There’s a holiday happening to suit every taste at venues of the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. Holiday train rides at the N.C. Transportation Museum, a “Christmas Flotilla” at the N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, “Christmas by Candlelight” at a state historic site and “Holiday Pops” or other performances with the North Carolina Symphony at home or on tour, are a few of the unique holiday experiences awaiting families at modest or no cost.
State parks offer wonderful ways to experience nature during the holidays, and the “First Day Hike” to start the New Year off right.
Nov. 21-Jan. 22 — N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Cape Fear Festival of Trees, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.: The 2023 event will feature 54 trees beautifully adorned by generous sponsors supporting Lower Cape Fear LifeCare Foundation. Admission to the Aquariums sells out during this fan favorite. Touring the Festival of Trees is complimentary with the purchase of Aquarium admission. Advance tickets are required.
Dec. 1 — Yuletide By Lanternlight at Historic Halifax: Experience an authentic Christmas of long ago in the warm glow of lantern light. Enjoy homes, public buildings, and taverns decorated for the season with festive, all-natural decor. Interactive historical vignettes will bring each building to life. Enjoy a warm fire in the Tap Room tavern, just as guests did 200 years ago. Fee, registration required.
Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 21-23 — Merchants Mill State Park, Light Up the Millpond, 5-8 pm.: Take a leisurely drive by the visitor center and through the picnic area loop, and enjoy the wonderful decorations brought to you by the community. Lights turn on at sunset until 8 p.m. This event is free to the public, but donations are accepted to benefit the Friends of Merchants Millpond State Park.
Dec. 2 — Bentonville Battlefield State Historic Site Christmas Open House: Experience the Harper House as a family residence, not as a Civil War field hospital. This holiday season, you are invited to tour the home of John and Amy Harper as it may have appeared after the conclusion of the Civil War. Come enjoy the beauty of a 19th-century Christmas aglow with candlelight. Also enjoy period refreshments in the kitchen, festive music by a warm campfire, and a ride on the Bentonville Holiday wagon. You can also paint your own ornament to take home. $5 admission for adults, free for kids 8 and under.
Dec. 2 — Museum of the Albemarle, Holiday Open House Back to Christmas – 1970s, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Step back in time through the exhibit of a 1970s living room and child’s bedroom decorated for the holidays. Take a minute to watch clips of favorite television shows and commercials all the while sitting on 1970s furniture. Bring a friend or find a guest to reminisce and discuss the times. Members of the Colonial Quilt Lovers Guild of Northeast North Carolina have worked together to make a traditional Christmas quilt, Vintage Christmas, designed by Lori Holt, My Bonnet Company. Santa will make his grand entrance from 1:30-2:30 p.m. to ensure that the Christmas lists are correct early on. Free. Call (252) 335-1453 for more information.
Dec. 2 — N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, Crystal Coast Christmas Flotilla, 5:30–6:30 p.m.: A parade of holiday-lighted boats begins in Morehead City at 5:30 p.m. and arrives in Beaufort at about 6:15 p.m. All decorated boats are judged, and awards follow at the Watercraft Center. For information or entry fee and form, call (252) 728-1638.
Dec. 3 — Somerset Place State Historic Site, Somerset Place 33rd Annual Christmas Open House, 1-4 p.m.: Explore, enjoy, and experience the Christmas season as Somerset Place is decorated with traditional holiday floral arrangements adorning the exterior and interior of site buildings. Share a tasty meal of black-eyed peas and hearth-cooked cornbread, sip hot spiced tea and sample delicious homemade desserts. Enjoy live Christmas music while shopping at our Christmas market with vendors. The Collins House and site buildings will be open for self-guided tours with interpretive staff in period dress available to answer questions. A costumed doctor from the mid-19th century will discuss antebellum medicine in the plantation hospital. For younger audiences, jolly Saint Nicholas will appear on the grounds from 2-4 p.m. Free.
Dec. 3 — North Carolina Symphony, Holiday Pops in Wilmington, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.: Join the North Carolina Symphony for this festive concert full of orchestral favorites you know and love, including selections from The Nutcracker, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and much more! Come early to visit with Santa before the concert at the Wilson Center in Wilmington.
Dec. 8 — N.C. Maritime Museum in Southport, Winterfest Historic Holidays: This annual tradition, presented in conjunction with the city of Southport, will be held from noon to 4 p.m. on Dec. 8. Staff and volunteers will be dressed out in period attire, and historic activities and take-home crafts will be available. This drop-in event is free and appropriate for all ages.
