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wilmington holiday events

26 November . 2022

15 Jolly Ways to Experience Wilmington during the Holiday Season

The Holiday season is upon us, and Wilmington is packed with seasonal events to bring nothing but holiday cheer and memorable photos to share. From Christmas flotillas to enchanting candlelight tours, enjoy the season with your friends and family in the Port City.

1. Cape Fear Festival of Trees | November 18th-January 2nd

One of Wilmington’s oldest and favorite holiday traditions is the Cape Fear Festival of Trees. Festively decorated trees light up the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher each year and create a unique opportunity to experience the coastal wildlife of the Cape Fear region during the holiday season.

2. Downtown Wilmington Holiday Tree Lighting |November 25th

Enjoy the start of the holiday season with a coastal flare during the Downtown Wilmington’s Christmas Tree Lighting. Stroll the award-winning Wilmington Riverwalk while listening to live holiday music and take photos with Santa and Mrs. Clause. The official countdown starts at 6:25pm, so we strongly encourage you to arrive early!

3. Enchanted Airlie Gardens | November 25th & 26th, December 2nd-22nd

Enchanted Airlie Gardens is Wilmington’s most beloved holiday event. Stand in awe of the 67-acre gardens that are illuminated by sparking lights and festive illuminated flowers. Take in the sounds of holiday music while exploring the natural beauty of Wilmington’s historic gardens.

4. All is Bright at Poplar Grove | Opens Thanksgiving Weekend

The historic Poplar Grove house and grounds will be decorated with tens of thousands of lights during the dazzling “All is Bright” festival. Fire-pits and marshmallow roasting areas will be available, as well as food trucks and several culinary cuisines. Snap a photo with Santa before writing a letter to the North Pole or to our military men and women serving abroad.

5. Holiday Train and Light Spectacular | November 25th, 26th, December 9th, 10th, 16th, 17th, 23rd

The Wilmington Railroad Museum transforms into a Winter Wonderland with over 25,000 lights, musical animations, and twilight model train displays, this event is sure to dazzle the whole family.

6. NC Holiday Flotilla & Fireworks | November 26th

Since 1983, the NC Flotilla boat parade and fireworks show has a beloved event for those from Wilmington and the newbies. Watch as the waters of Wrightsville Beach shine brightly with over 25 beautifully decorated boats all from local boat owners from the area. A stunning fireworks show will illuminate the night sky following the parade.

7. Christmas by the Sea | November 26th, December 3rd,10th,17th

Embrace Christmas on the North Carolina coast during Christmas by the Sea in Carolina Beach. This multi-day event features festive lights, holiday treats, and special appearances from Santa himself. This free event is held on the Carolina Beach Boardwalk and ideal for the whole family.

8. Manheim Steamroller Christmas | November 28th

Mannheim Steamroller is an American staple during the Christmas season for over 35 years. Experience stunning multimedia effects and classic Christmas tunes that will delight all ages. The Wilson Center will host this spectacular event to kickstart the holiday season.

9. Riverlights Festival of Trees| December 3rd

Ballerinas and Santa

Celebrate all things holly and jolly at Riverlights’ 2nd Annual Festival of Trees. From 3pm-7pm, shop from 30+ local vendors selling holiday décor, personalized gifts, and locally sourced products. Take a break from shopping to enjoy street performances of The Nutcracker, holiday music from the Eugene Ashley High School band, and photo ops with Santa and "Frozen" characters. At dusk, Live Oak Commons will shine brightly as we light a 20' Christmas tree and several others from local nonprofits.

10. Carolina Beach Christmas Parade| December 2nd

The Annual Carolina Beach Christmas Parade creates a memorable night of holiday cheer and entertainment for all ages. Holiday floats, bands, and Santa will line the streets of Carolina Beach, creating a coastal twist on traditional street parades.

11. Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla| December 3rd

Life is better on the water, especially during the Island of Lights Christmas Flotilla. Locals have the chance to show off their decorating skills on board and delight the water way in Carolina Beach.

12. Leland in Lights: Grand Illumination| December 3rd

Immerse yourself in candy cane trees and twinkling lights during Leland in Lights. The 6-week festive event kicks off on December 3rd at Founders Park with Mayor Bozeman, meet and greets with Santa, and rides on the Leland Express.

13. The Nutcracker Ballet | December 3rd & 4th

A timeless production of the Nutcracker Ballet will take the Wilson Center stage this Christmas season. Watch as the Wilmington City Ballet tells the enchanting story of the Nutcracker through music and dance. A live professional orchestra will accompany the ballerinas for a truly memorable experience.

14. Old Wilmington Candlelight Tour | December 10th & 11th

Look inside the beautiful, historic homes Downtown Wilmington is renowned for during the Old Wilmington Candlelight Tour. This can’t-miss holiday event is celebrating its 50th anniversary, which speaks to its popularity with locals and tourists. Explore historic homes, churches, and other architectural structures during this magical and educational holiday event

15. Dashing Thru the Glow 5K | December 17th

Runners at Dashing Thru the Glow 5K run

After a three-year hiatus, Dashing Through The Glow is back and bigger than ever! Runners can participate in a 5K or 1 mile run throughout the festively decorated Riverlights community. All participants will receive a Santa hat to wear for the run, meet and take photos with Santa, snack on cookies and hot chocolate, and more.

Christmas by the coast is an experience like no other. Whether you’re competing in a holiday boat decorating competition or watching fireworks on the beach, it’s sure to be a jolly good time.