Thanksgiving in ILM is the official kick off to the holly-jolly season on the Cape Fear coast. After busting out the sweats for extra breathing room during Thursday’s gorge fest, we highly recommend you save up those energy reserves for a few packed weeks of holiday fun. There are numerous ways to find the holiday spirit and hold onto it for a merry month of ho-ho-hos and fa-la-la-las. Here are a few ways to celebrate.
CAPE FEAR FESTIVAL OF TREES
NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher,
900 Loggerhead Rd.
Through January 2, during regular aquarium hours, the Lower Cape Fear Hospice brings back its annual tradition, Cape Fear Festival of Trees at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. There are numerous dazzling, decorated trees lining the stairwells and spaces of the aquarium, each decorated by local businesses in various themes. Folks can drop by the Memorial Tree to place a dove in remembrance of loved ones. Also, a limited supply of theme-decorated wreaths will be available for purchase, to help hospice provide quality care and support to individuals and families facing end-of-life needs. Admission is allowed with aquarium ticket.
BATTLESHIP HO HO HO
Battleship NC, 1 Battleship Rd.
On November 29 at 10 a.m. the Battleship North Carolina will welcome ol’ Saint Nick himself. Kids can type up their Christmas wish lists with a vintage typewriter on radio message paper or call the North Pole from the Battleship’s main radio room. There will even be and opportunity to track Santa’s journey in the Combat Information Center. Remember the day by drafting a retro e-card by striking a pose in front of the ship’s “Happy Huladays” banner. Cost is $6-$14 per ship admission.
ISLAND OF LIGHTS
N Lake Park Blvd and Atlanta Ave.,
Annually, Carolina Beach gets into the Christmastime spirit with numerous events slated for their Island of Lights celebration. 2019 is no exception, and it gets underway November 29. They will light up Carolina Beach Lake with live music and free refreshments. Plus, folks can walk the mile-long holiday trail to view the bright displays and maybe be graced with a visit from Santa. It’s free to attend and starts at 7 p.m.
DOWNTOWN CHRISTMAS TREE LIGHTING
Riverfront Park, 5 N. Water St.
On Friday evening, November 29, 5:30-8 p.m., live entertainment will be on site for the official lighting of the downtown Christmas tree. Mayor Saffo will do the honors, hot cocoa will be served, and Santa and Mrs. Claus will show up for pictures.
NC FLOTILLA FESTIVAL IN THE PARK
321 Causeway Dr., Wrightsville Beach, NC
On Saturday night, November 30, brightly lit vessels will float along the Intracoastal Waterway in a sparkly parade of holiday celebration, known as the NC Holiday Flotilla. Before the boats get decked out, the festival in the Wrightsville Beach Park will take place from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Families are welcome to shop through arts and crafts vendors, check out the antique car show, and let the kids enjoy inflatable slides and bouncy houses. The parade takes place as night falls at 6 p.m. with fireworks!
Though the event is free, be prepared for insane traffic and parking woes. Our suggestion: Lyft and Uber your way across the bridge.
Folks who want to enjoy the flotilla preparty can head to Blockade Runner on Friday, November 29, 7-11 p.m. There will be food and live music from Jack Jack 180; tickets are $35. Or families can head start on Wrightsville Beach Park’s festival on Friday night as they light the island’s tree and welcome visits with Santa, 5:30 p.m.
14TH HOLIDAY TRAIN EXPO
Independence Mall, 3500 Oleander Dr.
Nothing marks the childlike wonder of the holidays thanks Cape Fear Model Railroad Society’s annual exhibition, Holiday Train Expo. There will be 12 layouts and more than 30 trains decking the halls with boughs of holly, lights, tinsel, snow, and more.
The show takes place in the Dillard’s wing of the mall for $4-$6. It’s open on Black Friday from 1-6 p.m. and continues its display every weekend through Christmas, and December 27-30.
WILMINGTON RAILROAD MUSEUM POLAR EXPRESS AND LIGHT SHOW
505 Nutt St.
No Christmas is complete without boarding the Polar Express! Children will enjoy a reading of the book, plus get to visit with Santa and enjoy hot cocoa every Saturday and Sunday at Wilmington Railroad Museum, November 30 through December 22, with two time slots at 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 and must be booked ahead of time.
