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REINDEER GAMES: Festive happenings for a holly-jolly good time in the Port City this season

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As encore’s resident Christmas enthusiast, Audra Bullard has highlighted a few upcoming events to ensure everyone can “sleigh” the holiday scene this season.

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There are two types of people in this world: the Grinches who insist holiday festivities can’t begin until after Thanksgiving and the Whos, who have had their Christmas decorations up for at least a week now. I happen to be the latter of the two. In fact, while my mini-metal Christmas tree and lights (with not one, not two, but three different festive mood settings) went up on November 1, I’d be lying if I said haven’t been jingle bell-rocking out to Michael Bublé’s Christmas album since September.

Guilty as charged.

No matter where one falls on the Scrooge spectrum, everyone can agree on one thing: The holidays creep up fast! As encore’s resident Christmas enthusiast, I’ve highlighted a few upcoming events to ensure everyone can “sleigh” the holiday scene this season.

There are so many ways to get into the holiday spirit this year across ILM, including staples like the NC Flotilla this weekend and The Festival of Trees hosted at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Above photo, courtesy of Cameron Art Museum’s Festival of Trees 2013.

There are so many ways to get into the holiday spirit this year across ILM, including staples like the NC Flotilla this weekend and The Festival of Trees hosted at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Above photo, courtesy of Cameron Art Museum’s Festival of Trees 2013.

Nov. 19 – Jan. 2, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.
GA to aquarium
NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher
900 Loggerhead Road

Nothing could be more magical than the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Well, except for the aquarium at Christmastime. The highly anticipated annual Festival of Trees is back!  Included with general admission, folks will experience the aquarium like never before, with dozens of beautifully decorated and unique Christmas trees inside. The event helps raise funds for Lower Cape Fear Hospice, which ensures everyone who needs hospice and palliative care can receive it, regardless of ability to pay.

Nov. 23, 24 & 30; Dec. 1 & 7-22, 5 p.m. – 7 p.m., 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Airlie Gardens • 300 Airlie Road

For one month out of the year, Wilmington’s Airlie Gardens is transformed into magical “Enchanted Airlie”: a seasonal Christmas light and art experience like no other. A local tradition since 2005, Enchanted Airlie is a half-mile, self-guided walking tour through the garden, which is decorated with dazzling light displays and holiday decorations. Participants will start on the paved path, past the gingerbread house display, to the poinsettia tent, before feasting their eyes on the deep red flowers and gold twinkling lights. Hot cocoa or warm cider, as well as local beers and wines will be available in the concessions area. Singing Christmas trees, Surfer Santa’s “sleigh,” and light shows are just a few things Enchanted Airlie has to offer.

Tickets go quickly every year for Enchanted Airlie, and some dates are already sold out for 2018, so it’s wise to scoop up advance purchases now.

Nov. 23- 24 • Free
Wrightsville Beach Town Park & Intracoastal Waterway/Banks Channel
1 Bob Sawyer Dr.

Take part in one of Wilmington’s long-standing holiday traditions! With beautiful Wrightsville Beach as the backdrop, the celebration kicks off Friday night at 5:30 p.m. with the Tree Lighting ceremony at town hall in the WB Park with a visit from Santa!

On Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. is Festival in the Park. With over 70 vendors, bouncy houses for the kids, Arab Choo-Choo train rides, craft booths, food vendors, and the Antique, Classic & Special-Interest Car Show (this year with over 150 cars!), there is merriment to be had by all.

At 6 p.m. spectators will be captivated by the main event: a brilliant, twinkling procession of boats lighted and extravagantly decorated for the holidays. Viewers can choose the winner of the Flotilla by texting “boat#” (e.g. “boat4,” etc.) to “24587” to vote for their favorite display. Directly following the colorful Flotilla will be a firework display over the Intracoastal Waterway.

Nov. 23-January • Free
Carolina Beach

Tis the sea-sun!

Every year around Christmas, Pleasure Island (Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and Fort Fisher) transforms into a winter wonderland. The holidays kick off with the annual Lighting at the Lake Celebration, which officially begins the Island of Lights Festival. The lake is located at the intersection of Atlanta Avenue and Lake Park Boulevard, with a parking lot across the street. The opening ceremony starts at 7 p.m., wherein the perimeter of the lake will be illuminated by breathtaking Christmas lights. Enjoy a stroll around the lake (path is paved and wheelchair accessible), then meet back up at the shelter area for photos with Santa!

In addition to Lighting at the Lake, the Island of Lights also has a Christmas parade, which will take place on November 30 at 7:30 p.m. near the Boardwalk—which will be transformed into Santa’s workshop. The extravagant display stays up all season long, and Nov. 24, Dec. 1, Dec. 8, and Dec. 15 are what the islanders call “Christmas By the Sea.” Stop by the Boardwalk from 6:30 p.m.- 8:30 p.m. for an abundance of family friendly holiday activities. Visit Santa for cookies and hot chocolate, hear to stories by the fire and roast marshmallows, listen to carolers, and make some ornaments at the arts and crafts station. All for free!.

