How to Have a Quintessential Raleigh Holiday

Make the most of your holidays with these festive traditions that are unique to the City of Oaks.
by Addie Ladner

Sure sure, the holidays can be hectic (see this never-ending to do list) but it can also be pretty magical here in Raleigh! We know the season has officially begun when Fayetteville Street is a-glow, from the red-and-green Martin Marietta Center to the Capitol Building with its grand tree. Whether you love performances like Theatre in the Park’s A Christmas Carol or the classic The Nutcracker by the Carolina Ballet, seasonal meals like classic Southern roasted oysters or Yellow Dog Bread Co.’s Christmas confections, or simple pleasures like seeing homes and parks all lit up, there’s plenty to celebrate in the City of Oaks. Read on for more than 15 ways to enjoy your 2023 Raleigh-days.

Laugh Out Loud at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Cinderella

Based on the fairy tale by Charles Perraul, kids of all ages will love this comedic, musical retelling of Cinderella. Enjoy memorable characters including Cinderella’s outrageously spoiled stepfamily and the Fairy Godmother’s hapless helpers. Experience the show that has captivated families for almost 40 years.
Dec. 1 – 17 | Various times; From $28; 301 Pogue Street;

Grab a Peck of Oysters from Locals

It’s not Christmas in the South without an oyster roast. Get a fire going outside (the Farmers Market is a great place for firewood this time of year — you can grab pecans and apples for pie, too!), grab your favorite brews from a local bottle shop and tell your neighbors and friends to join you for a low key hang. Don’t forget the saltines, horseradish and mignonette!

See Theatre in the Park’s Iconic A Christmas Carol

Theatre In The Park’s beloved adaptation of A Christmas Carol celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, but there’s another significant milestone: Director and actor Ira David Wood III will give his final performance as Ebenezer Scrooge after playing the role for as long as the show has been running. “Fifty years have flown by in the wink of an eye. It has been an honor and privilege to have been part of a production that has become such a holiday tradition. How deeply humbling to think that so many people have made us part of their celebration of the holiday season,” says Wood. The play has become known nationwide for weaving modern humor around current events into the musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens classic. While it’s enjoyed critically acclaimed tours to England and France, locals can enjoy it right in their hometown with performances at both the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts and the Durham Performing Arts Center.
Dec. 8 – 17 | various times; From $35; 2 E. South Street, Raleigh or 123 Vivian Street, Durham; 

photo credit: Eamon Queeney

Pick up Some Festive Treats at Yellow Dog Bakery

On crisp Sunday mornings in December, Yellow Dog Bread Co. is adorned with fresh Christmas garland. The bakery is toasty inside its frosted windows, and unlike usual, there are no customers giving coffee orders. That’s the special time when owner Tanya Andrews and her family are busy making their famous gingerbread cookies and all the other Christmas confections. In addition to its usual pastries, during the holidays Yellow Dog offers seasonal treats like chocolate peppermint thins, sugar cookies and pecan snowballs. Grab a box for your favorite party host gifts, Mr. Claus or teacher gifts. Feeling ambitious? We have the Andrews family’s cookie recipes right here.

photo credit: Joshua Steadman

See Justice Theatre Project’s Black Nativity

Experience the story of the birth of Jesus told through West African and contemporary choreography and music at the North Carolina Museum of Art’s amphitheater. Each year the production includes new elements but holds true to the Langston Hughes original, rooted in gospel music. This year, Justice Theater Project artistic director Jerry Sipp says to look out for some familiar faces and hymns but also a few new songs and cast members, plus an all-new set backdrop. “Our friend Gerald Rubin, a Triangle area African-American artist, will be helping to augment the look of our set with his unique painting vision,” Sipp says.
Dec. 9 & 10 | Various times; $5; 2110 Blue Ridge Road;

Experience Carolina Ballet’s The Nutcracker

Most folks know the story of The Nutcracker, in which a young Clara ventures through the Land of Sweets where she battles the Mouse King and meets the Sugar Plum Fairy. This year, Carolina Ballet director Zalman Raffael has updated the choreography and reenvisioned the story to be more inclusive, with same-sex couples and interracial families represented within the cast. “We will honor past productions by George Balanchine and Robert Weiss and move this holiday classic forward into our times,” says Raffael. 
Dec. 10 – 24; From $50; 2 E. South Street;

Stream the WALTER Holiday Playlist 

Evergreen songs come from far and wide — but from right here, too. Artists from in and around the Triangle have contributed a solid number of songs to the holiday canon. Consider this selection from music writer David Menconi this holiday season.