Also, the museum gets sparkly for the season, with a special preview underway on November 29-30. It brings all the magic with its winter wonderful, featuring 25,000 lights and musical animations. Twilight model trains are on display and Santa will show up to sip cider and eat cookies from 6:30-8 p.m. on December 13-14, 20-21 and 26-28. Call 910-763-2634 for more information.
HOLIDAY MOVIE NIGHT
Waterman’s Brewing, 1610 Pavilion Pl.
What are the holidays without watching all the classic movies on the big screen? Waterman’s Brewing is making sure to keep families warm by their fire pits, as hot chocolate brews and s’mores is made. Plus, adults will be able to enjoy a few holiday libations!
Just bring one unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots, plus chairs and blankets, as screenings are set up outdoors: Dec 1, “Christmas Vacation”; Dec. 8, “Elf”; Dec. 15, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”
Wilson Center, 703 N. 3rd St.
Did you love “Jersey Boys”—the smash-hit Broadway musical bringing to life the music of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons? Welp, on December 5, 7:30 p.m., lace up your elf boots and get ready for The Midtown Men. Featuring stars from “Jersey Boys,” they’ll perform Yuletide hits “Winter Wonderland,” “Let It Snow” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” They’ll also bring to life rock ‘n’ roll hits of the 1960s, and perform their holiday single, “All Alone on Christmas,” recorded with Stevie Van Zandt and members of Bruce Springsteen’s The E St. Band. Tickets are $35-$72.
Cape Fear Playhouse, 613 Castle St.
Going on two decades now, David Sedaris’ annual essay-turned-play, “Santaland Diaries,” has become a holiday staple on Wilmington stages. Panache Theatrical Productions is carrying the torch forward and will have Randy Davis filling Crumpet’s elf boots in 2019. Directed by Jamey Stone, the show will take place Thursday through Sundays, December 5-22 (7:30 p.m., except for Sundays, 3 p.m.). The one-man show chronicles Sedaris’ life as an elf during the holidays in Macy’s Santaland, with sardonic humor for days, and songs from the Not-So-Ready-for-Christmas carolers. Tickets are $20-$22.
A MERRY LITTLE CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL AND HOLIDAY TOURS
Poplar Grove Plantation,
10200 US Highway 17 North
Poplar Grove Plantation transforms its grounds into a bounty of illumination, aglow with the holiday spirit December 6 and 13 (5-8 p.m.), 7 and 14 (10 a.m. – 8 p.m.) and 8 and 15 (10 a.m. – 4 p.m.). A $5 admission includes arts, crafts and gift vendor fair; Santa’s Workshop will be open for children and a mailbox ready to collect letters to Santa; outdoor Christmas movies for the entire family; visits with Santa and the Snow Queen; food trucks and concessions; plus so much more. Guided candlelight tours ($15-$20) of the Manor House will begin on the hour starting at 5 p.m., but must be reserved with a 15 guest max.
Cameron Art Museum,
3201 17th St. Extension
It’s become an annual artistic tradition in ILM and will return for the fifth year on n December 6, 6 p.m. CAM hosts “Illumination”—a celebration of traditional lantern festivals worldwide. It marks the season’s change and allows us to reflect on the year’s end and the year ahead.
The juried exhibition features artist-made lanterns from coast to coast, made from various media. The opening party allows early viewing of the exhibit plus food, drink (cash bar), and live music by El Jaye Johnson and the Port City All-Stars. Tickets: $16 for non-members; $10 for members.
OLD WILMINGTON BY CANDLELIGHT
Presented by Latimer House Museum,
126 South Third St.
From December 7-8, 13 historic sites around Wilmington will be decorated for the season. Folks will be able to see Wilmington’s beautiful historic homes, all donning the most gorgeous reds, golds and greens of the season. Tourists will be able to see the Victorian-era Latimer House dressed up from the Gilded age, and Verandas Bed and Breakfast completely restored after being devastated by Hurricane Florence. 2019 will include the South Front Phase II apartments, a former industrial building re-purposed into urban living spaces along Greenfield and 3rd streets. A gingerbread house competition will take place at Latimer House and allow participants to cast a vote. Tickets are $10-$40.
