From mid-November right up through Christmas Eve, we make a point of attending as many different Atlanta Christmas events as we possibly can. We won’t even travel in the weeks before the holidays, just to make sure we have ample quality time to celebrate the season!
These 2018 Christmas events will be especially special for us, as this is my daughter’s last year at home before she heads off to college. Fortunately, her impending independence seems to be making her nostalgic for her childhood, and reliving those holiday memories she holds most dear.
What follows is a list of our favorite things to do in Atlanta in December, from concerts and theatrical performances to Christmas light displays, fundraising parties, and parades.
- Atlanta Christmas Lights
- Christmas Events for Kids in Atlanta
- Christmas Shows in Atlanta
- Atlanta Christmas Concerts
- Atlanta Charity Events for Christmas
- Unique Christmas Things to do in Atlanta
- Georgia Christmas Day Trips
ATLANTA CHRISTMAS LIGHTS
(Callaway Gardens, Nov 16-Jan 5)
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.
Callanwolde Fine Arts Center (Nov 23-Dec 9)
One of the most upscale places to see Christmas lights in Atlanta, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center’s annual celebration of the season centers around their Designer Show House.
Now in its 4oth year, this beloved tradition welcomes visitors to a 27,000 square foot mansion where each room is elaborately decorated by some of the city’s top floral and interior designers.
At night, the Fine Art Center’s 12-acre campus is all aglow, with the buildings and trees festively decorated by the pros at Illuminating Design. Daily events include: Tours, Live Entertainment, Holiday Shopping, and Family Activities.
(Atlanta Botanical Garden, Nov 17-Jan 6)
This annual celebration of the season brightens the Atlanta Botanical Garden’s 30 acres with millions of colorful low energy-consuming 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.
Some of our favorite returning features include Brilliant Bugs fluttering through rows of corn in the Edible Garden; the Lady At the Lake’s shimmering locks; and the glowing Orchestral Orbs, which dance with color and light to the sounds of festive holiday tunes.
Last year’s newest section was the world’s largest curtain of synchronized lights in the Nature’s Wonders display, which showcases our planet’s natural phenomena through countless strands of dancing lights choreographed to music and sound effects strung high over Storza Woods.
(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 70 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. I have fond memories of performing there back in 1980, as a member of the Atlanta Boy Choir.
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.
(Lake Lanier Islands, Nov 16-Jan 3)
One of our favorite ways to celebrate Christmas in Georgia, this winter wonderland holds a special place in our hearts because it’s where Mary and I shared our first kiss on our second date! Billed as the world’s largest light extravaganza, Magical Nights of Lights features a 7-mile drive filled with colorful displays such as “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
Now in its 26th year, the Buford-based attraction will get a much-needed update that will include 19 new displays created in partnership with Margaritaville at Lanier Islands. These include Jimmy Buffet-themed tropical displays such as the “It’s 5 o’ Clock Somewhere” clock.
For an additional charge of $24.99, visitors can also explore the new License to Chill Snow Island. The attraction includes winter-themed carnival rides, an ice skating rink, a fire pit for roasting S’mores, specialty winter drinks, and an all-new snow tubing hill that promises to be the fastest in the United States.
Make sure you pay a visit to Santa’s Workshop, where you can meet and take photos with jolly ol’ St Nick himself!
READ MORE: The Best Christmas Light Displays in Georgia
(Stone Mountain Park, Nov 10-Jan 6)
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, Rudolph, and the Abominable Snow Monster costumed characters.
(Battery Atlanta, Nov 30 – Dec 25)
One of the newer ways to celebrate Christmas in Georgia, this is the second year for this annual holiday event at the Battery Atlanta, the 1.5 million square foot mixed-use development adjacent to SunTrust Park.
It starts at 7 PM on November 30 with the Tree Lighting ceremony, which will feature special guests including several Atlanta Braves players and Santa Claus himself. Visitors that night will get the first chance to experience the Battery’s new immersive Holiday Light Show, with Christmas music all night and holiday classic The Polar Express being shown on the plaza’s big screen.
There are free visits and photos with Santa at the SunTrust onUp Experience every Thursday through Sunday, as well as on Christmas Eve. There will also be a low-sensory Santa experience for special needs families on December 2, 9, and 16 (10AM to noon), and Santa Paws Night for your four-legged friends on December 16.
