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Written by:  Deb Mitchell
Date: December 1, 2013

The Charlotte area is bubbling over with fun, family-friendly holiday happenings. With everything from a whole-town light display to farmers’ market-style holiday shopping and a heartfelt celebration of the first Christmas, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. So pack up the cookies and hot chocolate and head to one (or all 12) of these merry holiday “to-do’s.”

1. Holidays on Ice
Whether it’s a winter wonderland in the Queen City or not, WBT Radio brings its annual outdoor skating rink to frost noses and toes in the heart of uptown. Located at the corner of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Brevard Street on the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza, the rink is open from Nov. 22 through Jan. 5. Skate rentals are $3, and the $9 per person admission is good for skating all day. Cash and checks only are accepted on site, but you can purchase tickets online ahead of time to avoid lines at the ATMs near the rink.

2. Holidays at the Garden
Nature is all a-twinkle at Daniel Stowe Botanical Gardens’ annual holiday display. Happening Nov. 22 through Dec. 31, the gardens, located at 6500 South New Hope Road in Belmont, display more than 500,000 lights, as well as wonders such as the perennial favorite Orchid Tree and indoor décor featuring natural elements such as artichokes, berries, and cotton. There are also special days that Santa is planning a visit, plus special craft events. Children can tell him their wish list and have a picture made. Ticket prices vary – check the website for details.

3. ChristmasVille
Be overtaken by holiday spirit Dec. 5 through 8 in downtown Rock Hill for the eighth-annual ChristmasVille event. Actually a composite of more than 70 individual events, four days of festivities include old standbys such as a parade, carriage rides, carolers, kids’ crafts, festive foods and, of course, Santa Claus. The affair also features more unique attractions like mini golf, a Ferris wheel, and on Dec. 8, 20 tons of real snow will be dumped on the Getty’s Art Center parking lot for snow bunnies ages 12 and under to frolic in from noon until … well, until it melts! ChristmasVille is free to enter, but some events do charge for participation.

4. Uptown Charlotte Tree Lighting
The Queen City celebrates the season together at the intersection of Trade and Tryon on Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. as Charlotte’s official tree is lit for the season. Always a festive occasion, the ACC mascots will be in attendance to pump up the crowd even more! Event is free.

5. Gingerbread Lane
A popular holiday tradition at the Ballantyne Hotel and Lodge, Gingerbread Lane is a display of confectionary edifices created by local professional chefs and amateurs alike for the hotel’s annual competition. From Dec. 12-29, the public is invited to view the gingerbread houses and vote on their favorite for the people’s choice award. Plus the event benefits a great cause – the Levine Children’s Hospital. Admission is free, but a minimum donation of $1 is required to vote, and proceeds from the voting goes to Levine Children’s Hospital.

6. Carolina Christmas at Charlotte Motor Speedway
Drive the oval … slowly. More than 3 million lights are displayed along the track for holiday enchantment, NASCAR style. The drive-thru experience opens to the public runs seven nights a week through Dec. 30. At the end of the course, you can park and walk (and eat!) your way through the special Christmas village set up on the infield to visit the petting zoo, a Bethlehem Village complete with live animals and actors, food and gift vendor booths, and photos with Santa. The infield is open Thursday through Sunday nights Admission is $20 per car, $15 per car on nights when the infield village is closed.

7. Christmas at the Library
Celebrate the season with heart at the Billy Graham Library. Visit in the evening to see the live nativity scene and take a horse drawn carriage ride ($7 for adults, $3 for kids) through light displays, or come early and spend the day taking a tour of the Library, viewing the animals from the nativity scene when they’re off duty, shopping at Ruth’s Attic gift shop, and snacking on home-style goodies at the Dairy Bar. Visiting the library is free, but parking after 3 p.m. is $10 per car.

8. Leonard Bernstein Symphony Orchestra
Delight the little ones with a quick trek into uptown Charlotte to visit the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra. The 18-piece display of adorable animatronic bears performs classic holiday songs hourly at Founders Hall in the Bank of America Corporate Center (located at 100 N. Tryon St.) Nov. 25-Dec. 27. Performance times subject to change. Find the Leonard Bearstein Symphony Orchestra page on Facebook for most up-to-date schedule.

9. Breakfast with Santa
Bring the kids to the Matthews Community Center to spend the morning with the jolly old elf! The Town of Matthews Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resource Department is hosting its annual Breakfast with Santa event on Dec. 14 and 21, with sessions at 9 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Kids ages 2-8 can enjoy nibbling on breakfast treats and creating holiday crafts while Mom and Dad snap their photos with Santa! Don’t delay, though, because tickets are required and space is limited. Tickets are $5 per person for both adults and children and are available for purchase by cash or check at the Matthews Community Center, 100 McDowell St., Matthews.

10. Candlelight Tour
If a peek into Christmases past is your thing, Historic Rosedale Plantation, just three miles from the center of uptown on North Tryon Street, hosts a candlelight tour of its Federal-period house on Dec. 7 from 4 to 6 p.m. Docents portray Dr. David Caldwell and his wife, Harriet, who owned the then 919-acre plantation in the 1830s. The nostalgia continues with the sounds of a hand-bell choir, and refreshments served in the English basement kitchen after the tour. Cost is $10 for adults, $8 for students in grades K-12.

11. Christmas Town USA
Each year since 1956, the town of McAdenville, located in Gaston County, has glowed with holiday lights, attracting national attention and countless visitors. The display has grown from a few trees around McAdenville Lake to more than 375 live trees, 200 wreaths, and a 46-foot wide image of Old Man Winter blowing snowflakes over the lake. This year, the festivities kick off with a tree-lighting ceremony on Dec. 2 and continue each night until Dec. 26. The two-mile route is drivable or you can walk, and there’s no admission fee either way, but be prepared to wait in traffic, especially on weekend nights.

12. Miracle on 34th Street
Take in a theatrical production of the classic holiday film in the family-friendly atmosphere of ImaginOn. The Children’s Theater of Charlotte offers its magical take on the favorite storyline for weekend showings through Dec. 22. ImaginOn is located at 300 E. 7th Street. Tickets start at $12.

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