Guide to Christmas in Boston: Festivals, Events, Things to Do

Christmas in Boston's Faneuil Hall Marketplace

Kalim Saliba / Getty Images

Christmas may be Dec. 25, but the holiday season kicks off in Boston in November and doesn't stop until the New Year. From tree lightings in the Boston Common and Faneuil Hall and ice skating on Frog Pond, to performances of the Nutcracker and Holiday Pops, the entire family will have plenty to celebrate this holiday season leading up to Santa's arrival.

If you plan on seeing any performances or dining out, be sure to check out the Mayor’s Holiday Special for up to 50 percent off tickets, restaurant deals at participating restaurants, and other seasonal offers.

01 of 12

Go Ice Skating at Boston Common's Frog Pond

Ice-skating on Frog Pond in the Boston Common
DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images
38 Beacon St, Boston, MA 02108, USA

The Boston Common is one of the city's top attractions, as it's America's oldest public park that connects several neighborhoods you'll want to explore when you're in town. During the winter months, especially when the park is lit up for the holidays, both tourists and locals flock to Frog Pond for ice skating. Rentals and lessons are available on-site, along with a cafe with food and drinks, and it makes for a fun family activity around Christmastime.

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Experience One of the City's Tree Lighting Events

Boston's official Christmas tree
DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images
115 Boylston St, Boston, MA 02116, USA
Phone +1 617-635-4505

One of the most popular Christmas trees in Boston is also in the Boston Common. The Tree for Boston has been received by the city as a gift from Nova Scotia since 1971. The official tree lighting happens in late-November each year. At this event, the entire Common lights up and there are fireworks and the Frog Pond Skating Spectacular show for visitors to enjoy.

Of course, this isn't the only tree lighting that takes place in Boston leading up to Christmas. Head over to our list of the best Christmas tree displays in Boston for even more options to check out, including the trees in Faneuil Hall, Copley Square, and on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.

03 of 12

Attend the Annual WBZ-TV Holiday Spectacular at Faneuil Hall

Winter in Boston
DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images
1 S Market St, Boston, MA 02109, USA
Phone +1 617-523-1300

Speaking of the tree at Faneuil Hall, this is also where you'll find another top holiday attraction, the Blink! Light & Sound Show. The 7th Annual WBZ-TV Holiday Spectacular, which is the official tree lighting and kick-off of the show, is set to take place on Dec. 3, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. and is also televised on WBZ-TV.

Blink! runs throughout the holiday season through Jan. 1, so even if you miss the tree lighting event, you can still join in on the festivities. The free light show has 350,000 lights on display to tunes from the Holiday Pops, running on a 7-minute loop every night from 4:30 to 10 p.m.

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Get in the Holiday Spirit at a Holiday Pops Concert at Symphony Hall

Massachusetts Governor Elect Charlie Baker conducts "Sleigh Ride" with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at A Company Christmas At Pops at Symphony Hall
Paul Marotta / Getty Images
301 Massachusetts Ave, Boston, MA 02115, USA
Phone +1 888-266-1200

Seeing the Holiday Pops at Symphony Hall is a quintessential Boston holiday activity, one that that whole family will enjoy whether you’re into music or not. Conductor Keith Lockhart leads the orchestra through popular holiday music, sparking plenty of singalongs and there's a visit from Santa Claus. They even offer matinee shows for kids to experience if the regular times are past their bedtimes, as well as a sensory-friendly show.

The Holiday Pops shows start in early December and go through Christmas Eve. If you’ll be ringing in the New Year in Boston, the Boston Pops put on a great New Year’s Eve show. Tickets for all shows can be purchased at the Symphony's website.

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05 of 12

Plan a Night Out at the Boston Ballet's Annual Nutcracker Performance

The Boston Ballet's Opening Night Performance Of Mikko Nissinen's "The Nutcracker"

 Paul Marotta / Contributor / Getty Images

539 Washington St, Boston, MA 02111-1718, USA
Phone +1 617-259-3400

The Nutcracker, a performance put on each year by the Boston Ballet, is another show that has become a holiday tradition for many families in and around Boston. The show is inspired by E.T.A. Hoffman's novel and takes you through iconic scenes like the Sugar Plum Fairies dancing in the snow to music from Tchaikovsky and the Mouse King going against the Nutcracker Prince.

The Nutcracker is held at the Citizens Bank Opera House from Nov. 29 to Dec. 29, 2019. There are both matinee and evening shows and ticket prices vary depending on your seat selection. If you or anyone in your party are age 22 or under, be sure to check out the select performances that offer 50 percent off tickets in certain sections.