Atlantic Station (TBD)
The Midtown hotspot’s annual holiday celebration includes a quarter of a million lights within an 8-block radius, and it’s FREE to walk or drive through.
At 6PM every Sunday, 7PM every weeknight, and hourly from 6 to 9PM on Fridays and Saturdays (if weather permits), there’s a surprisingly realistic snowfall that happens.
Be sure to check out Atlanta’s first authentic German Christkindl Market (Nov 30-Dec 23) 0n Tower Street NW at Atlantic Station. The festive Christmas street market tradition dates back to the late Middle Ages. You’ll hear traditional singing and find dancing, food, drink, and seasonal items in open-air booths.
Six Flags Over Georgia (Select Days: Nov 18-Jan 3)
Stroll through Six Flags Holiday in the Park is back for the 4th year in a row.
Santa will welcome guests coming to see the 29 thrilling rides decked out in Christmas decor, 16 different holiday-themed sections, and more than one million twinkling LED lights.
The winter wonderland features interactive activities to fill you with with holiday spirit.
Life University, Marietta (Nov 22- Dec 31)
One of Atlanta’s oldest and most underrated Christmas light displays, Lights of Life nevertheless draws huge local crowds thanks largely to word-of-mouth.
At just $5 per car on weeknights until mid-December, and $10 on weekend nights, it is a bargain for an expansive display that includes over 100 pieces (including a 65-foot Santa/sleigh display, the tallest in the Southeast) on the 1.5 mile drive through the college’s campus.
There is also a petting zoo, pony rides, train rides. and opportunities to have your photo taken with Santa for an additional fees.
Hobgood Park, Woodstock (Dec 7-23)
The Holiday Lights of Hope is HUGE, with more than two million twinkling lights, traditional and animated displays and a mile-long Christmas maze!
Enjoy roasting S’mores over a roaring bonfire, and getting pictures taken with Santa. Grown-ups can enjoy shopping at the General Store, strolling down Main Street, and listening to Christmas carolers.
Best of all, your $10 adult ticket (free for children 14 and under) benefits the Anna Crawford Children’s Center.
HOLIDAY IN LIGHTS
Centennial Olympic Park (Closed for 2017, TBD for 2018)
NOTE: The Centennial Olympic Park celebration will be on hiatus for 2017 due to major renovations. Find out more about the changes coming to the park here.
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 first 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.
CHRISTMAS EVENTS FOR KIDS IN ATLANTA
(Parade Start: Peachtree St. at 16th St., Dec 1)
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.
(Macy’s Lenox Square Nov 3-Jan 6)
This is a great taste of Christmas in Atlanta the way it was 60+ years ago. In 1953, the Rich’s department store downtown debuted a suspended monorail ride for children.
The original Pink Pig flew from the ceiling of the toy department, but was eventually moved to a rooftop Christmas village surrounding the Great Tree. At the end, riders got a sticker that read, “I Rode the Pink Pig.”
In 2004 Priscilla the Pink Pig returned, this time re-imagined as a conventional train ride pulled by a miniature locomotive. Priscilla continues to carry children of all ages through a life-sized storybook filled with friends and fun beneath the signature 170-foot, 1950s-themed Pink Pig tent.
(Center for Puppetry Arts, Nov 13-Dec 3o: no shows 11/22, 12/25)
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 every year, remaining 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.
Reduced-Price Previews are Nov 13 & 14. The All-Inclusive Family Series Ticket will get you 3 activities: the performance of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a Create-A-Puppet Workshop, and admission to the Worlds of Puppetry Museum. Limited FREE parking is also available.
(Fernbank Museum of Natural History, Nov 16-Jan 6)
Now in its sixth 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.
Check the website for special holiday-themed activities such as performances. Admission to Winter Wonderland is included with Museum admission.
(The St. Regis Atlanta, TBD)
The name says it all, but the stats are impressive. Atlanta’s largest Gingerbread House will take 500 hours of construction.
It will involve 300 pounds of flour, 100 pounds of sugar, 10 pounds of spice, 70 pounds of shortening, 45 pounds of corn syrup, and 16 pounds of molasses. It will be decorated with over 300 pounds of icing, gingerbread figurines, poinsettias, and candy.
