We’ve barely roasted the first turkey, but lights already sparkle across many front lawns and retail centers across town. Heck, I am pretty sure downtown Wilmington had city workers hanging lit wreaths on Halloween night! For many, the earlier the holidays arrive, the better, as the season of merriment and cheer illuminates a greater reward: compassion, gratitude and reflection. We have a host of holiday events to share with readers who wish to liven up their calendars this week, just as the trimmings and pumpkin pie hit the table. To that, we say: Happy Holidays!
Each year when the vessels align the Intracoastal Waterway during Thanksgiving weekend, it becomes official: The holidays have arrived in the Cape Fear! Wrightsville Beach welcomes families and jolly cheerers to their 27th annual North Carolina Holiday Flotilla.The festivities begin with Santa on the 26th at 5:30 p.m. with a tree-lighting ceremony at Wrightsville Beach Park. Later in the evening at 7 o’clock, “Anchor’s Away” takes place at the Blockade Runner as part of the official Holiday Flotilla kickoff party. Tickets are $35 and include food, cash bar and music with the Four Knights.
On the 27th, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wrightsville Beach Park will flood with people enjoying many arts, crafts and family-friendly activities. It makes the perfect stop for a few early Christmas presents. The main event gets underway at 6 p.m. with the lighted boat parade, followed by fireworks. For full details, check out www.ncholidayflotilla.org.
And the fun doesn’t stop there, either! The Island of Lights boat parade takes place December 4th at 6 p.m., featuring fishing boats and other water crafts decorated with thousands of lights, cruising along the Intracoastal from Snows Cut to the Carolina Beach Boat Basin and back.
PARADES and TOURS
The Pleasure Island Tour of Homes allows entry into some of the island’s most breathtaking abodes, adorned in twinkling brilliance, garland and more on December 11th. Tickets to the self-guided tour are available at businesses on the island. For a full schedule, head over to www.islandoflights.org.
Perhaps one of the most revered home tours comes with the 37th Annual Old Wilmington By Candlelight Tour, sponsored by the Historical Society of the Lower Cape Fear.It showcases Wilmington’s most regal historic homes decorated to the hilt for the holidays, taking place December 4th and 5th. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased at www.hslcf.org. Over 19 homes can be seen from the heart of downtown’s historic district, up to Wrightsville Avenue in Carolina Place.
If touring through downtown’s homes isn’t on the agenda, then don’t miss the annual downtown holiday parade on December 5th at 5 p.m. It starts at N. Front and Walnut streets, and heads south on Front to Orange, then along Water Street, before heading north. Local businesses, marching bands, clowns, candy and, yes, Santa himself will make an appearance.
The Island of Lights Christmas Parade takes place on the 3rd at 7:30 p.m., and proceeds from Atlanta Avenue down Lake Park Boulevard to the Federal Point Plaza in Carolina Beach. More floats, bands and Santa Claus to be seen!
SHOWS, CONCERTS and EXPOS
Of course, we can always expect Thalian Hall to bring Wilmingtonians nothing shy of engaging entertainment, just in time for the holidays! Handbells may be the quintessential instrument of the season, too. The Raleigh Ringers Holiday Concert on December 4th, 8 p.m., will engage audiences with its 17 members who churn out popular, sacred and even rock ‘n’ roll music, all with the flip of their wrists. They’ll bring harmonies to holiday songs like never before heard and incorporate a few classic rock tunes as well, from legends like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Who, Led Zeppelin and Queen. Tickets are $14 to $25 and can be purchased online, www.thalianhall.org.
Under the direction of Steve Field, “A Classic Christmas” will be performed at the First Presbyterian Church by the Carolina Vocal Arts Ensemble on December 6th at 7:30 p.m. Special performance features include “O Holy Night,” “Still, Still, Still” and “Carol of the Bells,” as well as selections from Handel’s “Messiah,” Bach’s “Magnificat” and Ralph Vaughn Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.” The church is located at 125 S. 3rd Street, and while the show is free, donations are greatly appreciated (www.carolinavocalarts.org).
Nothing sings through the Christmas rafters louder than Bing Crosby crooning his baritone, “I’m dreaming…” Thalian Association will be making an iconic debut on Thalian’s Main Stage this holiday season, as “White Christmas” opens December 9th. With a score composed by Irving Berlin, including all the classics so many sing along to each and every year—“Sisters,” “Count Your Blessings” and “White Christmas”—the story follows WWII buddies through combat and after, as they set out as an entertainment duo and become the hottest act around. Love and laughter ensues, as well as many warm-fuzzies upon watching it live.
Tickets are $22 to $25, with shows at 8 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. It runs two weekends only: the 9th through 12th and 16th through 19th.
Kids and adults alike will be awestruck by the 11 scale miles of trains set up behind Stein Mart in Hanover Center during the holidays. Thanks to the Cape Fear Model Railroad Society, families can see models of trains, neighborhoods, villages, parks and even an airport in a show unlike anything in the state. Tickets are only $2 for ages 3-12 and $3 for ages 13 and up. Families can visit every Friday, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturdays, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., with final performances running December 20th and 21st, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
SPARKLY and SHINY
Downtown Wilmington officially recognizes the season on November 26th, at 5:45 p.m. during the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Taking place in front of the Federal Courthouse on Front Street, entertainment will be provided by the New River Harmony Barbershop Chorus, as Mayor Bill Saffo chimes in on the countdown. Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be on hand to take all early Christmas lists during the free event.
Pleasure Island’s Celebration of Lights starts this weekend, Friday the 26th at 7 p.m., with the Lighting the Lake opening the beauty of island-living. Displays will illuminate while music plays, and visits with Santa can be enjoyed over cups of hot cocoa.
A few blocks over, the Lighting of Carolina Beach’s Boardwalk will begin at 7:30 p.m., hosted by the Carolina Beach Boardwalk Makeover (www.boardwalkmakeover.org). Live music, local dignitaries, the lighting of the boardwalk coves, among other fun activities will take place and continue every Saturday through December 18th, from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Through December 19th, downtown businesses will host the 2nd annual Trees For Charities. Uniquely decorated trees of various themes will be dispersed across downtown merchant locations, and raffle tickets are sold at each location (one for $1 or six for $5), with proceeds benefitting the charity of the business’ choice. Raffle winners will be announced on the 20th. A full list of participants can be found at www.dbawilmington.org; or pick up map at Crescent Moon in The Cotton Exchange for a self-guided tour.
It’s probably the most magical display of lights and decorations in Wilmington, and it opens to the public this Friday the 26th. Airlie Gardens allows visitors to step into a world of fantastical imagination at Enchanted Airlie, where tours are offered every Friday and Saturday night through the 21st, with additional showings offered Monday the 20th and Tuesday the 21st, at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Lighted oak trees and sparkling gardens, featuring holiday flowers, elegant displays and even a garden train, will take visitors into another land of holiday cheer. With 30 acres of decor and live music playing, Enchanted Airlie’s self-guided tours should be purchased in advance at www.airliegardens.org or at Airlie’s Garden Service Center (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Tickets must be purchased before 4 p.m. for the night of the event, and cost $5 for adults and $4 for children (ages 4-12). Children under age 3 admitted free.
Parking is limited and a $3 pre-purchased parking pass is required for each vehicle with general admission, no exceptions. A “green” ticket option is available, whereby admission and parking is $20 per carload (excludes large multi-passenger vans and buses). The gardens are located at 300 Airlie Road.