By: Traci Mangus
The holidays in historic Charleston are full of festive parades, Christmas lights, and holiday art performances! If you’re planning to visit Charleston during the holidays, you’ve made the right choice.
Visiting Charleston in the winter is a great way to escape the cold, and there is no shortage of fun holiday activities for the entire family to enjoy. Whether you want to relax in a beach vacation rental and sip hot cider or explore historic Charleston and take part in the seasonal festivities, the city is a great place to usher in the magic of the holiday season.
Ready to kick off the holiday season, Holy City-style? Here are some of the best ways to experience the holidays in Historic Charleston:
Charleston Holiday Parades
Craft brews, delicious food, live music, and family-friendly activities can all be found at one of the many holiday parades in Charleston this year. Here are a few that can’t be missed:
City of Charleston Holiday Parade
When: December 3, 2017 at 3:00 p.m.
Where: Colonial Lake, Broad Street, King Street, and concluding at Marion Square
The Holiday Parade is one of Charleston’s best traditions. Hosted by the City of Charleston and the Charleston Fire Department, the parade will feature bands, performers, floats, and other entertainment to celebrate the season and get your family into the holiday spirit.
Holiday Parade of Boats
When: December 9, 2017, 5-8 p.m.
Where: Charleston Harbor
Another beloved Lowcountry tradition, the 36th Annual Holiday Parade of Boats offers a dazzling display of lights as boats decorated for the season sail past the viewing docks.
Part of the fun is attending the parade’s official viewing party! Located at the Charleston Maritime Center, guests can snack on festive foods and listen as their favorite holiday carols fill the air.
Small Town Beach Parades
Are you staying in a cozy beach vacation rental? You’ll want to experience at least one beach town parade during the holiday season.
One that can’t be missed is the annual Christmas Parade on Folly Beach. On December 9th, Santa will parade through the streets of Folly Beach as candy and other goodies are handed out to the kids.
Staying in the Town of Mount Pleasant? Check out their quaint parade. A tree-lighting and fireworks display will kick things off before more than 100 floats parade down Coleman Boulevard, delighting all who attend.
28th Annual Holiday Festival of Lights
There is no doubt about it—Charleston has some of the best festivals in the country. From Spoleto to the Lowcountry Oyster Festival, there is always something to look forward to, and the Holiday Festival of Lights is no exception.
Now in its 28th year, the Annual Holiday Festival of Lights is back and promises to deliver more excitement than ever before. Held at James Island County Park, the event is known for its three miles of stunning, multicolored light displays, and it has been named one of the “10 Best Holiday Light Shows in America” by USA Today.
The festival is more than just a driving tour; the Holiday Festival of Lights organizers welcome visitors to park their cars and explore the large, decorated walking path, visiting shops and partaking in holiday activities along the way.
The event runs from November 10th to January 1st, giving you ample opportunities to experience a magical evening that will create cherished memories for years to come.
Tree-Lighting Ceremonies in Charleston
Tree-lighting ceremonies mark the beginning of the holiday season for many people, and Charleston kicks things off with multiple tree lightings. From the official Charleston tree lighting to the celebration of Chanukah, the following tree-lighting ceremonies are sure to dazzle and delight the entire family:
Charleston Official Tree Lighting
When: December 3, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
If you thought Charleston’s church steeples were a beautiful sight, imagine a 64-foot lighted tree against Charleston’s skyline. Attend early to experience the festive performances from music and arts organizations in Marion Square, which will culminate the lighting of the 64-foot Holiday Tree of Lights.
Chanukah in the Square
When: December 17, 2017 at 4:30 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
This festive party is free and features music, dancing, and, of course, the lighting of the nine-foot Menorah. Charleston’s local Holocaust survivors continue the tradition of lighting the Menorah in this special Jewish celebration.
With special treats, including potato latkes and other traditional Chanukah foods, you will want to bring your appetite to this event!
Kwanzaa Kinara Lighting
When: December 26, 2017 at 5:00 p.m.
Where: Marion Square
For more than 40 years, Charleston has kicked off Kwanzaa celebrations with a special lighting of the Kwanzaa Kinara in downtown Charleston at Marion Square. Join the community in the celebrations and enjoy music, dancing, and readings from Lowcountry Kwanzaa leaders.
Light the Lake
When: December 1, 2017 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Colonial Lake Park
Stop by one of Charleston’s most popular parks for the Colonial Lake Christmas Tree Lighting! Enjoy food trucks and hot cocoa and a DJ playing your favorite holiday tunes as the famous Charleston Christmas Tree is lit in the middle of the lake, glimmering for all to see.
Holiday Performing Arts
Charleston has boasted a thriving arts scene for years. From improv comedy to musical performances, the Holy City always has fine performances being held in one of its historic venues.
The holidays are the perfect time to catch a festive show with the family. Whether you want a family-friendly musical performance or wish to celebrate the season with your significant other, these shows are sure to be a delight:
Annie – Dec. 1 – 17
For a family-friendly performance, be sure to catch Annie at the Footlight Players Theatre on Queen Street. This musical will warm everyone’s heart with the tale of a little orphan girl’s quest to find her family.