The ginormous result will be unveiled at the St. Regis in Buckhead on Friday, November 24. That day’s festivities will also include a ceremonial lighting of the hotel’s Christmas Tree; the opening of their Astor Holiday Ice Rink (which is protected from the elements by a tent); and a special appearance by Santa Claus himself!
Other Christmas events at the St. Regis Atlanta include the Winter Wonderland Holiday Tea (starts Nov 24), Bedtime Story With Santa (nightly Dec 14-24), and a special Christmas Brunch with Santa on December 25.
(Children’s Museum of Atlanta, Nov 30-Jan 3)
Celebrated in more than 160 countries around the world, Christmas ranks high among the planet’s most popular holidays. But it’s not the only major holiday observed in December. Kudos to the Children’s Museum of Atlanta for reminding kids of that fact.
All through the merriest month of the year, families will have a chance to experience Celebrations in Lights. The event explores numerous cultural holidays from around the world, with music, dancing, and crafts projects honoring Las Posadas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas.
The museum offers “Sockefeller Plaza”, a sock-skating rink built especially for little ones… meaning no skates required! There will also be a range of winter-themed science activities for kids to experience hands-on.
On December 31 the museum will close out the year with their New Year’s Bubble Bash, featuring a family-friendly DJ, dancing, party favors and, of course, bubbles!
(Georgia Aquarium, Nov 18 – Dec 31)
The Georgia Aquarium’s annual Christmas event returns, transforming Atlanta’s favorite aquatic attraction into a winter wonderland designed to delight attendees of all ages.
The specific activities for this year’s Festival of the SEAson had not been announced as of our publishing deadline. But last year’s highlights included a Breakfast With Santa with food provided by Wolfgang Puck Catering; a Toddler Time day complete with story time, holiday crafts, and costumed characters; dive shows featuring “Scuba Claus” in the Ocean Voyager Built habitat; and the hourly Holidazzle light and music show.
Every weekend during the holiday season, they also offer “A Symphony of Snow,” which includes live entertainment, classic Christmas music, caroling, and special assets from Santa Claus himself!
(LEGOLAND Discovery Center, Dec 2-31)
Growing up in the 1970s-1980s, Christmas and LEGOs went together hand-in-hand. My 8-year-old inner child is jealous that today’s kids can celebrate the season at LEGOLAND Discovery Center, whose Holiday Bricktacular is a winter wonderland of creative construction possibilities.
The event kicks off Dec 2-3 with the annual Big Tree Build, led by the center’s Creative Crew. Guests can learn how to create LEGO holiday trees of their own, participate in Holiday Build Challenges, and snap selfies with Rudolph (his nose even glows).
The winter takeover of MINILAND happens every weekend in December. There’s also a scavenger hunt game, so keep your eyes peeled for mischievous elves, Santa’s workshop, wreaths, and more!
(Southern Art @ InterContinental Buckhead Hotel, Dec 2)
Helmed by world-renowned chef Art Smith (a.k.a. Oprah’s personal chef until 2007), Southern Art ranks among our favorite restaurants in Atlanta. But on December 2 it will be completely transformed with wintry decor (snow included!) in order to welcome Santa Claus and his reindeer for their 8th annual Children’s Holiday Party.
Of course, you don’t have to be a child in order to attend. Kids and grown-ups alike are invited to decorate Christmas cookies, drink at the hot chocolate bar, get their face painted, and take fab photos with St. Nick and his hoofed friends.
CHRISTMAS SHOWS IN ATLANTA
(Aurora Theatre, Dec 1)
The circus isn’t what you’d think of as a traditional Christmas activity. But that’s precisely what makes this production at Lawrencville’s Aurora Theatre so unique.
Part of their Children’s Playhouse programming, Cirque Noel is a winter-themed circus featuring performers from Akrosphere Aerial & Circus Arts. Dressed in seasonally appropriate costumes ranging from snowflakes and fairies to old Jack Frost, the acts will include jugglers, unicycles, aerial rope acrobats, lyras, cyr wheels, and more.
With shows at 10AM and 11:30AM on December 1, this could be one of the coolest things to do in Atlanta with kids for the holidays.
