Everyone knows that Green Global Travel is crazy passionate about ecotourism and nature conservation. But unless you’re a long-time reader, you might not know that our family is equally kookoo for Christmas. From mid-November right up through Christmas Eve, we make a point of attending as many Atlanta Christmas events as we possibly can. We won’t even travel in the weeks before the holidays, to make sure we have ample quality time to celebrate the season! What follows is a list of our Top 20 annual Atlanta Christmas events, from concerts and theatrical performances to fundraising parties and parades:
ASO GOSPEL CHRISTMAS (Symphony Hall- Dec 8)
Putting a different spin on “feeling the Spirit,” the ASO Gospel Chorus started out as a Gospel Christmas Choir founded in the ‘80s by Sallie B. Parrish, a.k.a. “Atlanta’s First Lady Of Gospel.” Now these amazing vocalists culled from churches across Atlanta lift every voice and sing under the direction of Leroy Henderson (Associate Music Director at Elizabeth Baptist Church). Conducted by Vincent Danner, the show will raise the Symphony Hall roof with a rousing mixture of traditional and modern gospel favorites.
ASO KID’S CHRISTMAS (Symphony Hall, Dec 15)
Looking to turn your kids on to the joys of symphonic music? Start them off with this annual holiday favorite, which features conductor Jere Flint, narrator John Lemley, and the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra leading a hall filled with Christmas-loving kids as they get their holly jolly on. They’ll perform a variety of classic carols and popular favorites that audiences of all ages will want to sing and perhaps even (Jingle Bell) rock along with.
ATLANTA BALLET’S NUTCRACKER (Fox Theatre, Dec 6-29)
The Atlanta Ballet’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece has been an integral part of the city’s holiday season for over 40 years now. The show tells the timeless tale of young Clara Stahlbaum, who awakes at midnight on Christmas Eve to find her prized Nutcracker toy has come to life to do battle with the Mouse King’s army. From dancing snowflakes to lively Russian nesting dolls, the extravagant production is sure to prove a hit with youthful spirits ages 8 to 80.
CHILDREN’S CHRISTMAS PARADE (Peachtree St in Midtown, Dec 7)
If you can’t make it to the Big Apple for NYC’s legendary Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, this annual event benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is a scaled-down, free alternative. Peachtree St is magically transformed into “Santa Claus Lane,” with dozens of floats, giant balloon characters, and marching bands, making this the largest Christmas parade in the Southeast. But of course the main attraction is the arrival of Jolly Ol’ St Nick himself, ringing in the heart of Atlanta’s holiday season.
CHRISTMAS AT CALLANWOLDE (Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, Dec 6-17)
We’re huge supporters of the Atlanta cultural community, and Callanwolde is one of the city’s most storied arts organizations. Their annual fundraiser finds the 27,000-sq ft Late Gothic Revival mansion– which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973– decked out in fancy boughs of holly and fa la la by the ATL’s top interior and floral designers. With tours of the mansion, live performances, shopping and seasonal workshops, it’s one heck of a swanky way to welcome in the holiday season.
A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Alliance Theatre, Nov 29-Dec 29)
Now in its 24th year, the Alliance’s production of Dickens’ timeless classic features Broadway-style stage design, beloved Christmas carols, and some of Atlanta’s finest thespians. This year’s version will likely be bittersweet, as Chris Kayser has announced it will be his last playing Ebenezer Scrooge, the tight-fisted, cold-hearted miser who is haunted by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. As Kayser steps down after 20 years, the Alliance also celebrates the debut of Jaden Robinson, a former foster child, in the role of Tiny Tim. It’s sure to be an emotional rendering of this perennial holiday favorite.
