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.
Portland Courthouse Square Tree Lighting
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 at 5:30 p.m. 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.
During the holiday season, the Oregon Zoo becomes a Christmas wonderland of decorations and more than 1 million colorful lights. From the day after Thanksgiving until just after the New Year, you and your family can stroll the zoo paths, and see 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.
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. You can also visit a Meet and Greet at Tom McCall Park and see the boats, the folks who sail them, and Santa up close. The parade takes place for several weeks in December.
Attend a Holiday Theater Performance
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. Theaters that usually have holiday performances include Portland Center Stage and Portland'5.
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.
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 a beautiful setting. 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 Christmas Festival of Lights typically runs from Thanksgiving weekend through Christmas week.
The largest light show in the Northwest is held at the Portland International Raceway each Christmas season. You and your family won't even have to worry about the cold because guests stay in their cars and drive through the holiday experience, which is great on especially cold or rainy evenings. You will get to see more than 250 colorful light displays that includes 40 fully animated scenes right on the famous raceway. Winter Wonderland opens the day after Thanksgiving and stays open until just after the New Year.
George Balanchine's The Nutcracker has become a popular annual event at the Oregon Ballet Theatre with its gorgeous sets and well-known musical score. No other show has become a holiday tradition for so many. Shows are scheduled throughout the month of December, and a dazzling and classic way to enjoy the season.