Festive holiday happenings and all things merry and bright abound in Asheville, N.C. Each year, beloved longtime traditions and fresh offerings combine to make this Blue Ridge Mountain city a must-visit Christmas destination, from the opulent decorations at America’s Largest Home to half-a-million lights strewn throughout a magical winter garden to sugar-and-spice masterpieces competing for national gingerbread glory.
GLITTERING ILLUMINATION AT AN AMERICAN TREASURE
An enduring legacy of America’s Gilded Age, Biltmore is the 250-room grand vision of George W. Vanderbilt and America’s Largest Home. Christmas comes naturally here, as the Vanderbilts welcomed their first guests to Biltmore on Christmas Eve 1895. During the holiday season, the estate sparkles with 30,000 lights and hundreds of candles illuminating the entry way during the Candlelight Christmas Evenings. A giant 55-foot Norway spruce is strung with 55,000 lights on the front lawn and leads the way into the home where 60 more intricately decorated trees are found. Christmas at Biltmore begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 5, 2020.
- NEW: Step inside the world of “Downton Abbey,” the global television phenomenon and feature film. This immersive exhibition features set recreations, costumes and exclusive multimedia from the show. Housed at Biltmore’s Amherst and Legacy locations, the exhibition will run Nov. 8 through April 7, 2020, and will highlight the parallels between the show, the movie and Biltmore’s Vanderbilt family, friends and staff. More info.
WANDER IN A WINTER WONDERLAND
- See the Lights at an Olmsted-Inspired Garden: Asheville’s newest Christmas tradition brings the holidays to life with 500,000 energy-efficient LED lights throughout the nationally known gardens of the North Carolina Arboretum. The Winter Lights exhibit (Nov. 22 through Jan. 4, 2020) enhances the natural beauty of the arboretum’s manicured grounds, which were influenced by the designs of famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Special highlights include a 50-foot animated tree that comes alive to music and an outdoor firepit and s’more station.
- NEW: The arboretum presents the “Seasons of WNC” garden including family-friendly interactive games, food and beverages and the “Magical Maple” feature, showcasing Western North Carolina’s native red maple tree through lights, music and artistic display.
- Discover Downtown During the Holidays: Winter Lights extends to downtown Asheville, as the arboretum also powers Local Lights displays at Pritchard Park and Pack Square, where a 10-foot gilded purple snowflake serves as a centerpiece and makes for the perfect backdrop to snap a giant #SnowflakeSelfie. (Don’t miss an additional display in Biltmore Village, too.) Kick off the season and get into the spirit with the Asheville Holiday Parade, set for Nov. 23.
- Dazzling Drive: In the nearby community of Arden, a drive-thru light show at the Lake Julian Festival of Lights (Nov. 30 through Dec. 23) illuminates a popular Buncombe County park. The road circling the park becomes a magical journey through tunnels of gleaming lights with 50 animated and stationary light displays.
GINGERBREAD ON PARADE
A spicy holiday favorite gets the royal treatment during the Omni Grove Park Inn’s National Gingerbread House Competition and Display. Whimsical cabins of candy, gumdrop-adorned castles and sugar-spun landscapes in the hundreds are on display at this historic resort – and across Asheville – throughout the Christmas season. Contestants from around the country have been entering this judged competition for more than two decades in the hopes of winning prizes and a moment of fame on national television. The display is open to the public beginning Nov. 20 and continuing through Jan. 4, 2020. TIP: Check Grove Park’s website for viewing times.
STRAIGHT OUT OF A DICKENS NOVEL
Just outside of Biltmore sits historic Biltmore Village with its stone streets, quaint boutiques and inviting restaurants. For two days in early December, the village transforms for the annual Dickens in the Village Festival. Shopkeepers dress in Victorian-era garb, and the main stage fills with musicians, choral groups, singers and dancers. This year’s event takes place Dec. 6-7.