IRVING BERLIN’S WHITE CHRISTMAS
(Fox Theatre, Nov 27 – Dec 2)
From classic cars and pin-up fashion to Mad Men and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, ‘50s and ‘60s nostalgia has been at a fever pitch in recent years. So perhaps it’s no surprise that this 1954 Christmas classic was adapted into a crowd-pleasing Broadway musical.
Based on the film (which starred iconic legends Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Rosemary Clooney), the show tells the story of a male song-and-dance team performing at an inn owned by their former Army commander in rural Vermont. There, they fall for an adorable sister act. When they learn that the inn is in serious financial trouble, the quartet concocts a Christmas show to help raise money.
Originating in St. Louis and performed on Broadway in 2008-2009, the production is full of singing, dancing, and good old-fashioned holiday cheer. Its highlight is Berlin’s classic compositions, including “Sisters,” “Happy Holiday,” “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” and the beloved title track.
(Southwest Arts Center Performance Theater, Nov 28-Dec 9)
Written by the legendary poet Langston Hughes, Black Nativity is a potent retelling of the most famous Bible story from an African-American perspective. The play was originally performed Off-Broadway in 1961, and was one of the first productions written by a black playwright ever to be staged there.
The show features an African-American cast, gospel-style music (the opening number is the classic spiritual “Go Tell It On The Mountain”), and a Mary and Joseph who never actually speak.
This one-act version takes the audience on a journey from a traditional black church to an Africanized Jerusalem, with African-influenced drums and dancing sprinkled throughout. It’s a soulful, stirring take on the oldest of all Christmas stories.
(Dad’s Garage Theatre, TBD)
Charles Dickens’ timeless Christmas classic gets a major makeover in this irreverent production from the comedy masterminds of Dad’s Garage, which was recently voted Best Play in Creative Loafing’s annual readers poll.
The show is a unique mixture of scripted drama and hilarious improv. The main cast rehearses the traditional script and portrays classic characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim.
But each night they’ll be visited by different ghosts (which have, in the past, ranged from The Incredible Hulk and Ted Nugent to a T Rex), 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!
READ MORE: Countries that do not celebrate Christmas
(Fox Theatre, Dec 18)
Full disclosure: I’ve been a fan and friend of Mike Geier (a.k.a. Big Mike, a.k.a. Puddles) for around 20 years now. As the frontman for Atlanta bands Greasepaint, Kingsized, and Tongo Hiti (not to mention a constant feature in his wife Shannon Newton’s burlesque act, Dames Aflame), he paid his dues long before he made Simon Cowell cry on America’s Got Talent in 2017.
After years of selling out the Variety Playhouse with the Kingsized Holiday Jubilee, AGT (not to mention his 120 million YouTube views) allowed Geier to graduate to the big leagues. Hence we find Puddles Pity Party & Friends Holiday Jubilee at the Fabulous Fox, a venue better-suited to the big man’s (6’8” tall, to be precise) larger-than-life stage presence.
With performances that range from sad to silly, the silent-except-when-singing clown will be joined by an as-yet-unannounced array of special guests. The holiday-themed show will also incorporate the theatre’s famous pipe organ “Mighty Mo,” the second-largest theater organ in the world. If I could attend only one Atlanta Christmas event in 2018, this would be it.
(Shakespeare Tavern Playhouse, Nov 29 – Dec 23)
Though it may not be the biggest production of the Charles Dickens classic in Atlanta this Christmas (see: Alliance Theatre’s version at the Cobb Energy Center), the Atlanta Shakespeare Company’s A Christmas Carol is a 20-year tradition that deserves more attention.
For one, the Shakespeare Tavern is one of the few places in Atlanta where you can still enjoy “dinner and a show.” Seating begins at 6:15 PM most nights, and at 5:15 PM on Sundays, with food and drinks available for purchase until 10 minutes before the show starts and desserts and drinks available at intermission. For matinee performances on Dec 15, 19, and 22, a lunch menu will be available starting at 12:45 PM.
There will be a Q&A session with cast and crew members after the Dec 9 show. And they’re offering a special sensory-friendly matinee for people with autism spectrum disorder on Dec 1, with lowered sound levels, no black outs, room to move around the theatre, and a separate “quiet room” available for those who need it.
(Horizon Theatre, Dec 1-30)
“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” Thus begins the story of Madeline, a young girl at a Catholic boarding school. Now in its 11th year, this musical adaption of Ludwig Bemelmans’ children’s book is a magical Christmas classic.
