12 Ways Charlotte Families Can Celebrate the Holidays

Holiday merriment is around every corner throughout the month of December. From a whole-town light display to a winter ice rink under the uptown lights, singing bears and the classic “Nutcracker” ballet, there’s something for everyone to enjoy this holiday season. Pack up the cookies and hot chocolate and head out for one — or all 12 — of these merry holiday experiences.

Lace up your skates and glide across the ice at Founders Holiday Ice Rink in Rock Hill beginning Nov. 16. Three other outdoor rinks are open throughout the season, including Holiday on Ice uptown, The Ice Rink in Concord and Winter Wonderland at SouthPark’s Symphony Park.

Photo by Mike Baker

1. Go Ice Skating

Finding a place to ice skate is easier than ever this holiday season with four outdoor ice-skating rinks open for the season. WBT and K107.9 The Link bring the annual Holiday on Ice skating rink to the heart of uptown again. Located at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Plaza, the rink is open through Jan. 6, 2019. Special events include Princess and Superhero Day on Dec. 9. Admission is $10 for all-day skating, and skate rentals are $4. Standard hours are Wednesday through Friday, 5-10 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m., and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays when Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools are out. .

Winter Wonderland is located between Symphony Park and SouthPark Mall. The 5,000 square-foot ice-skating rink features holiday lights and décor, as well as attractions like Santa’s Pub and a coffee shop, live music, special guests and activities throughout the season, including live country music artists every Friday night. Winter Wonderland opens Nov. 17. Find hours and special event information at winterwonderlandsouthpark.com.

Rock Hill also has its very own outdoor ice-skating rink. The Founders Holiday Ice Rink, located just across from Fountain Park on Saluda Street in Rock Hill, is opens Nov. 16 through Jan. 21, 2019. Admission is $10 and includes skate rentals for two hours on the ice. Every Wednesday is buy one, get one skate passes.

The Ice Park at Concord Mills also has an outdoor skating rink open Nov. 16 through the holidays. Tickets are $12 and includes skates.

2. Take a Winter Garden Walk

Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden’s winter wonderland Holiday Lights at the Garden includes more than 600,000 lights and illuminated displays of twinkling trees and sparkling fountains, plus the new illuminated prairie garden. The event is open daily from 5-9 p.m., Nov. 23-Jan. 6, 2019, but closed Christmas Day. Mrs. Claus visits Friday through Sunday, Nov. 23 through Dec. 23. Tickets are $7.95-$16.95, and free for members and children age 2 and younger. Save a few dollars by buying advance tickets online.

Ride the carousel and Ferris wheel at ChristmasVille, Nov. 29-Dec. 2, in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

3. Ride a Ferris Wheel

Four days of holiday festivities await at ChristmasVille in Old Town Rock Hill, Nov. 29-Dec. 2. Come for the parade, carriage rides, carolers, kids’ crafts, festive foods, gingerbread house workshops and, of course, visits with Santa. Then stick around for the Ferris wheel, Lego creation contest, carousel, a rock-climbing wall and ice-skating rink. ChristmasVille is free to enter, but some events do charge for participation.

4. See a Singing Christmas Tree

A Charlotte classic for more than 60 years, the Singing Christmas Tree is a specially designed 32-foot “tree” filled with members of Carolina Voices. The Singing Christmas Tree for Kids is an hour-long version of The Singing Christmas Tree. Members of the Carolina Voices choir are joined by Grey Seal Puppets, dancers from Miller Street Dance Academy, Carolina Kids’ Voices Choir and Santa. Two performances are planned: Dec. 8 at 11 a.m. and Dec. 9 at 1:30 p.m. at Knight Theater uptown. Recommended for children ages 3-10. Tickets are $15-$23.

5. Talk a Walk on Gingerbread Lane

A display of whimsical confectionary edifices created by local professional chefs, amateurs and kids are on display for the annual Gingerbread Lane gingerbread house competition at the Ballantyne Hotel Dec. 6-26. Admission is free, but for $1 attendees may vote on their favorite gingerbread house creation. All proceeds from the voting benefits Levine Children’s Hospital.

