Christmas in Seattle and other Puget Sound cities is a fun time of year. The area lights up with holiday fun, light displays, Christmas trees, fun plays and musicals, and events. While the weather outside can be wet and dreary throughout November and December, one of the best ways to forget about the weather and create a cozy holiday atmosphere is to get out and enjoy the area's events.
Whether you’re looking for a quaint local event or major holiday fanfare, you can find it somewhere between Seattle and Tacoma.
What to Do on Thanksgiving Weekend
Many holiday events kick off on Thanksgiving weekend. Aside from the Thanksgiving Parade in downtown Seattle, this is the weekend that most of the area holiday light displays open to the public, ice skating rinks open, and - of course - the area shopping malls get much, much busier with Black Friday out in full force. Small business Saturday follows and encourages all shoppers to get out and support local businesses. Maybe you want to avoid the madness that is Thanksgiving weekend, but if you want to jump into the holidays head first, this is the perfect time to do it!
Things to do on Thanksgiving Weekend:
Going to stroll or drive through a Christmas lights display is a family tradition for many—and for good reason. Few activities will get you more into the spirit of the holidays than sipping some hot chocolate, surrounded by twinkling lights. There are several large light displays in the area, from Wildlights at Woodland Park Zoo and Bellevue Garden d'Lights, to Candy Cane Lane in Seattle, to Clam Lights in Renton, Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo and Fantasy Lights in Spanaway. If events aren’t your scene or you don’t want to pay the price of admission, never fear. There are neighborhoods, especially in Seattle, known for encouraging residents to decorate their homes, like Candy Cane Lane. But even a drive around any given neighborhood is likely to result in at least a few houses that really went all out.
Seattle isn't exactly a winter wonderland during November and December. We rarely get snow and ice, so you might not think of wintery activities - but that doesn't mean we don't have any around. Several ice skating rinks open up usually on Thanksgiving weekend and provide a way to add some extra winter charm to your holiday season. Rinks are located strategically throughout the Seattle-Tacoma area, with the Winterfest rink at Seattle Center and Polar Plaza in Tacoma (which has had its location change in the past year or two so keep an eye out for the most recent updates on 2019's location).
Go to a Holiday Show
Holiday shows pop up in theaters all around Seattle. The major one is, of course, the Nutcracker at McCaw Hall, but just about every theater has festive fun of some sort on stage. Watch for touring holiday favorites at large theaters like Paramount Theatre or 5th Avenue Theatre, but don’t discount smaller theaters like ACT Theatre that also bring holiday favorites to stage. And if you have young children, Seattle Children’s Theatre just about always has a seasonal performance on stage as well – bonus, the Seattle Children’s Theatre is located close to Seattle Center so it pairs nicely with wandering around the festive grounds there that get decked out in lights and holiday fare.
Holiday Shop at Bazaars and Craft Fairs
Holiday bazaars and craft fairs large and small take place throughout Seattle and surrounding cities. If you want to get your holiday shopping done in a less commercial atmosphere, or are just looking for a way to absorb the holiday season, these events are a lot of fun. And while it’s not tough at all to find these events at local schools, hotel ballrooms, churches and the like, if what you seek are larger events, look no further. On December 1 and 2 at the Phinney Center, the Annual Winter Festival & Crafts Fair brings in more than 120 artists and crafters, entertainment, food and more. You can also catch Urban Craft Uprising’s Winter Show at Seattle Center on December 6-8. Another biggie is Urban Craft Uprising’s holiday market at Westlake Park, which takes place throughout December.
The Festival of Trees is an umbrella event that includes a few happenings under it. The Festival of Trees Gala takes place on November 23 at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel to raise funds for Seattle Children’s Hospital. On November 24 from 1-4 p.m., the Festival of Trees Celebration is a free family-friendly event with story tellers for kids, choir performances, cookies, Santa photos, and more, all surrounded by designer-decorated Christmas trees. And then from November 23-December 4, pop into the Fairmont lobby to view the beautiful trees before many of them go to their new owners for the holiday season.
There is perhaps no finer way to celebrate the holidays than to put on a Santa suit and joint a fleet of other people dressed up as Santa as they all make their way through the streets, pubs and restaurants of Seattle. While not officially a pub crawl, pubs are involved and yet this is so much more than a pub crawl (and yet it is a 21+ event so leave the kiddos at home). This event tends to bring out 2,000 or more Santas, all banning together to spread goodwill and cheer throughout the city.
