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‘Twas the month before Christmas and all through Tampa Bay, the citizens were stirring, getting ready for the big day! The twinkle lights were hung from Busch Gardens to Lowry Park Zoo, and everyone wished Santa would skate in downtown too! If you are looking for fun Christmas events, Tampa is the place to be. Here is our guide to the action. Updated for 2019!
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Celebrate the beauty of the holidays in Tampa Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker at Ruth Eckerd Hall, or experience the Next Generation Ballet production at the Straz Center. This timeless ballet classic is always a holiday favorite.
Turn back the clock at Tampa’s oldest theater, Tampa Theatre, and enjoy holiday classic movies during the December such as It’s a Wonderful Life or White Christmas. During these holiday classic film showings, Tampa Theatre will be hosting a food drive so please consider donating.
Busch Gardens turns into Christmas Town during the holidays.Enjoy millions of lights, holiday shows, and plenty of festive fun. The event runs November 16- January 6.
Lowry Park Zoo turns into a wild wonderland during their new Christmas in the Wild events happening for 18 days (beginning November 23) during the holiday season. Families love the strolling carolers, 50-foot animated Christmas tree, and story time with Mrs. Claus.
The Florida Aquarium hosts Snow Days post Christmas with a real snow play area, later hours, and a holiday light show!
Watch Santa make an entrance at the Ybor City’s Snow on 7th Annual Parade and Art Fest which takes place December 14. Snow falls throughout the parade route as marching bands and other performers entertain the crowds.
The City of Tampa also hosts it’s annual SantaFest Parade and Fest at Curtis Hixon Park on December 7. This parade is the perfect start to a fun-filled weekend of holiday activities that happen throughout the day in downtown Tampa. There will be photos with Santa, entertainment, crafts, and games.
You won’t want to miss fire trucks, floats, old-time cars, Shriners, and Santa Claus at Safety Harbor’s Annual Holiday Parade on December 21. During A Harbor Holiday on December 7, Holiday trolleys will take you to a number of stops that including the Waterfront Wonderland, Vintage Christmas, Santa’s Workshop, Holiday Acres, and Rigsby Gingerbread House.
A recent addition to Tampa is The Winter Village! It transforms Curtis Hixon’s Waterfront Park into a holiday hot spot with sights, sounds, and activities for the holidays for children and adults. It is also home to downtown Tampa’s only outdoor ice rink. Add views of the beautiful Hillsborough River and free play spaces on the great lawn with the big city lights in the background and it’s pure holiday magic.
Insider Tip: While you’re in Curtis Hixon Park, make sure to stop and see the City of Tampa Christmas tree, or visit the Glazer Children’s Museum and the Tampa Museum of Art.
Historic Holiday Spirit
Take a stroll through the University of Tampa and see the Victorian Christmas Stroll at the Henry B. Plant Museum’s annual old-time Christmas event. See nineteenth century Christmas decor with rooms displayed in both old and new holiday decorations. You can also drive along Ybor City’s historic 7th Avenue and see old-fashioned Christmas decor or visit the 1883 Safford House in Tarpon Springs and see the beautiful Victorian holiday decorations.
Don’t miss the Enchanted Tree Lighting Ceremony and Holiday Street Party in Hyde Park Village on November 23. This family-friendly traditional event offers Santa’s arrival, live holiday music, food trucks, kid’s activities, and more. At Curtis Hixon Park, watch holiday movies on the lawn, holiday themed entertainment, and more. Safety Harbor will also have a Tree Lightning Ceremony with singing choirs and a visit from jolly St. Nick.
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Let the Florida Orchestra fill your soul with the holiday spirit at their Holiday Pops concerts, performed at the Straz Center, the Mahaffy Theater, and Ruth Eckerd Hall. Sing along with Christmas classics as you enjoy this annual holiday celebration.
Take your family to one of the great holiday-themed shows at the Largo Cultural Center. Check their website to see what they have to offer this season.
Sit on Santa’s lap and tell him how good you’ve been this year! International Plaza hosts Santa in the Grand Court, where you can join Santa’s flight crew. Kids can try on a virtual flight suit, dance under magical lights and snowfall, and more before meeting the jolly old man!
Santa will also be stopping by various stores in Hyde Park Village throughout the season.
The Tampa Riverwalk Holiday Boat Parade will be a fabulous addition to the already full line-up of holiday events happening along the Hillsborough River and ending up in Downtown Tampa. Or head over to Vinoy Park’s St. Petersburg Boat Parade, an annual boat parade where the illuminated boats will have everyone captivated as lights float on the water.
Stop in at The Vinoy and enjoy their festive holiday decor and snack on milk and cookies while watching the St. Petersburg Santa Parade pass by on the parade route. Play in the snow at the Snowfest in North Straub Park where over 65 tons of snow will keep Florida kids busy for hours building snowmen and making snow forts for as long as they’ll last in the Tampa Bay sun!
Special thanks to Tiffany Vaughn for updating this post for 2018 and Sharlene Earnshaw for updating it for 2019.
Featured photo by: Shutterstock