Holiday Happenings That Illuminate Seattle + Make the Season Merry and Bright

Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Salish Lodge & Spa
Photo courtesy of Magic in the Market/Richmond Public Relations
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Space Needle
Photo courtesy of Angela Sterling
Photo courtesy of Sheraton Seattle
Photo courtesy of Argosy Cruises
By Corinne Whiting, Seattle Local Expert

Seattle is a city that likes to celebrate the good things in life‚Äďany season of year (and no special occasion needed). Events and festivals pack the schedule year-round, and the indoor ambience at cafes, bars and restaurants (think white twinkly lights strung from rafters and exposed brick walls) tend to be cozy and inviting, even in the dead of summer. 

Yet when winter does finally roll around, Seattle seems to emit even more of an enchanting glow. Holiday happenings in November, December and well into January help ring in the season and the New Year. Residents and visitors alike delight in joyous gatherings of food and drink that feature music and merriment, fireworks and family-friendly fun.

In addition, while local venues stage holiday-focused events in cozy spaces, popular attractions open their doors during unlikely hours. For example, the Woodland Park Zoo opens its gate at nighttime and gets illuminated with a bounty of lights. And as part of a beloved annual tradition, the city's omnipresent waterways fill with glowing boats during the annual Christmas Ship Parade. New Year's Eve brings even more pizzazz, as the city shoots off fireworks from tall buildings and barges, lights bonfires along beaches and releases enchanting paper lanterns from shores around the city.  

10. Woodland Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo

WildLights kicks off at Woodland Park Zoo November 24 and continues through January 1, bringing back Seattle's wildest winter holiday lights festival presented by Sound Credit Union (5:30-8:30 p.m. nightly). Wild animals and wild places get re-created, as more than 600,000 energy-efficient LED lights fill the paths, landscaping and open spaces of the zoo. Visitors enjoy illuminated indoor and outdoor displays, rides on the zoo's decorated Historic Carousel (additional fee), even visits from a couple of reindeer. WildLights visitors can shake and shimmy to a music-synchronized light show experience. Festive snacks will be available for purchase during event nights, including hot chocolate and fudge puppies. While the zoo's animals will be tucked in for the night, the Day Exhibit, a showcase of reptiles and amphibians, and the Adaptations Building, featuring animals such as sloths, Indian flying foxes and meerkats, remain open for guests.

9. Salish Lodge and Spa
Photo courtesy of Salish Lodge & Spa

A scenic 30-minute drive from Seattle brings you to the charmingly rustic Salish Lodge & Spa, which offers Old-World ambience and modern elegance. Get out and enjoy nature near the lodge, whether hiking around the rushing cascades or trying activities like snoeshowing. Back at the cozy venue, dine on award-winning Northwest cuisine, while enjoying romantic views of Snoqualmie Falls. Attend a festive tree lighting ceremony on December 2 at 5 p.m. (think hot chocolate, holiday tea and cookies, live music from the Snoqualmie Valley Girls' Choir); afterward, head into The Country Store to begin your holiday shopping. Other delights throughout the season include the lodge's Holiday Tea sessions (reservations required) and Merry Adventures (culinary adventures in the Chef's Studio).

8. Macy's Holiday Parade

Macy's is always a strong presence in Seattle's holiday celebrations, and this wonderful parade only cements its association. This year's Macy's Holiday Parade takes place on Friday, November 24 (stepping off promptly at 9 a.m. on the corner of 7th Ave. and Pine St. and lasting approximately an hour). The parade includes festive floats, costumed characters and local community groups, all followed by Santa, who will arrive at Macy's and officially open Santaland for the 2017 Christmas season. (Get your photo taken with Santa on the third floor of Macy', beginning at 11 a.m.) Downtown Seattle is treated to lots of color, motion and merriment as participants make their way from the starting point to the Macy's store itself. As if that amount of spectacle weren't enough, at 5 p.m., folks are treated to a lighting of the 161-foot high, 3,600-bulb Macy's Holiday Star and a fireworks show (weather permitting).

7. 5th Avenue Theatre
Photo courtesy of Mark Kitaoka

The 5th Avenue Theatre proves a perfect holiday outing that all your loved ones can enjoy together; this winter "Irving Berlin's Holiday Inn" plays from November 24 through December 31 during the West Coast premiere of this recent Broadway hit. The show, inspired by the Oscar-winning film, features lavish sets and costumes, spectacular choreography and 20 Irving Berlin songs The venue's known as one of the nation's leading musical theater companies, especially for its production and development of new works. Since 2002, the Seattle-based company has produced 17 new musicals. (To date, nine--including hit Disney's Aladdin-- have moved on to Broadway premieres, earning a combined 15 Tony Awards, including two for Best Musical--Hairspray and Memphis. The 5th Avenue Theatre is also known makes waves for its lauded productions of musicals from the contemporary canon and the Golden Age of Broadway. While the shows are sensational, the venue itself justifies a visit, too, thanks to a unique, Chinese-inspired design. (The exquisite theater opened in 1926 as a venue for vaudeville and film.)