Argosy Cruises takes passengers on local cruises all year round to Blake Island as well as around the Puget Sound and local lakes. During the holiday season, Argosy runs one of the coolest and most unique holiday events around. The Christmas Ship Festival takes place throughout the month of December, launching the official Christmas Ship – the Spirit of Seattle decked out bow to stern in lights – as well as follow boats that are also decorated. The ships visit ports of call all around the Puget Sound, from Seattle to Des Moines to Gig Harbor and Tacoma. You can enjoy the festival either by booking passage on the Christmas Ship, on one of the follow boats, or by waiting on shore for the ships to show up. But not to be missed is the Parade of Boats on Lake Union where many boats parade around the lake in all their twinkly glory.
There’s nothing like a parade to welcome in the holidays! Sure, you can watch the big Macy’s parade in New York on TV, or you can go to downtown Seattle and enjoy one live. In the morning, the Macy's Holiday Parade fills the streets with holiday cheer. The parade route starts at 9 a.m. at 7th and Pine in downtown Seattle, loops through downtown, and ends at 4th and Pine. The parade includes floats, characters, music and – of course – Santa, who officially takes his place at Macy’s for photos and wish lists after the parade. At 5 p.m., the big star hung on Macy’s will be lit for the first time this season, followed by fireworks as long as the weather holds out. Both the parade and star lighting take place on November 23.
Westlake Center's Tree Lighting
Downtown Seattle is just a festive place to be on the day after Thanksgiving. After the Macy’s parade ends at 11 a.m., if you’re in the mood for more holiday fun, head to Westlake Center and you’ll find special shopping deals, entertainment, and all kinds of holiday happenings. In the later afternoon, Westlake’s Tree Lighting Ceremony kicks off with Santa making an appearance at 4:45 p.m. Following that, the giant tree in front of Westlake Center lights up for the first time of the season, which is within sight of the Macy’s star depending on where you’re standing so be prepared for a light-tastic time.
There are many holiday shows in town, but if you’re going to go to just one, go to The Nutcracker. For one, it’s a holiday classic. For two (and three and four and however many points you want to count), it’s a stellar production that serves up holiday magic in spades. The score is classic Tchaikovsky played by the Pacific Northwest Ballet orchestra. The scenery and costumes will take your breath away. And a visit to McCaw Hall is always a surefire hit if you want to do something that feels a little extra fancy for the holidays, too. This year’s performance takes place from November 29 to December 28.
Pike Place Market gets into the spirit with live holiday music, photos with Santa under the iconic Pike Place Market sign, and a tree lighting at 5 p.m. Other fun events include cookie decorating in the Atrium Kitchen from 12-2 p.m., and apple cider and hot cocoa available to purchase from merchants. And this is a pretty nifty place to get started on your holiday shopping in a unique non-mall atmosphere. The event is free and takes place on November 24 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Seattle Center always has something going on throughout the year, and the holidays are no exception. From November 29 until December 31, Winterfest decks out Seattle Center with lights, but also brings in special happenings. The Winterfest ice skating rink is one of these, and is the place to be for families looking for something fun to do when the weather is rainy out. Another popular Winterfest attraction is the Winter Train & Village in the Seattle Center Armory – the mini village is detailed, filled with characters and animated scenes that the train passes through. On Saturdays throughout Winterfest, from noon to 2 p.m., there will be ice sculpting to watch outside of Fisher Pavilion. And you’ll catch all kinds of performances inside the Armory on any given day throughout the event as well.
Snowflake Lane brings holiday fanfare to the streets outside of the Bellevue Collection. Drummers, a parade, characters and dancers, and falling (artificial-yet-impressive) snow turn an otherwise everyday street into something positively magical. The show takes place every evening at 7 p.m. from November 23 until December 24. Follow the show with some holiday shopping at the Bellevue Collection, which includes the expansive Bellevue Square. Bonus – it’s all free to watch!
Sometimes you just need to celebrate the holidays with some brew, and if that’s the case, then Winter Beer Festival is the festival for you. The beer fest fills Hangar 30 in Magnuson Park with more than 50 local breweries, all bringing their seasonal finest. Expect plenty of dark wintery beers, barrel-aged goodness, and other unique beers sure to infuse something special into your holiday season. Winter Beer Festival takes place November 30 and December 1.
If you're looking for something new to do this year, then look Enchant Christmas - a newer event that is coming back to T-Mobile Park from November 22 to December 29 in 2019 (and should continue to return as it's amazing). The highlight of the event is a massive light maze, which is not only a Christmas lights display, but a completely immersive experience. There's even falling "snow" (not real snow, but just as enchanting and not as cold). There's also a Christmas market with more than 70 local artisan vendors.