Dec. 8 — Brunswick Town Fort Anderson State Historic Site, "A Light in the Darkest of Night," 4-7 p.m.: Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson will be offering visitors the chance to experience a peaceful evening amongst the ruins of St. Philips Church as it is decorated in its holiday finest, with candlelight and greenery. Our visitor center and gift shop will remain open during the evening to allow a chance for a little holiday shopping. Free.
Dec. 9, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. — N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, Santa by the Sea: Make holiday cards and an ornament, enjoy special treats and games. Meet Santa for a photo opportunity and Mrs. Claus will be found around the aquarium for story time. Enjoy on-site food trucks during the day. Event holiday bag includes a take-home photo of each child with Santa, plus crafts, holiday treats, activities, and other seasonal fun. Event holiday bag is $9.95 per participant in addition to Aquarium admission fee or membership reservation for that day. If an adult would like to participate in the activities, the purchase of a holiday bag is required.
Dec. 8-9 — Historic Edenton Holiday Events: Tour the 1886 Roanoke River Lighthouse 10 a.m.-4 p.m., $2.50 per person; guided tours of holiday decorated 1800 James Iredell House, 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m., $2.50 per person; candlelight tour will focus on Cotton Mill and Hayes, 4-8 p.m., fee for Edenton Historic Commission; hot cocoa served to visitors in 1767 Courthouse, 4-8 p.m., free.
Dec. 9, 16 — New Bern, Tryon Palace, Candlelight Holiday Event, 4:30–9:30 p.m.: Candlelight is a site-wide event for Tryon Palace that includes tours of the decorated Governor’s Palace, Stanly House, Dixon House, and holiday festivities and fun throughout the Palace grounds. Arrive early to enjoy all the festivities before your tour of the Palace. Gates open to all ticket holders at 4:30 p.m. Your ticket indicates your Palace tour time only. Please be in line prior to your tour time. Candlelight tickets are available online, at the ticket desk or by calling 252-639-3524. Candlelight is a rain-or-shine event, but fireworks may be canceled during extreme weather conditions. Tickets are non-refundable and non-exchangeable.
Dec. 10 — Brunswick Town Fort Anderson State Historic Site, "An 18th Century Christmas," 1–5:30 p.m.: Join us as we explore how the American colonists celebrated Christmas. During the program, you can enjoy 18th-century-inspired refreshments in the Visitor Center, participate in traditional games, or try your hand at Moravian paper stars and other 18th-century crafts. The highlight of the evening will be an authentic period candlelit service in the ruins of St. Philips Anglican Church. Tickets can be purchased in advance online through our Square website. $5 per adult, free 12 and under.
Dec. 10 — North Carolina Symphony, Holiday Pops in New Bern, 7:30 p.m.: Join the North Carolina Symphony for this festive concert full of orchestral favorites you know and love, including selections from The Nutcracker, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and much more! Come early to visit with Santa before the concert at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern.
Dec. 15-16 — N.C. Maritime Museum in Beaufort, 29th Annual John Costlow Christmas Train Show: The museum is excited to welcome the return of the John Costlow Christmas Train Show this year. The annual show, which will be held in the museum auditorium, offers a glimpse into the past with antique working model trains and model trains of all sizes. Admission is free. Donations will be given to the Beaufort Lions Club, who will be assisting with this year’s show. Children age 12 and younger will need to be accompanied by an adult.
Dec. 16 — Bennett Place Christmas in the Piedmont during the Civil War, 10 a.m.- 4 p.m.: Visit Bennett Place during the Christmas season and witness how this occasion was celebrated during the Civil War. Living historians will decorate the farm in the typical modest fashion of the time. There will be cooking demonstrations in the kitchen house, Christmas decorations and packages in the main house, soldiers will be on hand to demonstrate Christmas in the field and of course, a visit with Ole St. Nick. Complimentary hot apple cider will be available. Free.
Dec. 20 — North Carolina Symphony, Holiday Pops in Jacksonville, 7:30 p.m.: Join the North Carolina Symphony for this festive concert full of orchestral favorites you know and love, including selections from The Nutcracker, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and much more! Come early to visit with Santa before the concert at Northside High School in Jacksonville.
Dec. 21 — North Carolina Symphony, Holiday Pops in Tarboro, 7:30 p.m.: Join the North Carolina Symphony for this festive concert full of orchestral favorites you know and love, including selections from The Nutcracker, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and much more! Come early to visit with Santa before the concert at Keihin Auditorium at Edgecombe Community College in Tarboro.