CHRISTMAS WITH THE ASO (Symphony Hall, Dec 13 & Dec 14)
Robert Shaw was a titan in the classical world, winning 14 Grammys, 1991 Kennedy Center Honors, and the first Guggenheim Fellowship ever awarded to a conductor. “Christmas With The ASO” was the holiday-loving legend’s gift to Atlanta, and this year marks the show’s 46th anniversary. Conductor Norman Mackenzie will lead the ASO Chorus, Morehouse College Glee Club, and Gwinnett Young Singers through Shaw’s 4-part musical take on the story of Christmas. If the sound of 400+ singers and musicians working in tandem doesn’t invigorate your holiday spirit, you may want to check your pulse.
FANTASY IN LIGHTS (Callaway Gardens, Nov 22-Dec 30)
Rated by National Geographic as one of the Top 10 Christmas Light Displays in the World, Callaway Gardens’ Fantasy In Lights is truly a wondrous sight to behold. The centerpiece is a 5-mile drive lined with 8 million lights, divided thematically into 14 sections that include “Snowflake Valley” and “Magical Christmas Garden,” with festive Christmas music playing throughout. There are also narrated scenes of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas and The Nativity; a Christmas Village offering holiday gifts and collectibles, food and photo ops with Santa and Rudolph; and a “Jolly Trolley” tour for those who’d prefer not to drive their own cars.
GARDEN NIGHTS, HOLIDAY LIGHTS (Atlanta Botanical Garden, through Jan 4)
This annual celebration of the season brightens the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s 30 acres with 1 million colorful LED lights. All of the garden’s pathways will be lit up, with stars shining down from the canopies of hardwood trees, teal and blue lights illuminating a stretch of crepe myrtles, and a 27-foot-tall tree next to a fountain that reflects the twinkling lights in enchanting patterns. There’s a strong nature theme throughout, as guests walk past giant snowflakes, bumblebees, and a huge “praying Santa mantis” while listening to strolling carolers and sipping hot cocoa or tea.
GLOBAL WINTER WONDERLAND (Turner Field Green Lot, Nov 21 through Jan 5)
Hartsfield-Jackson is the world’s busiest airport, bringing 95 million passengers through Atlanta every year. So it makes sense that the city should host this new holiday celebration of global culture, complete with larger-than-life lanterns, international music and cuisine, and a look at myriad holiday traditions all around the world. Sundays will be culturally themed days, including a Latin Fiesta (Dec 1), Asian Heritage Festival (Dec 8), Black Family Celebration (Dec 15), Europa Extravaganza (Dec 22), and Caribbean Carnival (Dec 29).
HANDEL’S MESSIAH (Symphony Hall, Dec 5 & Dec 7)
Composed in 1741, with lyrics culled from the King James Bible and the Book Of Common Prayer, Messiah wasn’t what you’d call a breakout hit after its London premiere. But in the ensuing 268 years, it has emerged as one of the most frequently performed choral works. ASO Director of Choruses Norman Mackenzie and the ASO Chamber Chorus will bring this timeless classic to life, performing the Christmas portion of Handel’s masterpiece. They’ll also perform the Magnificat (based on the canticle of Mary as told in the Gospel of Luke), which J.S. Bach composed in 1723 for Christmas Vespers in Leipzig.
HOLIDAY IN LIGHTS (Centennial Olympic Park, Nov 23-Jan 7)
You’d have a better chance of finding ice cubes in Hades than you would of seeing snow in Atlanta on Christmas. But Centennial Olympic Park’s annual holiday celebration gives kids of all ages a chance to strap on their skates and take a spin on the city’s only outdoor ice-skating rink, with theatrical lighting and festive holiday music to set the wintry mood. The 21-acre park is also festooned with thousands of twinkling lights and a huge Christmas tree, with its stunning view of the city skyline making it a picturesque place for a nighttime stroll.
INVASION: CHRISTMAS CAROL (Fabrecation Theatre, Nov 29-Dec 23; Alliance Theatre, Dec 15 & 18)
Dickens’ beloved Christmas fable gets a major makeover in this irreverent production from the comedy masterminds of Dad’s Garage. A unique mixture of scripted drama and hilarious improv, the show features classic characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim, but each night they’ll be visited by different ghosts (which have, in the past, ranged from the A-Team to Ted Nugent), all of which are a complete surprise to the cast. Regardless of who shows up, one thing’s for sure: You’ll never again view this hoary holiday chestnut in quite the same way.