OLD-FASHIONED CHRISTMAS – SMALL-TOWN CHARM
Minutes from downtown Asheville, you’ll find Asheville’s Norman Rockwell-esque neighbors with their own holiday traditions. Weaverville’s Candlelight Stroll (Dec. 13) lights up the town’s Main Street, complete with music, horse-and-carriage rides, carolers and children’s activities. In Black Mountain, the historic Monte Vista Hotel hosts Deck the Trees (Dec. 6 through Jan. 6, 2020), a tree-decorating contest benefiting a local charity, while Lake Tomahawk hosts Circle of Lights, a holiday celebration featuring food, entertainment and, of course, Santa (Dec. 7).
SAINT NICK’S TRAINING GROUND
To ready himself for clambering down chimneys around the world, Santa will practice on 315-foot Chimney Rock, rappelling down the 535-million-year-old monolith and then heading back to the top to do it all over again. Mrs. Claus will greet children and oversee the festivities. Santa on the Chimney is Dec. 7 and 14 at Chimney Rock at Chimney Rock State Park.
Find the perfect gifts for friends and family while holiday shopping in the land of all that is local and handmade at craft fairs, pop-up shops and indie boutiques, like downtown’s Horse + Hero, Asheville Bee Charmer, Hazel Twenty and Old North Clothing or West Asheville’s Whist and Flora. Don’t miss the many stores throughout Biltmore Village or housed in downtown’s Grove Arcade, a historic shopping plaza known for its unique architecture that also shimmers with holiday light displays. Pop in and out of galleries – find plenty to choose from in Asheville’s River Arts District, or stop by the Folk Art Center on the famed Blue Ridge Parkway – and independent retailers featuring one-of-a-kind items for everyone on your list. Check out Asheville’s eclectic shopping scene and various retail districts at ExploreAsheville.com/shopping.
- Merry Markets: Plan ahead to catch a special market like The Big Crafty (Dec. 7-8), the Show & Tell Holiday Pop-Up Shop (Nov. 29 through Dec. 21) or CURVE Studios & Garden’s Holiday Market (Dec. 14).
SEASONAL SIPS & SWEET TREATS
- Making Spirits Bright: Plenty of lively libations can be found this time of year, with Highland Brewing Company (Asheville’s oldest brewery) once again releasing perennial favorite – and the city’s original seasonal beer – Cold Mountain Winter Ale on Nov. 14. Asheville Brewing Company’s Ninjabread Man Porter, as well as their collaboration with Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Christmas Jam Ale (brewed annually for Warren Haynes’ Christmas Jam concert), also resurface for the season. Or, warm up with a non-alcoholic beverage such as Asheville Tea Company’s Nutcracker blend (black tea, cinnamon, hickory nuts and vanilla bean).
- Curing Christmas Cravings: An array of decadent desserts helps satisfy your seasonal sweet-tooth. Sunshine Sammies, known for ice-cream sandwiches and gourmet takes on after-school snacks, offers holiday cookie boxes in December, filling them with creative and all-natural twists on childhood favorites. French Broad Chocolates has holiday-flavored bonbons (with flavors like Champagne, Eggnog and Gingerbread), house-made white- and dark-chocolate peppermint bark and, NEW this year, a “bonbombe” – an oversized bonbon-meets-candy bar that’s big enough for holiday-table sharing. For beginner bakers, check out White Labs Kitchen & Tap’s Kids Cookie Lab (Dec. 14), a hands-on workshop led by their pastry chef. Participating youngsters will learn baking basics and leave with made-from-scratch decorated cookies and a fun holiday-recipe card.
Hop on Gray Line’s Holly Jolly Christmas Trolley Tour for a celebration of the season featuring storytelling, live music and traditional caroling while rolling through downtown Asheville, Biltmore Village and the Montford and Grove Park neighborhoods. Throughout December, LaZoom offers a special holiday edition of their wacky and irreverent City Comedy Tour, featuring characters such as “Crossfit Santa” and a lost gingerbread man from Grove Park Inn.
More ways to play, indulge and revel in this year’s holiday season in Asheville at www.ExploreAsheville.com/holidays.
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