Dec. 30 — Historic Bath, "Old Christmas at Historic Bath," 10 a.m.-3 p.m., 5-7 p.m.: Immerse yourself in the ambiance of the Old Christmas season at Historic Bath! Join us at the Bonner House from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. and take part in the festivities. Learn about the holiday traditions of early 19th century North Carolina. Experience holiday cooking over an open hearth and taste fresh gingerbread. Make historic ornaments, decorate a tree, play games, and drink cider by the bonfire. At 5 p.m., come back and enjoy the Christmas tradition of stories around the bonfire. Bring your own s’mores and hot chocolate and enjoy an evening under the stars.
Nov. 24-26, Dec. 1-3, 7-10, 12-23 — N.C. Transportation Museum, The Polar Express™ Train Ride: Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, families are sure to enjoy their trip to the North Pole, complete with hot chocolate and cookies served on board the train. Passengers are entertained by a reading of Chris Van Allsburg’s classic, "The Polar Express." For ticket sales, book online or call 704-469-5231. Have a question? Contact the museum for general information at 704-636-2889 or email@example.com.
Dec. 1, 2 — North Carolina Symphony, Handel’s Messiah, 8 p.m.: The Messiah of the season — don’t miss this glorious holiday tradition as your North Carolina Symphony and spectacular soloists honor Handel’s greatest work at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh.
Dec. 2 — State Capitol east grounds, Make Ornaments for the Capitol's Outdoor Tree, 1-3 p.m.: Join the Capitol to make a rustic outdoor decoration to feed the birds and squirrels on Union Square! While the Capitol remains closed for repairs, we’re bringing holiday cheer outside instead. Families, children and wildlife enthusiasts are invited to make birdseed and critter-friendly ornaments to adorn our tree, provided by the NC Christmas Tree Association. Free.
Dec. 2 — House in the Horseshoe, “O Blessed Season!” Candlelight Tour, 3-6:30 p.m.: Step back in time and experience an 18th century Christmas. Interpreters will portray members of the community who have gathered for a festive party during the holiday season among fresh greenery and candlelight. Tickets are $8 and available on Eventbrite.
Dec. 7 — State Capitol, State Tree Lighting, 5:30 p.m.: Join the State Capitol and Gov. Roy Cooper for the annual tree-lighting tradition and holiday music by the Raleigh Concert Band. Even Santa is scheduled to make an appearance! While the Capitol building remains closed due to ongoing construction, the public is invited to the Governor’s Mansion immediately following the lighting of the tree to see the executive residence all decked out for the holidays. Free.
Dec. 7, 6-8 p.m., Dec. 8-9, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. — NC Executive Mansion 2023 Holiday Open House: No reservations are accepted or required. Visitors are invited to tour the home, take in the decorations, and enjoy seasonal musical entertainment by local performing groups. The mansion's first floor will be decorated with North Carolina-grown Christmas trees, floral and mixed evergreen arrangements, and ornate mantle displays.
Dec. 9 — Historic Stagville State Historic Site, Jonkonnu at Stagville 2023, 4:30-6 p.m.: Celebrate Jonkonnu, a historic African American holiday tradition, with Historic Stagville and St. Sya Academy. Durham artists and St. Sya Academy students will perform at Horton Grove to honor Jonkonnu, a masquerade celebration with roots in West Africa and the Caribbean. After the performance, join the lead artists around the bonfire for stories about Jonkonnu's international connections, past and present. General admission is $5 per person, free for children under 12. For more information visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/745620118847/
Dec. 9 — Charlotte Hawkins Brown Museum, Christmas in Sedalia Christmas Tree Lighting, 5-8 p.m.: This free program will have live music, an outdoor Holiday Bazaar, crafts for kids, and Santa himself making an appearance! The Tree Lighting Ceremony will begin at 7:30 p.m. outside of Kimball Hall. Free.
Dec. 10 — Morrow Mountain State Park, Tree Cookie Ornaments, 10 a.m.-noon: Join a ranger in making Christmas ornaments out of one of our most abundant resources — trees! All ages are welcome and materials will be provided. Meet at the lodge.
Dec. 17 — Raleigh Flute Choir Holiday Concert, NC Museum of History, 3 p.m.: Spend an afternoon with the Raleigh Flute Choir as it performs familiar tunes from The Nutcracker, haunting Christmas melodies, and lively holiday arrangements. A musical telling of “The Night Before Christmas” is sure to be a highlight. Tickets $10 for general admission, $6 for students and MOHA members.