LIGHTING OF MACY’S GREAT TREE (Macy’s Lenox Square, Thanksgiving Day)
Though the name and location of the store have changed over the years, this annual celebration of the beginning of the Christmas season has otherwise been the same for 65 years now. It all began in 1948, when Rich’s department store put a large pine tree atop its flagship downtown Atlanta location, lighting it on Thanksgiving night. The famous Pink Pig monorail ride was added in 1953, and returned as a more conventional train ride in 2004. Though Rich’s and Macy’s merged in 2006, the annual lighting of the Great Tree remains one of Atlanta’s most beloved and historic holiday traditions.
MAGICAL NIGHTS OF LIGHTS (Lake Lanier Islands, through Dec 31)
This winter wonderland offers enough more than enough holiday joy to get Scrooge and the Grinch into the Christmas spirit. Billed as the world’s largest light extravaganza, Magical Nights of Lights features a 7-mile drive filled with colorful themed displays such as “The 12 Days of Christmas.” At the end you’ll find an impressive array of carnival rides and games, blazing bonfires for roasting marshmallows, and Santa’s Workshop, where you can meet jolly ol’ St Nick himself!
RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (Center for Puppetry Arts, through Dec 29)
If you grew up loving the Rankin/Bass Christmas special, you’d be forgiven for being skeptical about this stage adaptation of the claymation classic. But director Jon Ludwig and his talented team of puppeteers nail it, remaining lovingly faithful to the source material while adding some unique production twists that really bring the show to life. From the opening strains of “We Are Santa’s Elves” to the return of the Abominable Snow Monster, this is as “holly jolly” as a Christmas show can get.
STONE MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS (Stone Mountain Park, through Dec 31)
This annual celebration at Stone Mountain Park is one of our family’s favorite holiday traditions. For 6 weeks the Crossroads village is lit up by 2 million lights, and the mountain’s famous carving is illuminated by a Christmas-themed laser show (hot chocolate and roasted marshmallows optional). There are also nightly Christmas parades featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus, sing-along train rides, photo ops with a beautiful Snow Angel and, new this year, Rudolph and Abominable Snow Monster costumed characters.
URBAN NUTCRACKER (Ferst Center for the Arts, Nov 21-24; Southwest Arts Center, Dec 21-22)
Ballethnic Dance Company’s take on the beloved holiday classic adds an urban cultural twist, setting the story on Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue during the 1940s. The characters are more modern and funky, from “Reggae Ragdolls” and a spinning, leaping “Black Russian” to “Mother Spice & Her Tumbling Spice Drops” and the elegant “Brown Sugar.” With a “Coca Cola Pas de Six,” this is definitely not your grandmother’s stodgy old Tchaikovsky.
A VERY MERRY HOLIDAY POPS (Symphony Hall, Dec 19- 21)
Principal Pops conductor Michael Krajewski is understandably excited about this year’s Holiday Pops concert, which will feature the ASO, various high school choruses, and a full drum line along with special guest Liz Callaway. Callaway, a Tony nominee and Emmy winner, made her Broadway debut in Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along, and played Grizabella in Cats for 5 years. Still, she may have a hard time stealing the spotlight from the ASO’s popular jitterbugging Santa.
WINTER WONDERLAND (Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Nov 22-Jan 5)
Now in its fourth year, Fernbank’s Winter Wonderland is one of the best Atlanta Christmas events for families. The exhibition features more than 30 festive trees decorated by a diverse array of cultural partners to reflect holiday traditions from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, North America and South America. For kids, there will also be a “Holly Jolly Film Fest” from Nov 30 to Dec 21, featuring family-friendly holiday films, seasonal crafts, a Dinosaur Dance Party, and a costumed Santa-saurus. It’s a wonderful way to learn more about holiday celebrations all around the world. –Bret Love
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