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Visit the Zoo for ZooLights, the Brick Safari, and More

149 Pond St, Stoneham, MA 02180, USA
Phone +1 617-541-5466

The winter holiday season might not sound like the best time to visit the zoo, but the Stone Zoo's annual ZooLights is another way to celebrate with your family in a unique setting. Here you'll find the entire zoo lit up, with animals ranging from black bears and arctic foxes, to Canada lynx and actual reindeer. Santa is also on site posing for photos with the kids through Christmas Eve. This year's ZooLights takes place from Nov. 22, 2019 to Jan. 4, 2020 from 5 to 9 p.m., with the zoo closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

As an extra bonus this year only, you can take your kids on the Brick Safari. There are 40 different life-size animals made from LEGO bricks scattered throughout the zoo, including an elephant, Tasmanian devil and more.

Those of drinking age may also want to pop on over to the Lord Hobo Holiday Beer Garden on Thursdays from 5 to 8:30 p.m. This popular Boston area brewery will not only be serving up exclusive craft beers, but also continuing the holiday fun with games, photo opportunities and more.

07 of 12

Dress Up as Santa for the Annual Santa Speedo Run

Runners start the race, making their way down Boylston Street during the 20th Annual Santa Speedo Run in Boston, Massachusett

AFP / Getty Images

If you’re even remotely into running—that is, you can jog a mile—and want to spread some holiday cheer, sign up for the annual Santa Speedo Run. Speedos themselves aren’t necessarily required, but sporting your best Santa or holiday gear is strongly encouraged.

The day both kicks off and ends at Back Bay Social Club and the run itself starts and ends at the corner of Boylston and Gloucester Streets. It’s essentially a one-mile loop that concludes with a bunch of Speedo-wearing Santas celebrating over drinks in the Back Bay. But it’s all for a good cause, with the SSRUN raising nearly $2 million to date for children through donations to the Play Ball! Foundation.

The 2019 SSRUN takes place on Saturday, Dec. 14. Sign up at before the 700 spots, available to anyone age 21 and up, fill up.

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Shop and Eat With Local Vendors at the SoWa Winter Festival

People walking among stalls at the SoWa Winter Festival

 Courtesy of SoWa Boston

500 Harrison Ave, Boston, MA 02118, USA
Phone +1 857-362-7692

The SoWa Winter Festival, which takes place on Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End neighborhood in early December, has become a popular destination for shopping local during the holiday season. This family-friendly event has 130 different vendors selling everything from homemade gifts to festive cocktails you can sip while you shop. Several of the city’s most beloved food trucks also post up for these events if you’re looking for something to eat. Other activities and attractions include various holiday workshops, live ice sculptures, and the art galleries SoWa is known for.

The 5th annual SoWa Winter Festival in 2019 is free to attend and is set for Dec. 6 from 6-10 p.m., Dec. 7 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Dec. 8 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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09 of 12

Take a Day Trip to Nantucket for the Christmas Stroll

The island of Nantucket is easy to get to by ferry from south of the city in Cape Cod, and while this is typically a summer vacation destination, it brings in quite the crowd for the annual Christmas Stroll. This event started back in 1973 as a way for Nantucket residents to get their holiday shopping done without leaving the island. To this day, Nantucket welcomes shoppers with festive snacks and drinks on the first weekend of December, with nearly everyone on the island going all out with picturesque seasonal decor. Get your ferry tickets in advance, as they are bound to book up given the popularity of this event each year.

Not into trekking off the mainland? There are also several holiday strolls that take place right in Boston, including in the North End, Beacon Hill and South End.

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Take a Ride on the Somerville Illuminations Tour

Front view of house with christmas lights
Steve Dunwell / Getty Images
Somerville, MA, USA

The city of Somerville, located just north of Boston, puts on the ultimate holiday decor experience: the Illuminations Tour. Residents in the neighborhoods its held in go crazy decorating for Christmas and the Somerville Arts Council puts on a 45-minute trolley ride so you can see the best of the year. Grab your tickets when they go on sale in early December because they typically sell out, but if you're fine with walking you can also pick up a map for $3 to take a self-guided tour.

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Grab Your Camera and Head to Beacon Hill’s Acorn Street

Boston's Famous Acorn Street at Christmas - Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Nate Hovee / Getty Images

While this isn’t an actual event, Beacon Hill’s Acorn Street is one of the most photographed streets in the country, with picturesque brownstones that get decked out (along with the entire neighborhood) for the holiday season. You’ll likely see both professional and amateur photographers snapping photos as you walk around this historic street and its neighbors.

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Attend a Game at the TD Garden or Gillette Stadium

2016 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic - Montreal Canadiens v Boston Bruins
Jim Rogash / Getty Images

Schedules change year-to-year, but you can usually count on there being at least one holiday game between the New England Patriots, Boston Celtics, and Boston Bruins. Even if there’s not, this is a great time of year for Boston sports because you can take your pick of which sport you want to see while visiting the city.

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Guide to Christmas in Boston: Festivals, Events, Things to Do