Dec. 19 — North Carolina Symphony, Holiday Pops in Southern Pines, 7:30 p.m.: Join the North Carolina Symphony for this festive concert full of orchestral favorites you know and love, including selections from The Nutcracker, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland,” and much more! Come early to visit with Santa before the concert at Lee Auditorium in Southern Pines.
Dec. 20-22 — Gingerbread Tea, N.C. Museum of Art, 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m.: Celebrate the holiday season at a family-friendly afternoon gingerbread tea. This festive afternoon tea features a variety of finger sandwiches, premium hot teas and cocoa, and savory and sweet treats. Add on a cookie-decorating activity for bonus holiday fun. Please indicate in the notes if you prefer a private dining table or community dining table. Tickets $45 for individuals, family 4 pack of tickets $37.50 each.
Dec. 22, 7:30 p.m., Dec. 23, 3 p.m. — North Carolina Symphony, A Candlelight Christmas: Immerse yourself in the magic of the season with music performed in the glow of candlelight. Experience this extraordinary performance by full orchestra and children’s choir—truly an experience like no other at Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh.
Dec. 26-31 — N.C. Transportation Museum, Winter Holiday Train Rides: Join the museum for special train rides during the winter break between Christmas and the New Year! It is another seasonal tradition families love to do together, especially when children are on break from school. Dec. 26–30 at 10 and 11 a.m., 1 and 2 p.m. Dec. 31 at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.
Dec. 1 — Lake Norman State Park, Gingerbread House Competition, all day: Register now for the Lake Norman State Park Gingerbread House Competition by Dec. 1. Park visitors will vote for their favorite house from Dec. 2-9. The winner will receive a Lake Norman State Park prize pack and the winning house will be on display at the visitor center until Dec. 20.
Dec. 2 — Mountain Gateway Museum, “A Community Christmas Kickoff,” 2 p.m.: Live music, a children’s craft, free refreshments, and a holiday scavenger hunt will be part of the fun at the Mountain Gateway Museum (MGM) and Old Fort Community Forum’s “A Community Christmas Kickoff.” This free event will begin at 2 p.m. on the museum’s grounds and continue to 5 p.m., when the Old Fort Christmas Parade will begin at the Old Fort Elementary School and proceed down Catawba Avenue past the museum. For more information, call MGM at 828-668-9259 or visit its website at www.mgmnc.org.
Dec. 7, 9 — Vance Birthplace State Historic Site, "An Appalachian Christmas Carol," 6-8 p.m.: During this in-person program, the American Myth Center presents one of the greatest Christmas stories ever told, Charles Dickens’ "A Christmas Carol," interwoven with the history of the Reems Creek Valley. The show utilizes toy and shadow theatre to share the life of Venus, a woman enslaved by the Vances, during live theatrical tours at the Vance Birthplace. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future will illuminate her story as visitors walk the site. These 25-minute tours encourage participants to think about the power of empathy. Tours leave the visitor center every 30 minutes starting at 6 p.m., with the final tour at 8 pm. Tickets are $7 and can be purchased here: https://bit.ly/40hi9gH. Children 5 and under are free. Reservations are strongly encouraged.
Dec. 9, 10, 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. — N.C. Governor’s Western Residence Holiday Open House, Asheville: Celebrate the holiday season at the Governor’s Western Residence Holiday Open House at 45 Patton Mountain Rd., Asheville. Reservations are not needed to attend the open house. Guests are invited to tour the residence, which has been decorated for the season. Visitors are welcome to bring canned food donations for the MANNA Food Bank.
About the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
The N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) manages, promotes, and enhances the things that people love about North Carolina – its diverse arts and culture, rich history, and spectacular natural areas. Through its programs, the department enhances education, stimulates economic development, improves public health, expands accessibility, and strengthens community resiliency.
The department manages over 100 locations across the state, including 27 historic sites, seven history museums, two art museums, five science museums, four aquariums, 35 state parks, four recreation areas, dozens of state trails and natural areas, the North Carolina Zoo, the North Carolina Symphony, the State Library, the State Archives, the N.C. Arts Council, the African American Heritage Commission, the American Indian Heritage Commission, the State Historic Preservation Office, the Office of State Archaeology, the Highway Historical Markers program, the N.C. Land and Water Fund, and the Natural Heritage Program. For more information, please visit www.ncdcr.gov.