Best Things to Do in December in Indianapolis

Celebrate the Holidays Hoosier Style with New and Traditional Events

Hoosiers love to celebrate. When the holiday season rolls around, it’s not surprising that Indianapolis has a treasure trove of special events designed to make lasting memories. For many people, the official start of the season is the day after Thanksgiving when folks gather for the traditional Circle of Lights at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in downtown Indianapolis.

The geographic heart of Indianapolis, Monument Circle is the large circular plaza at the union of Meridian and Market streets. At the center of the Circle is the 284-foot-tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument, built in 1902 as a memorial to Indiana’s soldiers and sailors and a beacon for peace. Since 1962, the monument has been strung with lights to make one of the world’s largest Christmas trees. Each year, a local child is picked from a coloring contest to help “flip the switch” to signal the beginning of the holiday season.

Another tradition that has shoppers making their shopping lists and hoping to find the perfect holiday gifts is the 65th annual Christmas Gift and Hobby Show, held this year Nov. 5-9 at the Indiana State Fairgrounds. More than 350 exhibitors display an incredible array of gifts.

Youngsters often miss out on the New Year’s countdown because it’s past their bedtime. But The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has a fun family solution for that. The museum hosts a countdown at noon on New Year’s Eve. Revelers watch North America’s largest water clock count down drop by drop.



For more than half a century, thousands of Hoosiers have braved the cold on Friday night after Thanksgiving to enjoy a beloved holiday tradition – the lighting of almost 5,000 colored lights strung from the 284-foot-tall Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Another 60,000 twinkling lights in trees add shimmer to the scene along with larger-than-life toy soldiers and peppermint sticks circling the monument. The show stage features a Santa's Workshop complete with elves working and an abundance of toys. Each year a local child is picked from a coloring contest to help" flip the switch" with Santa and the mayor. Live entertainment adds to the festivities featuring entertainers chosen from statewide auditions. The tree lighting takes place shortly after 7:30 p.m. but entertainment starts at 6 p.m. Fireworks illuminate the sky after the lighting. Circle of Lights is presented free by Contractors of Quality Connection and Electrical Workers of IBEW 481.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For many Hoosiers, this beloved tree lighting is the official beginning of the holiday season. It's a great time for the community to come together.

Jackie's expert tip: The Circle will be closed to vehicular traffic so parking on the Circle or within a block in every direction will not be an option.

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For feel-good family time, head to Jolly Days Winter Wonderland at The Children's Museum of Indianapolis. A marvelous place any time of year, the museum is a special treat during holidays. Take a ride down the two-story Yule Slide and discover the Ice Castle, "ice" fishing holes and sock skating – all without frozen fingers. Jolly Days are Nov. 22 through Jan. 4 with Santa's Big Arrival on Nov. 28 from 8:30 to 10 a.m. Jolly St. Nick arrives in grand style via a two-seater Dallara Factory IndyCar driven by 2014 Indianapolis 500 pole sitter and Hoosier native Ed Carpenter. Santa will be at the museum daily from Nov. 28 through Christmas Eve to gather children's wish lists. Ring in the New Year at an earlier time for youngsters. Really it's Countdown to Noon on New Year's Eve when North America's largest water clock counts down drop by drop.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Children's Museum of Indianapolis is a great place to let children talk to Santa, get their photo made and tell him their wish list.

Jackie's expert tip: Parking is free at The Children's Museum and the parking garage is connected to the museum by an enclosed walkway so no need to venture out in snow, sleet or rain.

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For almost half a century, the Indianapolis Zoo has been hosting its special Christmas at the Zoo. In fact, the Indianapolis Zoo was the nation's first zoo to host a holiday lights event. Since it started in 1967, Christmas at the Zoo has become known for its beautiful holiday lights and displays. Held from Nov. 28 to Jan. 4 from noon to 5 p.m., the event includes Santa's Workshop, cookie decoration, carolers, a find-the-mistletoe challenge, carousel rides, 4-D theater and much more. Of course, there are also the zoo animals. Enjoying the cooler weather are seals, seal lions, polar bears, walrus, tigers, brown bears, red pandas and other hardy critters. Need a warm up? Stop at one of the two campfires. Zoo fare is served at Caf� on the Commons
, plus guests get free refills on hot beverages all night long at any food service location.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Strolling through a wonderland of Christmas lights is one of the joys of the season. Plus any time is great to visit with zoo animals.