Walk the Oakwood Candlelight Tour

Step inside 10 different centuries-old homes in Craftsman and Victorian styles during the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour in the City of Oaks’ oldest neighborhood. Each year, a few Oakwood residents open up their homes for the public to learn about history and architecture and share how the homes are being used in the present day. The tour includes cookies and hot apple cider at check-in and performances by the Oakwood Waits, a group of carolers in period costume.
Dec. 9 – 10 | 1 – 7 p.m.From $45; N. Bloodworth Street & Oakwood Avenue;

Visit Angus Barn

Each year Raleigh’s iconic steakhouse and fine southern dining restaurant, which has been around since the 1960s, pulls off a spectacular holiday display. It begins as early as November 8 and lasts all through January. Its ceilings and walls are covered in festive tulle, holiday lights, globe ornaments and multiple decked-out Christmas trees. While the restaurant part of Angus Barn is booked full until the new year, The Wild Turkey Lounge & Country store opens early at 2 p.m. on Saturday & Sunday during the holiday season and Monday through Friday, the lounge and store open at 3 p.m. and is first come, first serve. Learn the labor of love that goes into Angus Barn’s over-the-top holiday decor here.

Host a Holiday Cocktail Party

Whether you’re in the mood for a cocktail, mocktail or classic hot chocolate, we’ve got you covered: we asked 12 local bartenders, brewers and baristas for their favorite beverages to commemorate the chilly months. Read on and grab (or make!) a cup of cheer.

Experience the North Carolina Master Chorale’s Joy of the Season Concert

Hear a wide range of carols including “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and, as a favorite finale, “Joy to the World,” at the North Carolina Master Chorale’s Joy of the Season concert. With more than 170 voices between the symphonic choir, chamber choir and youth choir, along with a live orchestra, this evening will be sure to get you into a spirited mood.
Dec. 12 | 7:30 p.m.; From $32; 2 E. South Street;

Hit THE RINK at Red Hat

Red Hat Amphitheater is trading its amps for ice skates: It’s paving over the pit in front of the stage with ice to create THE RINK at Red Hat, which will be open weekdays and weekends through the winter so folks can glide outdoors while enjoying the skyline. Surrounding the ice, there’s room to thaw out on a roomy turf lounge area, complete with comfy chairs, fire pits, games, snacks and beverages (for both kids and adults). Ice skates and skate mates are available for rent. 
From $6; 500 S. McDowell Street;

photo credit: Bob Karp

Cheer on the Carolina Hurricanes

December is a busy month for our hometown NHL team, the Carolina Hurricanes. Watch them take the ice at any one of their seven home games at the PNC Arena this month under famed coach Rod Brind’Amour.
From $25; 1400 Edwards Mill Road;

Don’t Forget to Give Back

It’s easy to get caught up in the holiday shuffle of gift exchanges, kids’ Christmas programs and the pending arrival of Santa. But many people in Raleigh don’t have the luxury of a full and festive holiday. Take some time this season to give back — whether by something small like donating a few gently used clothing items, through a larger monetary donation to a local organization, or by feeding the hungry.

See The Avett Brothers at PNC Arena for New Years

North Carolina band Avett Brothers is bringing its New Year’s Eve show to PNC Arena with special guest Marcus King, a Grammy-nominated country soul musician from Greenville, South Carolina. While the band has performed a New Year’s Eve concert for more than 20 years, this will be the first time since 2017 that the group has performed at PNC.
Dec. 31 | 8 p.m. From $64; 1400 Edwards Mill Road;

This article was originally published on on December 9, 2022 and updated November 15, 2023