6. Drive the Track at Charlotte Motor Speedway

Ease onto the Charlotte Motor Speedway for a 3.5-mile loop around the track to see more than 3 million lights synced to music. Speedway Christmas is open daily Nov. 18-Dec. 31, 6-10 p.m. The Christmas Village, which includes a petting zoo, a Bethlehem village, photos with Santa and new this year: a 50-foot Ferris wheel, is open Thursday-Sunday, Nov. 18 through Dec. 31 from 6-10 p.m., and every evening Christmas week. Add in a drive-in movie experience Thursday through Sunday with the giant Speedway TV that casts favorite holiday movies. See the website for movie schedule. Tickets range in price from $20-$30 per car depending on day of week. 

7. Take a Carriage Ride

Take a horse-drawn carriage ride through light displays at Billy Graham Library during Christmas at the Library, Nov 29-Dec. 22. There is also a live nativity that includes shepherds, a camel, donkey, lambs and other animals, and special Christmas story times on the Billy Graham Library patio. Carriage rides are available Monday-Thursday from 5 to 9 p.m., and Friday, 5-10 p.m. and Saturday from 2 to 10 p.m. Carriage rides are $8 for adults, $4 for kids. The nativity and story times are free of charge. Visit between noon and 2 p.m. for a chance to pet the nativity animals. Visiting the library is free and parking is free.

8. See the Singing Bears

The display of well-dressed animatronic bears perform classic holiday songs at Founders Hall in the Bank of America Corporate Center. The 45-minute performances are free and include time-honored holiday classics, such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” Check the Leonard Bearstein Bears Facebook page for updates on performance dates and times.

WinterFest debuts this year at Carowinds and includes wandering performers and dazzling on-stage performances.

9. Ride a Rollercoaster

Carowinds' Winterfest transforms the theme park into a magical winter wonderland this holiday season with a 70-foot Christmas tree, lavish holiday displays and performances, wandering performers, and 5 million lights decorating the state line between North and South Carolina. Kids also can make cookies with Mrs. Claus. The most exciting part for all ages, however, may be the 16 rides that are open for a winter thrill. Winterfest is open select nights Nov. 18-Dec. 31. Tickets start at $26 when you buy online.

10. Drive Through Christmas Town USA

For more than 60 years, the town of McAdenville, located in Gaston County, has glowed with holiday lights that attract 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 Nov. 30, with a tree-lighting ceremony Dec. 1, and continue each night until Dec. 26. The lights glow Monday through Friday, 5.30-9:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 5:30-11 p.m. The 2-mile route is drivable or you can walk. There’s no admission fee, but be prepared to wait in traffic, especially on weekend nights. 

11. See 'The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The Musical'

The most popular show of all time at Children’s Theatre of Charlotte is back. This musical comedy, adapted from Barbara Robinson’s classic story, follows the Herdman kids —”the worst kids ever” — who decide they want to be in the Christmas pageant after hearing there are free snacks at Sunday School. Hilarity follows as the Herdmans put their twists to the traditional Christmas pageant plans. Performances are scheduled Friday through Sunday, Nov. 23-Dec. 23. Tickets start at $15. Recommended for ages 4 and older.

12. Have a Family Date at 'Nutcracker'

Charlotte Ballet presents the classic “Nutcracker” story of Clara and the battle between the Mouse and the Nutcracker at Belk Theater at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater Dec. 7-23. The Charlotte Ballet “Nutcracker” premiered with vibrant new sets and costumes in 2016, and includes a snowfall, jumping candy canes and the iconic Sugar Plum Fairy.

Other dance schools in the area also have “Nutcracker” performances scheduled, including Charlotte Youth Ballet that performs its “Nutcracker” Nov. 30-Dec. 2 at Halton Theater. And for a different twist on the traditional "Nutcracker," check out "The Hip Hop Nutcracker" at Knight Theater, Dec. 26-29.

Find more holiday happenings at charlotteparent.com/calendar.

Michele Huggins is the editor of Charlotte Parent magazine.