Jackie's expert tip: Be on the lookout for up to 10 mistletoes and register to win one of two Dolphin-In-Water Adventures. TIP: Not all mistletoes need to be found in order to register.

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President Benjamin Harrison loved Christmas and all its traditions. When he was elected and moved his wife Caroline and family into the White House, Harrison took those holiday celebrations with him. Harrison is said to be the first President to put up a Christmas tree in the White House for the joy of his immediate family. The year was 1889. Today, the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in Indianapolis is decorated to represent a gala Victorian Christmas house and guests are invited to visit on Dec. 13 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Built in 1874-75, the 16-room home was considered a gem in its era. Inside the front parlor holds a large tree with authentic decorations such as wooden soldiers, hand-blown glass figures, candles and original Harrison tinsel. Displayed under the tree are Victorian toys, many of them Harrison originals, just as the children might have seen them on Christmas morning.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This charming former home of America's 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison, is now a museum. At Christmas, the home is decorated as Harrison would have done.

Jackie's expert tip: One of the most unusual items at the museum is a handwritten letter from a little schoolgirl in 1892 sending get well wishes to Benjamin Harrison's wife Caroline. Although she was blind, Helen Keller had painstakingly written the letter when she was 12. Caroline Harrison died of tuberculosis in the White House in 1892.

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Journey back to Christmas Eve 1836 when Prairietown residents at Conner Prairie are preparing for the holidays. Each has a story to tell. Mr. McClure, the town carpenter, is putting the finishing touches on handcrafted gifts. The Ullmans describe their Hannukah celebration. Learn about Belznichol at the Golden Eagle Inn and hear what he does to naughty and nice children. Join Dr. Campbell at his elegant home for singing and dancing with him and his family. Back then, Christmas wasn't quite the big celebration it is today. Savor the simplicity while strolling along lantern-lit paths and meeting costumed interpreters. After the 90-minute guided tour, relax with Prairietown residents around the bonfire. Conner Prairie is a living history museum that turns the past into the present. Buildings, furnishings, costumes and even the actors' speech and conversations are thoroughly researched and recreated. Reservations required. Offered Dec. 5,6,12,13,19,20.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Turn back the clock and see how Indiana celebrated on Christmas Eve 1836. Costumes, activities and even actor's speech are in tune with the historic times.

Jackie's expert tip: This program is ideal for guests who prefer a more structured program in the evening hours. Recommended for ages 7 and up.

Read more about Conner Prairie by Candlelight →


Held the week after Christmas, the Indianapolis Auto Show gives car lovers a head start on next year's Christmas wish list. The event runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 1 at the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis. Presented by the Greater Metropolitan Indianapolis Automobile Trade Association, the show features about 450 vehicles from more than 40 manufacturers. Displayed in interesting exhibits, vehicles include 2015 model automobiles, SUVs, light duty trucks and luxury vans. Concept cars, the latest technology, celebrities and daily giveaways - culminating in a drawing for a new vehicle - add to reasons to attend. Consumers also are able to speak with automotive product specialists while they browse the more than 375,000 square feet of exhibit space. The show celebrated its 100th birthday in 2013. If nothing else, it's a good place to dream, stretch your legs and walk off some of the holiday goodies.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Indianapolis and automobiles go together. This show has been around for more than a century which means it must be doing a lot of things right.

Jackie's expert tip: The Indianapolis Auto Show is a great place to look at new vehicles without high-pressure salesmen. And it doesn't snow or sleet inside the Indiana Convention Center. Nice warm place to browse.

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For 65 years, shoppers have flocked to the Christmas Gift and Hobby Show with shopping lists in hand. Nearly five acres of wild, wacky and wonderful holiday gifts are featured, all under one roof with thousands of gifts marked under $20. Entertainment, food, celebrities and giveaways, including cash and gifts, add to the merriment. The five-day power shoppers' paradise is the largest of its kind in the Midwest. More than 350 exhibitors display an incredible array of gifts - running a gamut of home décor, sports memorabilia, books, jewelry, dolls, apparel, designer-inspired accessories, collectibles and much more. The show has something for everyone, including an array of holiday sweets and locally produced wine. When you've shopped til you've dropped, enjoy one of the many stage performances featuring singers, dancers, magic and more. Of course, the merry old man in red makes an appearance. Dates for 2014 are Nov. 5-9.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Christmas Gift and Hobby Show is a tradition for many shoppers, a good time to get a head start on holiday gift buying.

