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

Seattle is a city that likes to celebrate the good things in life–any 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.  


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 1 at 5:30 p.m. (think hot chocolate, holiday tea and cookies, carolers etc.); 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, culinary adventures and Christmas dinner extravaganza.

The 5th Avenue Theatre proves a perfect holiday outing that all your loved ones can enjoy together; this winter "Annie" runs through December 30. 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.)

Seattle Center Winterfest

This celebration of all things winter is a Seattle mainstay and takes over the Seattle Center's grounds again this year from November 23 through January 6. There's a plethora of things to see and do, including ice skating, a holiday train display, holiday movies, student showcases and a "Winter Worldfest." It's a great day out for kids, but adults can't help but get caught up in the festive spirit as well. A daily schedule of free entertainment works well for those on a budget. This year, highlights include the Winterfest Ice Rink and Saturday ice sculpting, including a full day of ice carving mastery on Sunday, December 16. The festival opened with Holiday Harmony and rings in the New Year with spectacular fireworks, the Fountain of Light dance party and live music by cover band Sway.

Paramount Theatre

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 Disney's "Lion King" playing most evenings between December 13 and the end of the month. 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!

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

WildLights kicks off at Woodland Park Zoo November 23 and continues through January 5, 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.

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 launched into the holiday season with Magic in the Market on Saturday, November 24 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Throughout the season, the bustling Market becomes festively illuminated (even more so than usual!), proving the perfect spot for gift-shopping, cider-sipping or carol-listening. Check out the venue's online calendar for workshops and classes on topics ranging from Holiday Gourmet Gift Making to Holiday Cookie Extravaganzas. The annual Santacon festivities take over several Pike Place venues on Saturday, December 15—an entertaining sight even if you're not participating!

The Triple Door
Photo courtesy of Angela Sterling

From December 7 though 30, The Triple Door hosts the thirteenth annual installment of "Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker," an award-winning wintertime spectacle that gives the traditional ballet a bawdy makeover. The show features top-notch local dance talent, opulent custom costuming and original choreography from classically-trained, internationally-recognized artist Lily Verlaine. This season's production includes original music arrangements inspired by the classic Tchaikovsky ballet score, arranged by Jasper McCann and music scholars Kate Olson and Michael Owcharuk, played live by a nine-piece orchestra that features some of the best jazz musicians around. All your favorite characters return, including Lily Verlaine's Sugar Plum Fairy, Tory Peil's "toreadora" Hot Chocolate, the light-juggling magic of Babette La Fave and the ever-lovable Snowflakes. At Triple Door, the Mainstage is located downstairs on the lower level; it's an intimate candlelit spot with state-of-the-art sound and booths that offer clear sight lines to the stage.

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

The recently refreshed Sheraton Seattle Grand 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 20 through, January 1, 2019, finding inspiration with a theme inspired by creative literary genius, Dr. Seuss' Whoville. Guests revisit familiar, fantastical scenes, from the ominous lair of the Who with a heart three sizes too small to his mischievous present-stealing tactics. 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!

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

For 20-plus years, New Year's Eve fireworks launched from the 605-foot-tall Space Needle have illuminated the city. Now the festive fete inside is better than ever (tickets on sale now), thanks to the Needle's recent $100 million "spacelift" renovation that features the world's first and only revolving glass floor and completely unobstructed, floor-to-ceiling views of the twinkling Seattle skyline. For the first time ever, the New Year's at the Needle party spans two floors. Visitors taste, toast and dance the night away (from 9 p.m. till as they: groove to the beats of legendary DJ Marco Collins on the upper level, chill at the Absolut ice bar, relax on the Loupe with the Kate Voss Trio, and enjoy appetizers, desserts, two hosted drinks and a complimentary glass of champagne at midnight, when Seattle's most iconic fireworks display explodes above and below the festivities.

Christmas Ship Festival
Photo courtesy of Argosy Cruises

Mark your calendars for November 23 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 (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.


Meet Corinne Whiting

Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's...  More About Corinne