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 Duke Energy 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 14 festive ways to enjoy your Raleigh-days in 2022.

Book a Drive Through Dix Park for Night of Lights

If it’s true what they say — that the third time’s the charm — then this year’s WRAL Night of Lights at Dix Park will offer even more holiday cheer than the previous two. Fill your car with friends or family to enjoy an illuminated 1.3-mile route through the park’s ancient oak trees and rolling hills, with stops like Glas Studio’s whimsical neon Elf Forest and the bright blue tunnel. There are some new elements to the light extravaganza this year, including a a Holiday Outpost package, where guests can take photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus and purchase refreshments from the Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s The Spinning Plate food truck, and the Igloo Experience, where they’ll spend 45 minutes in a glowing igloo that comes with a festive snack box and carafe of hot chocolate or hot apple cider. 
All month; From $20; 1251 Goode Street; 

Laugh Out Loud at Raleigh Little Theatre’s Cinderella

For kid-friendly holiday entertainment, consider Raleigh Little Theatre’s annual take on the Charles Perrault classic. This comical rendition of the timeless fairytale offers festive singing, dancing and costumes mixed with a bit of folklore — and culminates at a grand Christmas Eve ball where there just might be opportunities for the audience to partake in caroling. 
Dec. 2 – 18; 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 A Christmas Carol

An award-winning Triangle tradition since 1974 — that’s also toured in England and France — the Ira David Wood III production of A Christmas Carol infuses the classic Charles Dickens story with humor, warmth and Raleigh nods. Perennial audience members are known to keep their eyes and ears open for new cultural Easter eggs each year, from movie references to political jokes. 
Dec. 9 – 18 | From $36.50; 2 E. South Street and 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 at NCMA

Grab your coziest blanket and comfiest picnic chair for this soul-satisfying show (free and open to the public!) from The Justice Theatre Project at the Joseph M. Bryan Jr. Amphitheater at the North Carolina Museum of Art. Helmed by artistic directors Dr. Asabi (Stephanie Howard) and Ray Watkins, the lively 45-minute rendition of the birth of Jesus Christ is told through West African and contemporary dancing, powerful gospel singing and vibrant costumes. 
Dec 10 | 11:30 a.m.; Free but donations suggested; 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.

Head to Historic Oakwood’s Candlelight Tour

Take a walking tour through Raleigh’s oldest neighborhood and the unique architecture that’s preserved there, from Victorian-era Queen Anne cottages to Neoclassical Revival manors to contemporary designs. With structures dating to the 1800s, the 10-home tour brings guests through interiors while sharing stories of the homes’ history, architecture and inhabitants. “The sights of these beautiful homes in their holiday best is the perfect way to kick off the season,” says Naudain Machen, tour chairperson. “Whether this is your first year attending the Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour or your 51st time, I have no doubt it will put you in the holiday spirit.” While the tour often sells out early, the entire neighborhood gets decked out for this event, so it’s worth a stroll even if you can’t get inside.
Dec. 10 & 11 | 1 – 7 p.m.; From $30; start at 418 N. Person Street;

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.

Hear the North Carolina Master Chorale’s Joy of the Season

Get your evening humming with a playlist of modern holiday tunes like “Silver Bells” and “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas” mixed with classical carols from the voices of the North Carolina Master Chorale. Directed by Alfred E. Sturgis and featuring a brass ensemble, this year’s performance marks a milestone of 80 years for the esteemed choral group. 
Dec. 13 | 7:30 p.m.; From $28; 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.

This article was originally published on on December 9, 2022.