The story finds young Madeline and her friends taking a morning walk with their teacher, Miss Clavel. When the girls wind up confined to their beds after coming down with the flu, they worry whether or not they’ll be able to travel home in time for Christmas. But thanks to a mysterious stranger, they wind up having a holiday adventure they’ll never forget.
Produced in collaboration with The Atlanta Children’s Theatre Company, the show features 24 local girls performing alongside professional actors. The result is a charming Christmas treat sure to be enjoyed by kids of all ages.
(Ferst Center for the Arts, Dec 8-24)
Originally presented at New York City’s Apollo Theater in 2015, this touching musical from the Classical Theater of Harlem is designed to tug at the audience’s heartstrings.
Largely set in Harlem in the 1980s, the emotionally gripping story opens in present day, with the adult Noel returning to NYC from Atlanta to sell her family’s home in Harlem. From there the show goes back in time, following three generations of Noel’s family, which is inexorably affected by the tragic loss of a loved one.
The story is somewhat overshadowed by the music, which reimagines some of our favorite holiday tunes in an array of musical styles ranging from Jazz and Gospel to Pop and R&B. In the end, it’s a great family-friendly production about love, loss, and the healing power of community.
(Fox Theatre, Dec 8-24)
The Atlanta Ballet’s annual production of Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece played by a live orchestra 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. It is your last year to experience this version of The Nutcracker before Atlanta Ballet unveils a brand new production in 2018, so get your tickets early!
(Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre, Dec 12-Dec 24)
Now in its 29th year, the Alliance’s production of Dickens’ timeless classic features Broadway-style stage design, beloved Christmas carols, and some of Atlanta’s finest thespians at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
We still miss Atlanta theatre icon Chris Kayser in his longtime role playing Ebenezer Scrooge, the tight-fisted, cold-hearted miser who is haunted by three ghosts on Christmas Eve.
But with an all-Atlanta cast and beautiful live music, this Broadway-scale production remains an impressive rendering of this perennial holiday favorite.
(Morehouse King Chapel, Dec 14-16)
Originally adapted in 1892, with music by classical music titan Pyotr Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker is arguably the most popular Christmas production this side of Charles Dickens. For most people, it’s probably the only ballet they’ve ever seen.
The Urban Nutcracker puts an African-American twist on the timeless tale. Rather than 19th century Russia, the story is set in the 1940s on Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Avenue. There, the smooth Chocolatier sweeps a young lady off her feet and away to a wonderland filled with leaping Reggae Rag Dolls and a spinning Black Russian.
Now in its 28th year, the Ballethnic production features a mixture of professional dancers and urban minority youth. With music adapted to modern-day sensibilities, it’s a hip, happening take on the familiar holiday chestnut.
(The Strand, Dec 14-23)
The song-and-dance revue might seem a bit old fashioned to today’s tech-obsessed Millennials, but it’s a storied theatrical tradition that pre-dates Vaudeville. Fortunately, this annual holiday show at Marietta’s Earl Stand Theatre keeps that tradition alive.
The family-friendly production features a little something for everyone, from Christmas classics to funky new favorites. There are dramatic divas singing their you-know-whats off, the sort of high-energy dance numbers Broadway buffs live for, and elaborate sets and effects to give it all a dash of flashy pizzazz.
Is it groundbreaking? Well, maybe not. But originality is not the point. This is a rare Christmas production that family members of all ages can sing, clap, and dance to. And hopefully everyone leaves with just a little more holiday spirit in their hearts.
(Horizon Theatre, Nov 15 -Dec 30)
For 19 seasons, Horizon Theatre’s production of David Sedaris’ The Santaland Diaries was one of the most beloved Atlanta Christmas shows. But once longtime star Harold M. Leaver stepped down and the publishers insisted on it being a one-man show, the sarcastic holiday classic lost a bit of its luster.
So this year they’re replacing it with a sequel to another local favorite, The Waffle Palace. Written by Larry Larson and Eddie Levi Lee, Waffle Palace Christmas features the return of the characters that made the 2012 original such a hit, still scattered, smothered, and covered in sassy Southern humor.
Although the sequel won’t be ready for critics to see until November, the original show was inspired by real life events at the Waffle House, including births, marriages, funerals, shootings and lottery wins. The Christmas show will obviously explore holiday themes, focusing on manager John Pickett and his colorful staff at a late-night Midtown diner.