Nov. 30, 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. • Free
Hugh Morton Amphitheater at Greenfield Lake
1941 Amphitheater Drive

Don’t be an angry elf this holiday season! Prance on down to Greenfield Park, where it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas! Gather ‘round at 6 p.m. for the tree lighting ceremony, followed by the arrival of Santa (“I know him!”).  Visit and take pictures with St. Nick from 6:15 p.m. – 8 p.m. in the Rotary Garden Gazebo. At 7 p.m. snuggle up together like two birds of a feather for an outdoor screening of one of everyone’s favorite holiday flicks: “Elf.” Maple syrup optional, smiles mandatory (“Smiling’s my favorite!”).

Dec. 1, 5 p.m. 1 mile race start, 5:30 p.m. 5k race start • $40
Marina Village at RiverLights • 4410 River Road

“Oh, what fun it is to run in a Christmas light 5k, hey!” What better way to step into the season than with a race through the beautiful RiverLights community at night? Winding through the area and including beautiful views of the Cape Fear River along the journey, the flat course is sure to dazzle runners and walkers with tons of Christmas lights to enjoy along their trot. Elves will be stationed at the festive finish line to pass out commemorative Christmas ornaments for all the racers on the “nice” list. Additionally, all participants will receive a Santa hat, cookies and hot coco. Proceeds from Dashing Thru the Glow will go to Toys for Tots. Participants can bring a new, unwrapped toy to registration pick up to receive $5 off.

Dec. 1-2, 4 p.m. – 8 p.m. Sat., 1 p.m. – 5 p.m. Sun. • $40
Latimer House
126 S. Third St.

Very few sights compare to the elegance of beautiful historical buildings decorated for holidays. Guests who decide to embark on the Old Wilmington by Candlelight Tour are in for a delight. They will follow luminaries to seven historic homes, which will highlight various architectural styles from the 19th to 20th centuries. A new treat on the tour this year is the recently restored Mitchell-Anderson House. Built in 1738, it is the oldest house in Wilmington. Additionally, the tour will include three houses of worship: Chestnut Presbyterian, Shiloh Missionary Baptist and St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. All three of the historically African-American churches highlight the rich religious and architectural history of ILM’s African American community.

Dec. 2, 5:55 p.m. • Free
Downtown Wilmington
North Front and Walnut streets

I don’t know if there’ll be snow, but there will be cheer definitely! Head downtown for a Port City holiday tradition! Starting at North Front and Walnut streets and ending at Castle Street, the annual holiday Whobilation is sure to grow any Grinch’s heart three sizes! There will be marching bands, floats, entertainers, and of course the big man in red himself! The event will be televised on WECT’s Bounce Channel.

with Zoe & Cloyd
Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. • $10-20
UNCW Kenan Auditorium
601 S. College Rd

Long-time veterans of the Asheville music scene, singer-songwriters—and founding members of the Americana trio, Red June— Natalya Zoe Weinstein and John Cloyd Miller are bringing their unique sounds of the season to Wilmington. Zoe, who grew up in a musical family, is a fiddle virtuoso and songwriter. Paired with Cloyd’s “haunting mountain voice,” the duo draws from a variety of musical styles—folk, country, bluegrass, old time, etc—to create their distinct sound.  Their performance will feature a few original tunes off their most recent album, “Eyes Brand New,” as well as some “homegrown renditions” of classic holiday favorites.

Dec. 13, 6 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. • $50-$75
Brooklyn Arts Center at St. Andrews
516 N 4th St.

The best holiday celebration this side of the nuthouse! Thirty-four stations will feature 17 local eateries and 17 local drinkeries, pairing the best in food and beverages. Attendees will enjoy eating and drinking amidst the Griswolds’ “Christmas Vacation” theme, as carolers entertain throughout the evening. Prizes will be given for Best Bite, Best Sip and Best Decorated Booth, as well as Best Dressed Male and Female. Help celebrate and raise funds for DREAMS of Wilmington, which gives children the opportunity to learn multi-media arts, no matter their family’s socio-economic status.

Dec. 14-15 & 21-24, 6 p.m. – 10 p.m
$12 adults, $5 children under 12
Horsedrawn Tours Wilmington, NC
Market St. between Front and Water

Tell Grandma to get out of the way! For a few nights only, Wilmington’s horse-drawn carriage rides will be transformed into “reindeer” drawn carriage rides! Get cozy under warm lap blankets, sing Christmas carols with your guide, Santa, and enjoy the sights and sounds of downtown Wilmington at Christmas. Free candy canes provided by Santa.

Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. • $47-$155
Wilson Center
703 N. 3rd St.

“Run run reindeer!” That’s right, the Beach Boys are bringing their iconic sound to ILM this December for their “Reasons for the Season” Christmas tour! Led by Mike Love and Bruce Johnston, the group will continue the legacy of one of America’s favorite surf-rock bands. Tickets are selling quickly, as this event is bound to be filled with holiday “fun, fun, fun!”

Dec. 20, 4 p.m. & 7 p.m. • $12
Thalian Hall • 310 Chestnut Street

We all know that iconic line: “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”

Join Thalian Hall for a beloved Wilmington tradition—a screening of “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Capra’s timeless tale from 1946 brings back memories of holidays past, and creates new ones for audiences every year around this time. In addition to the screenings, Tony Rivenbark’s famous toy collection will be on display, and there will be seasonal treats for the whole family.

Tickets generally sell out for this event, so advanced purchase is recommended.

Find more holiday events in encore’s calendar pages or check in at’s SpinGo calendar.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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