Jackie's expert tip: Looking for the least crowded time. Historically opening day is the least attended. Weekday afternoons are manageable. Weekends are festive, fun and full.

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Remember 9-year-old Ralphie who wants only one thing for Christmas - Red Ryder Range Shot 200 BB gun. Everyone from his mom to Santa himself tells the boy he doesn't need such a dangerous toy because "you'll shoot your eye out." Or how about that atrocious leg lamp that Ralphie's father won and adores? A living room vignette from that iconic 1983 movie A Christmas Story is part of the new Festival of Trees at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center. Stop by the vignette and pose for a holiday photo. Maybe even dress up in those Ralphie-hated pink bunny onesies. Festival of Trees runs Nov. 22 - Jan. 3. A Christmas Story will be shown Dec. 13 and 14 at 2 p.m. Other activities during Festival of Trees include crafts, holiday selfie photo station and Santa visit. The Indiana Historical Society is headquartered in the history center.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A Christmas Story is a holiday classic and to take a photo in a living room vignette from that movie is a treat.

Jackie's expert tip: Writing down New Year's resolutions seems to make them easier to accomplish. Share your 2015 resolutions at the history center on Jan. 3 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and get a coupon for free admission any time during the year.

Read more about Festival of Trees at Eugene & Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center →

Wartime shortages and Depression-era budgets affected Christmas celebrations during the 1930s and 1940s. But more than ever, people were embracing the holidays and wanting to reconnect with festive traditions. During Christmas at Lilly House, guests can see how holidays of that time were celebrated with renewed hope and thankfulness. The free event showcases Lilly House decorated with trees, wreaths and greenery, along with refreshing touches of new fashions. A National Historic Landmark, Lilly House and Gardens is a 26-acre historic estate and house museum located on the Indianapolis Museum of Art campus. Lilly House is a 22-room mansion once the home of J.K. Lilly Jr., the late Indianapolis businessman, collector and philanthropist. Fifteen minutes north of Monument Circle, the Indianapolis Museum of Art is one of the nation's largest and oldest general art museums. Founded in 1883, the museum has more than 54,000 works spanning 5,000 years.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Lilly House is beautiful any time of year but it is especially festive during Christmas holidays. And tours are free, a nice Christmas gift.

Jackie's expert tip: Free Audio Tours are available for both Lilly House and Garden. Visit Lilly House Welcome Desk for a listening device or use your smart phone.

Read more about Christmas at Lilly House →


Christmas and toy trains seem to go together. For a fun holiday treat on a grand scale, visit "Jingle Rails: The Great Western Adventure" at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians & Western Art. This locomotive wonderland travels over more than 1,200 feet of track with a network of trestles, bridges and tunnels, past detailed replicas of national treasures all made of natural materials like twigs, moss and nuts wrapped up in holiday trimming. See how many of the downtown Indianapolis treasures you can identify on the train journey. There's the Eiteljorg, Monument Circle, Union Station, Indiana State Fairgrounds and Lucas Oil Stadium. The train then heads through the national parks of the American West, passing legendary sites, including grand railway lodges, Northwest Coast Native villages, and wonders both natural and human-made - Mt. Rushmore, Grand Canyon, Yosemite Falls, Old Faithful and more. Exhibit runs Nov. 22 through Jan. 18.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: A Christmas tradition, toy trains bring back memories for adults and create memories for youngster. Jingle Rails is an awesome salute to holiday trains.

Jackie's expert tip: Listen as the train goes around miniature Lucas Oil Stadium to hear veteran Colts radio announcer Bob Lamey calling a game. Old Faithful actually erupts.

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Meet Jackie Sheckler Finch

When Jackie Sheckler Finch moved to Indiana from Massachusetts more than two decades ago, she was asked to say hello to Larry Bird. The famous “Hick from French Lick” and former Boston Celtic...  More About Jackie