ATLANTA CHRISTMAS CONCERTS
(Symphony Hall, Dec 8 & Dec 9)
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 49th 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.
(Peachtree Road United Methodist Church, Dec 14- Dec 15)
One of my favorite Atlanta Christmas memories was performing holiday concerts with the Atlanta Boy Choir in the early ‘80s, under the direction of meastro Fletcher Wolfe.
The Georgia Boy Choir was founded in 2009 by David White, who led the ABC for 8 years after Wolfe’s retirement (he returned after White’s departure). Their annual holiday concert features all five levels of the choir, accompanied by a full orchestra and the Peachtree Road UMC’s Mighty Mander Organ.
The performance will include a lively mixture of sacred classics, beloved Christmas carols, and modern holiday favorites. For me, it’s sure to bring back memories of my time in one of the world’s most respected choirs.
(Rialto Center for the Arts, Dec 15-16)
From rousing jigs and reels to mournful laments, I’ve always had a great appreciation for Celtic music. But it’s grown even stronger after our recent trip to trace my family’s origins in Scotland and Ireland. So I look forward to seeing this annual concert, which has been an Atlanta holiday tradition for over 25 years.
The show incorporates music and dancing, with a mixture of regional and international performers from the Irish, Scottish, and Welsh traditions. Paul Gleason, Consul General of Ireland, called it “a beautiful, evocative occasion… the must-see event in Atlanta each Christmas.”
If you listen closely, you’ll hear striking similarities between Celtic and Appalachian musical traditions, because many immigrants from the Celtic countries eventually settled in the southeastern U.S. hills. Many of them were named William, which is how they came to be nicknamed “hillbillies!”
(All Saints Episcopal Church, Dec 16)
Directed by John Dickson, the professor of Choral Music at the Louisiana State University School of Music, Coro Vocati is a group of professional singers based in Atlanta.
Many of their members work as music directors or conductors at local schools and churches, and several also sing with the Atlanta Symphony Chorus and Chamber Chorus. In short, these are some of the city’s most elite performers of classical choral music.
Their annual Christmas concert at All Saints Episcopal Church has become a perennial holiday favorite. You can expect a repertoire steeped in classical choral artistry, with beloved Christmas carols and perhaps even a popular favorite or two thrown in for festive fun.
(Symphony Hall, Dec 20-21)
Replacing the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops concert, A Very Merry Holiday is a Christmas concert the whole family can enjoy. Led by Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra Music Director Stephen Mulligan, the performance finds the ASO joined by special guests the Whiffenpoofs, the world’s oldest collegiate a cappella group.
Founded at Yale University in 1909, the Whiffenpoofs feature 14 senior students who are selected annually from the school’s brightest vocal talents. They’re known for their spirited sense of humor, as well as their trademark white ties, white gloves, and snazzy tuxedos with tails.
Performing over 200 concerts each year, the ensemble’s typical repertoire is a mixture of old Yale songs, jazz standards, and popular hits. But you can expect the Very Merry Holiday concert to be filled with innovative arrangements of Christmas classics. Don’t be surprised if Santa Claus makes a special appearance at some point.
ATLANTA CHARITY EVENTS FOR CHRISTMAS
(Embassy Suites @ Centennial Olympic Park, TBD)
For most of its 30+ years, the original Atlanta Festival of Trees was held in the Georgia World Congress Center, with proceeds benefiting Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. This scaled-down version was launched at the Embassy Suites in Centennial Olympic Park in 2015, and continues to grow each year.
In 2018 there will be 30 local charitable organizations putting up their festive themed Christmas Tree displays in the hotel lobby. Admission (and parking) is free, and visitors and hotel guests are encouraged to make donation to their charity of choice.
The tree with the biggest donations will receive an additional $1,000 gift from Ruth’s Chris Steak House.
Though it’s a much smaller version of the classic Xmas event I grew up with, this is a great way to honor the giving spirit of the holiday season. Given the fact that it raised over $30,000 in its first year, here’s hoping this will continue to grow as an Atlanta Christmas tradition!
(Piedmont Park, TBD)
Billing itself as the “Merriest 5K of the Year,” this national event offers a festive way to celebrate the holiday season, burn off some calories, and do some good in the process. A portion of proceeds benefit One Warm Coat, a non-profit charity that provides coats to people in need.
