Christmas in Seattle and other Puget Sound cities is an especially 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 around Seattle.
Many holiday events have been scaled back or canceled in 2020, so be sure to confirm the most up-to-date details with event organizers.
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 while surrounded by twinkling lights.
Some walk-through light displays are canceled for the 2020 holiday season, such as the Bellevue Garden d'Lights. However, many others are turned on and open to visitors. You can see WildLanterns at Woodland Park Zoo or Zoolights at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. At Spanaway Park, you can drive through Fantasy Lights, one of the largest light displays in the Pacific Northwest.
If you want to drive around a neighborhood without paying admission into a park, the houses on Park Road NE—more commonly known as Candy Cane Lane—are decked out with festive decorations.
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.
Two of the biggest local craft fairs are taking place virtually in 2020. The Annual Winter Festival & Crafts Fair, hosted by the Phinney Neighborhood Association, takes place online December 4–6, 2020, so you can buy local gifts without leaving home. Another big fair that's usually at the Seattle Center is Urban Craft Uprising's Winter Show, scheduled to take place virtually from December 2–7, 2020.
Westlake Center's Tree Lighting
Downtown Seattle is just a festive place to be starting on the day after Thanksgiving. Head to Westlake Center shopping center and you’ll find special deals, entertainment, and all kinds of holiday happenings. In the later afternoon, Westlake’s Tree Lighting Ceremony kicks off. Instead of the usual festivities, the tree lighting ceremony takes place virtually at 5 p.m. on November 27, 2020, and can be watched from your computer, tablet, or smartphone wherever you are. If you want to see the lights in person, head to Westlake Center any evening until January 9, 2021.
Holiday Shopping in Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market, one of the most iconic places to visit in Seattle, gets into the spirit with live holiday music and festive decorations. Whether you're going to eat at one of the market's restaurants or you want to pick up a unique and locally-made gift, this is the place to go. If you aren't sure where to begin, the market conveniently prepares an annual guide to get you through the season.
Some of the usual holiday events, like a tree lighting ceremony and photos with Santa, aren't taking place in 2020. However, the market is lit up and open daily to shoppers.
Snowflake Lane brings holiday fanfare to the streets outside of the Bellevue Square shopping center. The biggest draw is the nightly falling snow (which is artificial, but still a delight), layered with the decorated buildings around the Square for a truly festive experience. The lights and snow take place every night from November 27 to December 24, 2020, from 5–9 p.m. each evening.
There is typically a big seasonal parade that accompanies the festival, but the parade is canceled in 2020.
The Seattle Center is lit up from November 27 to December 31, 2020, but the typical Winterfest activities are canceled or taking place virtually in 2020.
Seattle Center always has something going on throughout the year, and the holidays are no exception. Winterfest decks out Seattle Center with lights and typically also brings in special happenings. The Winterfest ice skating rink is one of these and it 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, featuring a mini-village that is detailed and filled with characters and animated scenes that the train passes through.
The Nutcracker at McCaw Hall
The live performance of the Nutcracker by the Pacific Northwest Ballet is canceled in 2020, but you can support the ballet by purchasing tickets to watch a digital version from home.
There are many holiday shows in town, but if you’re going to go to just one, go to The Nutcracker. It’s not only a holiday classic but it’s also a stellar production that serves up holiday magic in spades. The score is classic Tchaikovsky played by the Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) orchestra, and the scenery and costumes are breathtaking. And a visit to McCaw Hall—which houses the PNB—is always a surefire hit if you want to do something that feels a little extra fancy for the holidays, too.
Winter Beer Festival
The Winter Beer Festival is canceled in 2020.
Sometimes you just need to celebrate the holidays with some brew, and if that’s the case, then the Winter Beer Festival by the WA Brewers Guild 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 crafts sure to infuse something special into your holiday season.
Enchant Christmas is canceled in 2020.
The highlight of Enchant Christmas is a massive light maze, which is not only a Christmas lights display but also a completely immersive experience. There's even falling "snow" (not real snow, but just as enchanting and not as cold). There's usually also a Christmas market with more than 70 local artisan vendors.
As of December 2020, skating rinks are closed in the Seattle area until further notice.
Seattle isn't exactly a winter wonderland during November and December. The city rarely gets snow and ice, so the typical winter activities don't immediately come to mind. However, several seasonal ice skating rinks pop up around the holidays, usually beginning around Thanksgiving weekend, such as the Winterfest Rink that typically inhabits the Seattle Center.
Go to a Holiday Show
As of December 2020, all indoor events are suspended in Washington State.
Holiday shows pop up in theaters all around Seattle. The major one is, of course, the Nutcracker at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, but just about every theater usually 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.
If you have young children, Seattle Children’s Theatre just about always has a seasonal performance on stage as well. As a bonus, the Seattle Children’s Theatre is located close to Seattle Center so it pairs nicely with wandering around the festive grounds that get decked out in lights and holiday fare.
Festival of Trees
In December 2020, the Festival of Trees Gala is a virtual event and the Festival of Trees Celebration is canceled.
The Festival of Trees is an umbrella event that includes a few happenings under it. The Festival of Trees Gala takes place at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel to raise funds for Seattle Children’s Hospital. The Festival of Trees Celebration is a free family-friendly event with storytellers for kids, choir performances, cookies, Santa photos, and more, all surrounded by designer-decorated Christmas trees. Up until early December, pop into the Fairmont lobby to view the beautiful trees before many of them go to their new owners for the holiday season.
The 2020 SantaCon is canceled in Seattle.
There is perhaps no finer way to celebrate the holidays than to put on a Santa suit and join a fleet of other people dressed up as Santa as they all make their way through the streets, pubs and restaurants of Seattle, otherwise known as SantaCon. While not officially a pub crawl, the local bars are involved (it's also an age 21 and over event). This event tends to bring out 2,000 or more Santas, all banding together to spread goodwill and cheer throughout the city.
Argosy's Christmas Ship Festival
All Seattle-area cruises and the Christmas Ship Festival are canceled in 2020.
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.
The Thanksgiving Holiday Parade in Seattle is canceled in 2020.
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 of Seattle with holiday cheer. The parade route starts in downtown Seattle, loops through downtown, and ends at Fourth and Pine streets. The parade includes floats, characters, music, and, of course, Santa, who officially takes his place at Macy’s for photos and wishlists after the parade. Afterward, the big star hung on Macy’s is lit for the first time of the season, followed by fireworks.