Holiday Happenings: 10 Must-See Memphis Events for Merry Making

Photo courtesy of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy
Photo courtesy of Memphis Botanic Garden
By Sally Walker Davies, Memphis Local Expert

With its location, Memphis is known for mild winters - but you can always count on snow and lots of holiday cheer, thanks to the holiday-themed events that run throughout the season.

From single events including the AutoZone Liberty Bowl - an SEC / Big12 post-season match-up - to the season-long fanciful Snowy Nights in the Memphis Botanic Garden's My Big Backyard, there's something for everyone during the holiday season in Memphis.

If romance is on your mind, there's nothing better than a romantic stroll through the Memphis Zoo at night, or the wild wonderland that is Starry Nights at Shelby Farms Park (they even offer lighted carriage rides). The kids will love the snow and crafts at the Memphis Botanic Garden, which has expanded from Snowy Nights in the children's garden to garden-wide festivities, and those looking for a bit of nostalgic splendor will dig the  Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees at the Pink Palace. The Peabody Hotel's famed ducks get a little holiday groove on, as the lobby of the historic hotel goes all-out, with a huge Christmas tree, garland, a whimsical gingerbread display and more.

Football fans have long known the Liberty Bowl as a great post-season game, and this year's match between teams from the SEC and Big 12 promises to be a hot ticket; a parade and pep rally on Beale Street is all part of the bowl experience. And Beale is ground zero for New Year's Eve, as the guitar drops at midnight, with 50,000 revelers looking on.


10. New Year's Eve on Beale Street
Photo courtesy of Hard Rock Cafe Memphis

Who needs a ball drop, when you can watch a guitar drop during the New Year's countdown on the street that defines American music - Memphis' own Beale Street. The run-up to the midnight countdown at the Hard Rock Café includes live music and dancing in Handy Park, specials at the bars and restaurants on Beale, and the chance to bury your blues, too. Simply bring along a memento of your blues – a rejection letter, a break-up email – and toss it into the coffin so you're assured of starting the new year off on a positive note. About 50,000 people are expected on Beale Street to ring in the New Year, so you'll have plenty of company. Following the midnight guitar drop, you can take in fireworks and then continue your celebration of the New Year in one of Beale's bars, which remain open until the wee hours of the first day of 2018.

9. New Year's at Noon, Children's Museum of Memphis
Photo courtesy of Children's Museum of Memphis

New Year's at Noon gives the kids a chance to celebrate New Year's Eve, but just a few hours earlier with a 'stroke of noon' countdown. Each year, the Children's Museum hosts the themed party, that is $15 per person or free for museum members, which includes admission to the museum. Face painting, temporary tattoos, a scavenger hunt, crafts and more are planned; a noon countdown with a goodie toss and balloon drop helps little revelers get their celebration on. After the fun, tour the museum's exhibits and wear the little darlings out, so mom and dad can have their own celebration.

8. AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Parade & Pep Rally
Photo courtesy of AutoZone Liberty Bowl

The annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl pits the SEC against the Big 12 in a nationally-televised post-season match-up with a handful of festive events leading up to the game. The biggest public events include a parade and pep rally on Beale Street on the day before the game (game day is December 30 and kick off is at 11:30 a.m.). The Parade begins at 3 p.m. on December 29, with the competitor's marching bands, local school bands, floats and performers parading down Beale Street to W.C. Handy Park, where the pre-bowl pep rally commences at 5 p.m. Sponsor AutoZone is headquartered in Memphis,as is the charity partner of the game - St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Players from both teams visit St. Jude patients during their time in the city, and select events support the hospital's mission to serve every child regardless of the ability to pay for treatment.

7. Christmas at the Peabody Hotel
Photo courtesy of Peabody Hotel Memphis

The lobby of the historic Peabody Hotel is always a festive place to be; with its ornate columns and lush decor, a lively bar and its resident ducks, there's no better place to grab a cocktail in the city. During the holidays, however, the Peabody lobby and bar turn from festive to all-out magical. The Lobby Bar, lobby and mezzanine level get the full holiday treatment, from a huge Christmas tree in the bar area to gingerbread creations to more trees and lights, garland and general splendor. The Peabody Gingerbread Village is created from massive amounts of sugar and eggs - 300 and 400, respectively - plus 50 pounds of assorted candy and about 250 hours of work. During the month, area high school choirs or bands perform at the 11 a.m. duck march - a wonderful way to get into the spirit of the season.