The fun begins by donning your ugliest Christmas sweater and joining hundreds of other participants to run/walk 3.1 miles through Piedmont Park and the surrounding neighborhoods.
There will be huge inflatables, photo stations, and lively Christmas tunes at the starting line. At the end of the race you get to run through a fake snowfall and take pics inside a gigantic snow globe. There will also be hot cocoa for kids, adult cocktails provided by event sponsor Kahlúa, and prizes awarded for Best Ugly Sweater, Best Kids Sweater, Best Pet Attire, and Best Mustache/Beard.
(Georgian Terrace, TBD)
Now celebrating its 11th year, this upscale holiday celebration annually attracts over 1,500 attendees, including celebs, socialites and sports stars. Everyone is dressed to impress in their seasonally-appropriate best, with lavish decor and live entertainment ensuring it’s a night to remember.
This years theme is “10 Degrees Cooler Experience.” So you can expect the Georgian Terrace to transform into a winter wonderland in which a culturally diverse crowd is covered in white.
A portion of the proceeds from the event will be donated to Camp Dream, a volunteer-driven NGO in Georgia that provides a traditional summer camp experience for children and young adults with moderate to severe physical and developmental disabilities.
UNIQUE CHRISTMAS THINGS TO DO IN ATLANTA
SKATE THE SKY
(The Roof at Ponce City Market, Nov 20-TBD)
Once upon a time, the skating rink at Centennial Olympic Park was the only option for outdoor skating in Atlanta. But in 2017 Slater Hospitality opened Skate the Sky, a brand spankin’ new rink atop Ponce City Market.
Located at Rooftop Terrace, the Roof’s private event space, the rink will offer exceptional panoramic views of the Downtown Atlanta skyline, the Atlanta Beltline, and the Old Fourth Ward.
And unlike most other Atlanta Christmas attractions, Skate The Sky will remain open until mid-February. Tickets are available for $15 for adults and $7 for children 12 and under.
(Oakland Cemetery, Dec 1)
One of the more unique ways to celebrate Christmas in Atlanta, this one-day-only event returns to the historic Oakland Cemetery for its fourth consecutive year.
A gorgeous example of the 19th century’s “rural garden” cemetery movement, Oakland is renowned for its eclectic mixture of art and architectural styles, including Egyptian, Exotic Revival, Gothic, Greek Revival, Neo-classical, and Victorian.
Its graves and elaborate mausoleums are filled with a who’s who in the city’s history, including 3,000 Confederate soldiers, author Margaret Mitchell, golf legend Bobby Jones, Morris Brown College founder Bishop Wesley John Gaines, and Mayors Ivan Allen Jr. and Maynard Jackson.
Victorian Holiday features a Holiday Tour of Eternal Homes, with guides in period costume leading guests on a behind-the-scenes walking tour to see some of the cemetery’s most magnificent mausoleums. There’s lots of Atlanta history in their stories, and all of the sites are decorated by local artists and designers. Advance ticket purchases are HIGHLY recommended.
There will also be free activities, including a children’s craft area and photos with Saint Nicholas, that are free and open to the public.
(Governor’s Mansion, Tree Lighting Dec 2; Tours Dec 3-14)
One of my favorite memories of Atlanta at Christmas time is 1980, when I was a touring member of the Atlanta Boy Choir. We performed at the Great Tree Lighting Ceremony and the Governor’s Mansion Tree Lighting Ceremony (George Busbee was in office then), then had a sold-out run performing with the Robert Shaw and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and ASO Chorus.
Less well-known and more intimate than most Christmas events in Georgia, this annual tree lighting ceremony will find Governor Nathan Deal opening the doors of the Greek revival-style Bulkhead mansion to visitors for the last time before his replacement takes office. The event will include festive music, tasty treats, and “The People’s House” all decked out for the holidays.
The mansion also offers Christmas Tours from December 3rd through 14th, and all parking and admissions are free. But they do encourage visitors to bring new unwrapped Toys for Tots, and they have drop boxes located at the front entrance.
(Atlanta History Center, Dec 15 & Dec 22)
Speaking of history, the Atlanta History Center is one of those gem attractions that is probably more well known by tourists to the city than it is among local residents. Whether you’re a regular or a first-time visitor, Candlelight Nights is a great example of what makes the center so special.
