Guide to the Holidays in Portland, OR: Festivals, Events, Things to Do

There are many fun things to do in the City of Roses during the Christmas season, including seeing festive holiday light displays, attending community events, and listening to Christmas music of all kinds. And due to Portland's "Keep Portland Weird" attitude, you can also expect to find plenty of wacky and unusual activities beyond the traditional holiday cheer.

01 of 08

Portland Courthouse Square Tree Lighting

Christmas Tree in Portland, OR
svetlana57 / Getty Images

This annual tree lighting ceremony kicks off each Christmas season in Portland. The family-friendly event, which includes the lighting of the huge 75-foot Christmas tree as well as a fun holiday sing-a-long, is held the day after Thanksgiving each year at Portland's Courthouse Square. The Douglas fir tree will be decorated with more than 14,000 colorful lights and will stand tall until well after the holiday season ends.

02 of 08

ZooLights at the Oregon Zoo

Portland zoo zoolights
Sam Churchill / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

During the holiday season, the Oregon Zoo becomes a Christmas wonderland of decorations and more than a million colorful lights. On scheduled evenings you and your family can stroll the zoo paths, and see exciting animal-themed displays of light and motion. You will also have a chance to sip hot chocolate and snack on tasty treats, as well as enjoy live music and other festive performances. To take it all in, ride the lighted train, jump on the carousel, or taste a variety of meals from Portland's famous food carts.

03 of 08

Portland Christmas Ship Parade

Portland Christmas Ship Parade
Sam Churchill / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Portland's Christmas Ship Parade is an annual event held on the Columbia and Willamette rivers. The parade includes an average of 50 to 60 boats, all decked out in holiday lights.

The parade can be viewed from a number of different public parks, bridges, and other locations throughout the city. The parade will occur throughout December.

04 of 08

Attend a Holiday Theater Performance

Portland singing christmas tree
Courtesy of Portland's Singing Christmas Tree

You can choose from a number of holiday-themed plays and musicals that appear at Portland theaters, often running for several weeks during the winter season.

The performances as well as the dates and times, change each year, but past favorites include The Santaland Diaries, which is a modern play based on David Sedaris' hilarious book, Plaid Tidings which gives the audience a nostalgic, musical Christmas experience.

Something you can expect to see every holiday season is Portland's Singing ChristmasTree. This event has been bringing holiday joy to the Pacific Northwest for over 50 years. More than 350 adult and young singers perform holiday classics, along with more contemporary sons at the Keller Auditorium each year.

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05 of 08

The Grotto Christmas Festival of Lights

Grotto Portland Festival of Lights
Courtesy of The Grotto Portland

The Grotto, a 62-acre Catholic Shrine and botanical garden in Portland, presents the Christmas Festival of Lights each year. This walk-through event includes a wide variety of family-friendly experiences.

In addition to spectacular outdoor lighting displays, visitors can enjoy indoor holiday music concerts, puppet shows, carolers, holiday snack and beverages, and a petting zoo.

The Grotto typically runs from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas week.

06 of 08

Winter Wonderland Portland

Winter Wonderland Portland
Courtesy of Winter Wonderland Portland

The largest light show in the Northwest is held at the Portland International Raceway each Christmas season. You and your family won't have to worry about the cold because guests are permitted to stay in their cars and drive through the holiday experience. You will get to see more than 250 colorful light displays that includes 40 fully-animated scenes right on the famous raceway.

Winter Wonderland will be available from the end of November through the end of December.

07 of 08

The Nutcracker at Oregon Ballet Theatre

The Nutcracker Ballet
Photo Credit: C. McCullers

George Balanchine's The Nutcracker has become a popular annual event at the Oregon Ballet Theatre. Shows are scheduled throughout the month of December, and a dazzling and classic way to enjoy the season.

08 of 08

Posada Milagro at El Centro Milagro

Posada Milagro at El Centro Milagro
Courtesy of Milagro

Posada Milagro at El Centro Milagro is an annual family-friendly event that is free and open to the public. 

This event focuses on Latin American traditions and culture and celebrates the journey of Mary and Joseph in their search for refuge. You can participate in arts and crafts activities, breaking a piñata, and enjoying traditional foods. Throughout the day, there will be music and dance performances as well as storytime for children.

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