A Christmas Carol – Nov. 29 – Dec. 20
Presented at the historic Dock Street Theatre, the Charleston Stage brings the critically acclaimed musical adaption of Charles Dickens’ classic holiday tale to life this year. Prepare to be dazzled by colorful costumes, a live orchestra, and a professional cast that will help you ring in the holidays.
A Christmas Story, The Musical – Dec. 22 – 24
Laugh along with the entire family with the hilarious tale of Ralphie Parker’s desperate quest to get an official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle. Directed by Tony Award winner John Rando, this new Broadway musical will be coming to the North Charleston Performing Arts Center just in time for Christmas.
Holiday Strings – Dec. 13
The Charleston Symphony Orchestra (SCO) string quartet is sure to get you into the holiday spirit with Holiday Strings, a performance featuring your favorite holiday tunes. Held at the historic Charleston Library Society on King Street, don’t miss your chance to mingle with the musicians at the reception following the concert.
Nutcracker – Dec. 2 – 3
This holiday classic has become synonymous with Christmas and is now a treasured holiday tradition for fans of ballet. Take in the magical sights and sounds at the Charleston Gaillard Center this December and witness the adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s famous composition.
Holiday Cabaret, Dec 1-22
Stuffed with your favorite holiday songs, Charleston’s best original Christmas show is bound to get you singing along. Hosted by the Charleston Performing Arts Center, this cheery cabaret brings C-PAC’s signature Reindeer for pure, holiday fun. Check out their “Dinner and a Show” tickets for a mouth-watering 3-course dinner at Edison, followed by the show at the theatre!
Holiday Runs for Charity Organizations
The holidays are a time to partake in charitable giving. What better way to give back than by signing up for a holiday race?Get some healthy exercise and give back this holiday season by participating in one of these holiday runs:
4th Annual Cocoa Cup 5K
Presented by Fleet Feet Sports, the 4th Annual Cocoa Cup 5K is charitable fun for the entire family. Whether you’re running with your kids in the one-mile kid’s fun run or tackling the 5K, you’ll get a warm feeling inside at the end of the race. Whether this feeling is from the complimentary hot cocoa you get at the finish line or from supporting the Lowcountry Food Bank, we can’t be certain.
27th Annual Reindeer Run – Dec. 2
Run through the lower peninsula of downtown Charleston in this family-oriented, pet-friendly race! Presented by Half-Moon Outfitters, the 5K run/walk starts near the corner of East Bay and Queen Street, taking participants along the beautiful Charleston Battery. Funds generated from the Reindeer Run will help build the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital that will open in 2019.
2017 Jingle Bell Run – Dec. 9
Support the Arthritis Foundation this holiday season by racing in the Jingle Bell Run. This run will help raise awareness and funds for America’s #1 cause of disability.
Held at Riverfront Park, you can run with a team of friends and family or fly solo, with 100 percent of your registration fee going toward a great cause!
Other Holiday Happenings
It’s impossible to list all the fun events during the holidays in historic Charleston. If you’re looking for a few more festive events to do in the Holy City, these are some of our recommendations:
Holiday Market at Marion Square
Take advantage of Charleston’s mild weather and venture through the Holiday Market at Marion Square. In addition to the regulars, holiday vendors will feature festive foods, art, and produce. Listen to the live band, take part in the Christmas carols, and let the kids get free visits and photos with Santa.
Christmas 1860 at the Edmondston-Alston House
On a regular day, stepping inside the Edmondston-Alston House will have you feeling as though you’ve traveled back in time. On Dec. 1 and 8, the historic house will be decorated like it would have been in 1860, allowing you to experience Christmas in Charleston just before the beginning of the Civil War.
For history buffs, this one is a can’t miss. The theatrical performers are adorned in period costumes and shed light on what life would be like before their lives would forever change.
Family Yuletide in the Stableyards
On Saturday, December 15, historic Middleton Place presents “Family Yuletide in the Stableyards,” a holiday favorite for families in Charleston. Gather around a warm fire for a night of storytelling, caroling, and craft demonstrations. The live nativity scene featuring the plantation’s animals is always a favorite feature, along with the delicious hot cider and seasonal refreshments.
Holiday Market and Craft Show
Whimsical crafts, baked goods, and homemade preserves can all be found at the annual Holiday Market & Craft Show at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market Pavilion. Stop by on December 9 and find a treasured, holiday keepsake ornament to take home with you from one of the many local craftsmen and artists.
Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation
Looking for a fun date night activity? Buy your tickets to Wine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall and celebrate the season with delicious food and wine pairings, along with wine and cooking demonstrations by some of the finest chefs in Charleston. The plantation looks stunning with all its holiday decorations, making it a night you’ll always remember.
With its mild weather and lighter crowds, the holidays are the perfect time for you to explore everything that Charleston has to offer. Whether you are a local or simply visiting the Holy City, there are many holiday activities that will bring joy to the entire family.