It begins with a nighttime candlelit stroll through their beautifully decorated gardens, where guests are welcomed to a warm Christmas market full of local arts and crafts. There are three historic Southern homes to explore– one from the pioneer days, the Civil War, and the Great Depression– each decorated for the holidays in the style of that era.
The center’s experienced interpreters help bring these different periods in Southern history to life. There’s also live music, food available for purchase, a cash bar, and numerous Christmas activities.
(Roswell’s Bulloch Hall, Dec 19)
Want to experience an old fashioned Georgia Christmas with a slice of 19th century history? For one night only, you can, at Roswell’s Bulloch Hall.
The elegant Greek Revival-style home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was originally built in 1939 for Major James S. Bulloch, one of the city’s earliest settlers. At this point, Roswell was still just a sleepy little village located 21 miles north of Atlanta.
The house became famous in 1853, when Bulloch’s daughter, Mittie, married Theodore Roosevelt Sr. The pair later became proud parents to future U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, who visited his mother’s childhood home in 1905.
This event is a historical reenactment of their Christmastime wedding, complete with period costumes, a lantern-lit tour of the home, storytelling, and a special dessert. Each of the six sessions lasts about 75 minutes, and reservations are required.
(Whitlock Avenue District, Dec 1 -2)
For those seeking decidedly more sedate and refined holiday pleasures, there’s the 32nd annual Marietta Pilgrimage Christmas Home Tour.
Featured in Southern Living and named a Top 100 Event in North America, this tour visits six posh private homes located in Marietta’s Whitlock Avenue district. Each of these homes (including three built between 1870 and 1890) has been lovingly restored and dress to the nines in festive holiday style.
Organized by the Marietta Visitors Bureau and Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society, the tours are a great way to get a taste of the city’s famed historic district. For an especially magical Christmas experience, visit after 7PM on Saturday, when the Candlelight Tour homes are open.
(Ritz-Carlton Atlanta, various dates)
Offering a more titillating twist on the holiday tea concept, the Ritz-Carlton Atlanta gives it guests a chance to choose which of Santa’s lists they prefer to be on.
For kids (and adults who want to keep it PG), the Nice Tea features seasonally appropriate teas and apple cider for sipping, served with traditional afternoon tea fare such as Egg Salad with truffle, tea cookies, and warm scones. For adults who prefer a more indulgent menu, the Naughty Tea offers Champagne, strawberries, whipped cream, and Grand Marnier.
The hotel’s Lumen Lobby Bar offers a posh setting for the event. But the luxe experience doesn’t come cheap: Adults pay $40 for the Nice Tea, and $60 for the Naughty.
This new event puts a hip, modern suburban twist on traditional small-town holiday celebrations. The Marietta Square is the center of the action, with an open-air ice skating rink, festive holiday music, thousands of twinkling lights, and visits with Santa at his workshop.
But it’s easy to make a day of it, stopping in shops such as Dakota Boutique and Marina Marina Antiques, getting sweet treats from Ye Olde Christmas & Candy Shoppe or Sarah Jean’s Ice Cream, and winding down with a delicious Italian dinner from Piastra Restaurant (try the Gamberi Picatini and Lasagna Quatro Formaggi). We enjoyed our first visit so much, we’re going back to celebrate New Year’s Eve!
GEORGIA CHRISTMAS DAY TRIPS
(Barnsley Resort, Nov 22 – Jan 1)
Barnsley Resort (formerly known as Barnsley Gardens) holds a special place in our hearts, because it was the first place Mary and I traveled together. That romantic getaway– Valentine’s Day weekend in 2009– was our first big indication that our relationship was something truly special.
Nine years later, the resort (which is located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains) has been upgraded considerably, but the traditional Southern charm remains much the same. Their north Georgia Christmas celebration will feature the English-style garden and historic Manor House Ruins all lit up with colorful holiday lights.
There will be numerous holiday-themed events held throughout the season, including campfire storytelling, cookie decorating, gingerbread house crafting, harvest hay rides, and wreath-making classes. And on Christmas Day, guests can enjoy a sumptuous buffet from their Executive Chef in the resort’s new Georgian Hall.–Bret Love
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