6. Christmas at Graceland
Photo courtesy of Elvis Presley Enterprises

There's no better bling in Memphis than Graceland - the home of Elvis Presley, which decks the halls royally every holiday season. The merriment begins with a lighting ceremony, and the mansion and grounds are bedecked in the King's holiday bling, including a life sized nativity scene outside, and red velvet curtains and Presley family mementos inside. Dozens of live poinsettias wrap the home's main staircase (upstairs is off limits to visitors)in holiday splendor, and guests can be a part of the Elvis Presely Charitable Foundation's poinsettia campaign, which provides funding for the foundation's many programs that benefit children and students in Memphis.

5. Zoo Lights
Photo courtesy of Memphis Zoo

The Memphis Zoo lights up in the evenings during the holiday season, with fanciful displays, lighted trails, Santa in his workshop, reindeer, and special crafts are all part of the holiday fun. Other animal encounters happen throughout the season, and the Zoo's gorgeous carousel and rides on the tram are free, too, with the price of admission to Zoo Lights. Hot cocoa and other holiday treats are served up at the Cat's House Cafe, centrally located to the farm - home to most of the craft activities - and Santa's workshop. Zoo Lights runs through December 30th on select evenings.

4. Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees
Photo courtesy of I Love Memphis Blog

A winter wonderland that enchants children and adults alike started more than 60 years ago, when the display director for the now-defunct Goldsmith's department store created charming tableaus as part of the store's Christmas display. Each year, another snowy scene featuring an animated woodland creature popped up, and eventually the entire forest was put together in one spot, in the Goldsmith's basement. Decades later, the Enchanted Forest found a new home in the Pink Palace Museum, with dozens of whimsically decorated trees, a gingerbread village and full-scale model train added. Now known as the Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees, this Memphis holiday tradition supports LeBonheur Children's Hospital as one of its major fundraising events.

3. Starry Nights
Photo courtesy of Shelby Farms Park Conservancy

There's rarely any snow (and sometimes not even cold) to get one into the holiday spirit. So when an annual event like Starry Nights - the amazing, holiday-themed, drive-through tour of lighted displays - pops up in Shelby Farms Park, rest assured that everybody in town will make tracks for a festive way to put the ho-ho-ho into the holidays. Running every evening through Dec. 28,, Starry Nights features more than 1.5 million lights in a display that winds through the vast park. Fanciful images of animals, stars and planets, holiday images and more lead guests through the park. Be sure to look for the buffalo lights, too; there's a herd that makes its home in the park so that's a fun tribute to them. Guests have the choice of driving through in their cars, or signing up for a horse-drawn carriage or hayride through the light show. A Christmas-y village called Mistletoe Village is a must-stop for hot cocoa, visits with Santa and the chance to ride a camel or go to the petting zoo. Parents can do a little holiday shopping in the artists' market in Mistletoe, too. Choirs from local schools perform on select evenings.

2. Memphis Zoo on Ice
Photo courtesy of Memphis Zoo

We're suckers for an ice rink - but even better, an outdoor ice rink in an old-growth forest, surrounded by the growls of grizzlies and the chirping of chimps. Memphis Zoo on Ice brings a holiday vibe to the already popular zoo, with ice skating daily from 9:30 - 4:30 and on the evenings when Zoo Lights is on. Skate rentals are available - but bring your own socks - and there are snacks and warm beverages, too. The Zoo Lights and Zoo on Ice run concurrently throughout the holiday season, starting November 21st.

1. Holiday Wonders at Memphis Botanic Garden
Photo courtesy of Memphis Botanic Garden

Memphis doesn't traditionally get a lot of snow – so Santa and his elves at the Memphis Botanic Garden give us the gift of a winter wonderland every holiday season, with Snowy Nights in My Big Backyard, the children's play area and garden at the MBG. Themed lighting, a musical light show, gently falling snow, carolers, holiday crafts and treats are just the beginning of the magical experience; you can also play inside a giant snow globe and impress the crowd with your design skills at the giant Light Bright display. If things get truly chilly, which is definitely likely to happen, then you can warm up with hot cocoa around the fire pits. Snowy Nights is a magical spot for families and couples of any age.