A TUBA CHRISTMAS
Independence Mall, 3500 Oleander Dr.
Love the sound of the robust and round brass tuba? Join Daniel Johnson as he leads a group of tubists who play Christmas carols at Independence Mall on December 8, 3 p.m.
Tubists interested in participating should contact Johnson at 910-962-7559 or email@example.com. All ages and experience levels are welcome.
WILMINGTON HOLIDAY PARADE
Front and Walnut Streets
Last year the downtown Wilmington holiday parade was canceled because of bad weather. Here’s to hoping the clouds stay away on December 8, 6:30 p.m., when the parade begins makes its way down Walnut and Front before ending on Church. Local marching bands, politicians, organizations, floats, princesses and queens, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus will be joining the route.
CAPE FEAR CHORALE
UNCW’s Kenan Auditorium,
601 S. College Rd.
No Christmas season is complete without a choir singing from the rafters! Cape Fear Chorale will do just that at “Sing Fa La La” on December 8, 7 p.m.
The 65-member chorale will perform numerous songs of the holiday, from J.C. Bach’s Magnificat in C to “T’was the Night Before Christmas.” The show is free and will take place on UNCW’s campus at Kenan Auditorium.
12 TASTES (OR MORE!) OF CHRISTMAS
Brooklyn Arts Center, 516 N 4th St.
You’ll shoot your out, kid!
encore’s 12 Tastes (or more!) of Christmas may not deliver the holy grail of Christmas gifts, Ralphie’s Red Ryder BB gun, but it will deliver a few of the Old Man’s Major Awards! Over 30 local drinkeries and eateries will vie for best bite, sip and decorated booth on December 12, 6:30 p.m., at Brooklyn Arts Center, as judged by the audience. Attendees can dress up to the theme of “A Christmas Story” for a chance at prizes, too. Carolers will be on site and Pineapple-Shaped Lamps will host. Tickets are $50-$75, with proceeds benefiting Nourish NC. The local nonprofit feeds hungry school kids across southeastern NC.
Thalian Hall, 301 Chestnut St.
“Smiling is my favorite!” And it will be every audience member’s, too, as they pack into Thalian Hall to see Buddy the Elf bring Christmas cheer and sing loudly for all to hear!
Thalian Association is breathing life into the 2003 movie classic “Elf,” Friday through Sunday, December 12-22. Tickets are $16 to $32 and will feature adults and children alike, as they tell the story of an eccentric human reared by elves, who makes his way to NYC to find his biological father … and the world’s best cup of coffee. The show features 18 numbers, full of color and joy—perfect for the season.
KURE BEACH FANTASY CHRISTMAS SHOW
Ocean Front Park and Pavilion,
105 Atlantic Ave.
On December 13-14 at 7 p.m. and on the 15 at 5 p.m., Kure Beach will go from sandland to snowland as a slew of favorite holiday characters show up for the season: Frosty, Harriet Hippo, the Grinch, Olaf, Anna, Elsa, and Rudolph. Of course, Santa Claus and his wily elves will bring their zany antics. Folks will enjoy performances of Christmas music; folding chairs welcome.
MERRY COUNTRY CHRISTMAS
Thalian Hall, 301 Chestnut St.
Thalian’s main attraction series welcomes a Merry Country Christmas to the stage. The sounds of the holidays will permeate the theater, from “Old Saint Nick” to “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” Songs are presented by musicians and singers steeped in the country genre. Tickets range from $15-$36.
HOLIDAY RETRO DANCE PARTY
Tails, 115 S. Front St.
On December 21 at 9:30 p.m., folks at Tails Piano Bar downtown will find seasons’ greetings in more ways than one, but especially on the dance floor. The Beehive Blondes will host their festive dance party just in time for you to rock around the Christmas tree and let loose all the stress of the season. It’s free for Tails members or $5 for a year’s membership at the door.