6. Pike Place Market
Photo courtesy of Magic in the Market/Richmond Public Relations

In celebration of the holiday season and its more than 500 merchants who create uniquely handcrafted gifts, Pike Place Market invites guests to Magic in the Market on Saturday, November 25 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Festivities include complimentary photos with Santa and a countdown to the lighting ceremony of the Market's holiday tree, cookie decorating and live performances. New this year, "Stocking and Stuffers" means more than 15 Market craftspeople and artists selling holiday stockings and small gifts to accompany them. Partake in the magic all day-long (with a tree lighting at 5 p.m. in front of the Public Market Center clock and sign at Pine Street). Bonus: On the first three Saturdays in December from 1 to 2:30 p.m., local high school jazz combos spread holiday cheer with live music in the Atrium.

5. New Year's Eve at the Space Needle
Photo courtesy of Courtesy Space Needle

For 20-plus years, New Year's Eve fireworks at the 605-foot-tall Space Needle have illuminated the city. In 2017, join KEXP and the Space Needle for T-Mobile New Year's at the Needle on Saturday, December 31, featuring a fireworks display with a KEXP-curated soundtrack. For the fourth year, KEXP puts its stamp on the show with a diverse set list reflective of the station and the city. Join the festivities at Seattle Center or tune in to KING5-TV and KEXP 90.3 FM for the largest display of fireworks in the history of the show, set to an original music soundtrack from Seattle's own listener-supported radio station. (Live event coverage will be broadcast on KING5 from 11:35 PM to 12:30 AM.) More than 20,000 people are expected to gather below the tower to watch the fireworks beautifu the night sky, and an estimated 400,000 people will view the show from surrounding neighborhoods.

4. Paramount Theatre
Photo courtesy of stovak

Dating to the late 19th century, this grand venue has been restored to the glory it knew as a movie theater in the 1920s, making it a perfect destination for a special holiday-time outing. Choose from a variety of performances throughout the season, like "Elf The Musical" from December 5 through 10, "Cirque Dreams Holidaze" between December 22 and 24 or "The Brian Setzer Orchestra's Christmas Show on December 26. These days, you can catch acts as diverse as Boyz II Men and The Head and the Heart to Sturgill Simpson and The Beach Boys, and there's even the odd speaking engagement, too (think beloved figures from Dr. Maya Angelou to Hillary Clinton). Enjoy the sumptuous, gilt-edged surroundings as you take in a show. The ambience is decadent; for example, three million crystal beads adorn 218 chandeliers and light fixtures. If dancing is called for, the seating area quickly converts to a stunning hardwood ballroom floor. The "wow" factor here is definitely worth the trip!

3. The Triple Door
Photo courtesy of Angela Sterling

From December 7 though 28, an award-winning wintertime spectacle "Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker" returns to delight holiday revelers at The Triple Door, presented by Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann. (For more info about the performance, visit www.VerlaineAndMcCann.com.) This traditional ballet-meets-bawdy makeover features top-notch dance talent from professional companies including Spectrum Dance Theater, Whim W'Him and Nevada Ballet Theatre. At Triple Door, the Mainstage, downstairs on the lower level, is an intimate candlelit spot with state-of-the-art sound and booths that offer clear sight lines to the stage. An Asian-fusion menu is provided by Wild Ginger restaurant next door, and the same cuisine is available upstairs in the Musicquarium Lounge, where live music, DJ sets and the happy hour are legendary.

2. Gingerbread Village at the Seattle Sheraton Hotel
Photo courtesy of Sheraton Seattle

Sheraton Seattle Hotel is a contemporary urban retreat in the heart of downtown, and every winter, its team brings one of the city's most beloved holiday traditions to the city. This year, the much-discussed Gingerbread Village wows visitors and locals alike from November 21 through, January 1, 2018, finding inspiration with the theme of "25 Years of Cheer: A Celebration of Seattle." This year, the spectacle takes place across the street from the Sheraton at the City Centre building; for the first time, the public will be able to view part of the display through the windows along 5th and 6th Avenues. Each year, hotel staff donate more than 1,200 volunteer hours and use approximately 1,200 pounds of dough, 800 pounds of icing, 250 pounds of white chocolate and hundreds of pounds of candy. The event is free, although donations to the Northwest Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation are accepted and appreciated. 'Tis the season!

1. Christmas Ship Festival
Photo courtesy of Argosy Cruises

Mark your calendars for November 24 through December 23! Once again, Seattle celebrates the season in maritime fashion. The Argosy Cruises Christmas Ship festival has been a Pacific Northwest holiday tradition since 1949. Each night, a nautical parade visits different communities along the Puget Sound (45-plus in total), from Tacoma to Kirkland. Choirs onboard sing 20-minute performances to these communities, all broadcast via state-of-the-art speaker system. You can also watch with hundreds of other happy revelers from strategic bonfire-warmed spots along the beach or, on certain dates, from cozy spots like Ivar's Salmon House (on Sunday, November 26, and Friday, December 15; reservations strongly encouraged). If wanting to climb aboard, select from a number of cruise options (ride the Argosy Christmas Ship itself with or without dinner and music, or follow along in one of dozens of additional brightly decorated boats). The Grand Finale enlivens Seattle's waterways December 23.