Best Things to Do in December in Memphis

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

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.



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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: 50,000 revelers can't be wrong - Beale Street is the place to be to celebrate the New Year.

Sally's expert tip: To stay close to the action but away from the madness, choose the Peabody, Madison, or Courtyard by Marriott downtown.

Read more about New Year's Eve on Beale Street →

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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The CMOM gives kiddies one last chance to celebrate the holidays before their break is over.

Sally's expert tip: Tickets can be purchased online, or at the door the day of the event.

Read more about New Year's at Noon, Children's Museum of Memphis →

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 31 and kick off is scheduled for 2:45 p.m.)The Parade usually takes place the afternoon of the day before the game, with the competitor's marching bands, local school bands, floats and performers parading down Beale Street to W.C. Handy Park, where there's a pre-bowl pep rally. 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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Memphis is a football-loving town, and the Liberty Bowl is as popular with locals as it is with the fans from each team.

Sally's expert tip: Do something good this holiday season, and be a Bowl Buddy - you can buy tickets for yourself, and gift one to a St. Jude patient.

Read more about AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Parade & Pep Rally →


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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Most of the holiday decorations used in and around Graceland were purchased by the King of Rock 'n' Roll himself.

Sally's expert tip: The tour of the mansion and grounds is part of the regular admission to Graceland.

Read more about Christmas at Graceland →

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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Enchanted Forest is one of the city's most historic, fabulous and loved holiday events.

Sally's expert tip: The Enchanted Forest is open into the evenings on select Fridays, making for an even more magical experience.

Read more about Enchanted Forest Festival of Trees →

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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Memphis Zoo is one of the city's premier attractions, and even more fun during the holidays.

Sally's expert tip: The early bird gets the parking space - and a less crowded venue. Hit Zoo Lights as soon as it opens each evening at 5:30.

Read more about Zoo Lights →

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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Peabody's lobby is one of the most festive holiday spots in the country.

Sally's expert tip: The best spot to view the decadent lobby and festivities is from the mezzanine - be sure to arrive early to grab a spot.

Read more about Christmas at the Peabody Hotel →

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 16th.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Zoo offers the city's only outside rink - and it stays open until the kids go back to school.

Sally's expert tip: Skating is not included in Zoo admission or admission to Zoo Lights.

Read more about Memphis Zoo on Ice →

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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Starry Nights can make even the Grinch-iest of your relatives get into the holiday spirit.

Sally's expert tip: You can save time in the car line by purchasing your tickets online; there's a small service fee but it's well worth the added convenience.

Read more about Starry Nights →

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 Holiday Wonders. From 'Snowy Nights' in My Big Backyard, the children's play area and garden at the MBG, to a festival of old-growth trees lit up for the season, to a family friendly but definitely romantic lounge called Under the Stars, there's something for everyone at this wintery wonderland. Themed lighting, a musical light show, gently falling snow, carolers, holiday crafts and treats are just the beginning of the magical experience; kids can also play inside a giant snow globe and impress the crowd with their 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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Memphis gets so little snow, especially during the holidays, so the holiday festivities at MBG is our go-to for a winter wonderland.

Sally's expert tip: You can reserve tickets for a specific date online.

Read more about Holiday Wonders at Memphis Botanic Garden →


Meet Sally Walker Davies

Sally Walker Davies is enchanted by Memphis' music, history, and characters. From the artsy South Main Historic District to the grittiness of her favorite live music clubs to the sophisticated...  More About Sally