuring lovable characters from films like Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar.
- Nashville Christmas Parade (Dec 6) This annual event runs across Riverfront and down Broadway. Nighttime makes the perfect backdrop for the holiday lights and festive music.
- The Festival of Lights (Thursdays, Fridays, & Saturdays in December) Just outside the Nashville, this driving tour includes hundreds of thousands of lights. Families will appreciate the animation and lighted scenes and displays. Favorites include the Grinch in Fiddlers Grove Jail, Jesus in the manger, and a post office box to drop off a letter to Santa.
- Sudekum Planetarium at Adventure Science Center (Saturdays & Sundays Nov 30 – Dec 22) Get into the spirit with the holiday laser show, complete with music from Bing Crosby, Burl Ives, and more.
- Holiday at Cheekwood at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens and Museum of Art (Nov 29 – Dec 31) Santa and his live reindeer are onsite for a variety of activities including cookie decorating, concerts, and craft sessions in the drop-in family art studio. The kids will also enjoy the Christmas in Color art displays at the Museum of Art.
- The Hermitage Holiday Tours at The Hermitage (Dec 5) Take an after-hours tour of Andrew Jackson’s family home. Learn about the origins of their Christmas traditions, including why they never had a Christmas tree and why someone would yell, “Christmas gift!”.
- Smoky Mountain Christmas in Dollywood (Nov 9 – Jan 4) Features four million holiday lights and spectacular holiday performances, including Dollywood’s A Christmas Carol, an all-new adaptation of the Dickens classic. Enjoy more than 20 rides and attractions, elaborate holiday decorations, and Christmas-themed menus.
- Pigeon Forge Winterfest (Nov 5 – Feb 28) Travel the mountains to Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Sevierville for cider sipping, holiday mountain music, and candy samples. Events include a chili cook-off, Festival of Trees, fireworks displays, Dickens-style holiday carolers, and more.
- Christmas at the Smoky Mountain Opry (Nov 1 – Dec 31) Nothing short of magical, this show incorporates enchanted reindeer, Santa, toys that come to life, champion ice skaters, and the birth of Christ with the area’s largest living nativity.
Find holiday activities and events in your neck of the woods. We’ve got the inside scoop on cities across North America.