Holiday happenings that illuminate Seattle, making the season merry and bright

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

Also, 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.  


Museum of History and Industry
Photo courtesy of MOHAI

For an overview of this city and its fascinating people, head to South Lake Union's innovative Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). "True Northwest: The Seattle Journey" showcases the success of the region's first habitants, as it also explores the challenges and triumphs of Seattle's "colorful, sometimes bumpy trek from wilderness to world city." Discover how the city rebuilt after a devastating fire, accrued a fortune in the gold rush, boomed during two World Wars and two World's Fairs and challenged the status quo in the 20th century. (The Bezos Center for Innovation examines the city's constant role as a hub of big ideas.) Also check out the newest exhibits, like "Beyond Bollywood: Indian Americans Shape the Nation" and related programming. Kick-off the season at Lake Union Park on November 30 (from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.); the MOHAI Model Train Show runs from November 29 through December 1.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), located on the edge of scenic Lake Union, is an informative, engaging way to spend a winter day.

Corinne's expert tip: Kick-off the season at Lake Union Park on November 30 (from 10 a.m. till 5 p.m.), and the MOHAI Model Train Show runs full steam ahead from November 29 through December 1. The museum is open on December 24 and December 31 (but closes early on those days, 2 p.m.). They're closed on Christmas day, but open on New Year's Day. All year-round, spend an entire day wandering the lakeside region where this museum is located; if the weather's nice, go for a paddle at the neighboring Wooden Center for Wooden Boats, or grab lunch at nearby waterfront restaurants (like Cask & Trotter or The White Swan Public House).

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Museum of Flight

Hands-on informational and historical exhibits distinguish this fascinating museum, which appeals to aspiring pilots and those whose feet have never left the ground. On Saturday, December 14, enjoy Santa's Fly-In (at 9:45 a.m.) plus music by Caspar Babypants, the Boeing Orchestra and the Boeing Employee Concert Band. From December 22 through 30, kids enjoy making gliders, flying snowmen, robots and rockets. All-year-round: Displays in the Red Barn, where Boeing's first planes where constructed, chronicle the history of flight up to the late 1930s. In the six-story Great Gallery, more than 20 planes hang from the ceiling. Additional sights include a mock air traffic control center, an early Air Force One presidential plane and a Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built. Furthermore, the outdoor airpark lets visitors explore some of the museum's largest planes. Other amenities include complimentary guided tours, a cafe and a museum store.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The entire family enjoys this fascinating museum with its many films and hands-on exhibits; on Saturday, December 14, don't miss Santa's annual fly-in!

Corinne's expert tip: Admission is free after 5 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month. (Any day, discounted tickets are available for those with AAA, Boeing employees and active military members.) On Saturday, December 14, enjoy Santa's Fly-In (at 9:45 a.m.), a beloved annual tradition.

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This celebration of all things winter is a Seattle mainstay and takes over the Seattle Center's grounds again this year from November 29 through December 31. There are a plethora of things to see and do, including a holiday train display, holiday movies and student showcases. 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. The festival rings in the New Year with spectacular fireworks, the Fountain of Light dance party and an 11-piece band (Left Turn on Blue). While in Seattle Center, also consider lounging in the welcoming KEXP Gathering Space or booking a beautiful yoga experience, with special classes held occasionally inside Chihuly Garden and Glass (check their online calendar).

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Seattle Center Winterfest brings five weeks of festive, fun-filled, free and affordable activities that brighten the season.

Corinne's expert tip: Take a break in Seattle Center's KEXP Gathering Space, a community hub fueled by good music and good coffee. For a unique yoga experience, book special classes that occasionally happen among the beauty of Seattle Center's Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Read more about Seattle Center Winterfest →


The 5th Avenue Theatre proves a perfect holiday outing that all your loved ones can enjoy together; this winter "Mrs. Doubtfire" runs from November 26 through December 29. 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 Disney's hit 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 to make 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.)

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For a perfect family-friendly holiday outing, head to 5th Avenue Theatre, where "Mrs. Doubtfire" runs from November 26 through December 29.

Corinne's expert tip: To avoid service fees, purchase tickets in person at the Box Office. Nearby RN74 is a great spot to grab a bite before the show; check out their alluring happy hour menu that features "burger, baguettes, Burgundy and beer," among other delicious temptations.

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

WildLights kicks off at Woodland Park Zoo November 29 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 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.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: WildLights kicks off at Woodland Park Zoo November 29 and continues through January 5, bringing back Seattle's wildest holiday-time festival of lights.

John's expert tip: Note that WildLights is closed December 2, 3, 9, 10, 24 and 25.

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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 30 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. Jazz in the Atrium takes place on three Saturday afternoons in December. 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 14th, which proves an entertaining sight even if you're not participating!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Pike Place Market becomes festively illuminated during the holiday months (even more so than usual!), proving the perfect spot for gift-shopping, cider-sipping or carol-listening.

John's expert tip: From November 26 through December 24, receive your parking validation ticket (for one hour of free parking), by entering the Public Market Parking Garage at 1531 Western Avenue from 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

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The Triple Door
Photo courtesy of Angela Sterling

From December 12 through 29, The Triple Door hosts another 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 bespoke costuming and original choreography from classically trained, internationally recognized artist Lily Verlaine. This season's production features original music inspired by the iconic Tchaikovsky ballet score arranged by Jasper McCann and music scholars Kate Olson and Michael Owcharuk, played live by a nine-piece jazz orchestra. The show is produced by Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann. 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 sightlines to the stage.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: From December 12 through 29, the award-winning wintertime spectacle "Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker" returns (presented by Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann).

Corinne's expert tip: For more info about "Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker," visit, or buy tickets via Other upcoming shows at The Triple Door include John Craigie (December 6 and 7) and Curtis Salgado (December 31). At The Triple Door, 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.

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

The 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 23 through, January 1, 2019, finding inspiration with creative themes that rotate annually. This year's theme, #ElfLife, celebrates tales of elves, ranging from traditional versions of Santa's little helpers to more modern twists like Elf on the Shelf. 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!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Feel the magic of the season throughout December at the Sheraton Grand Seattle Hotel's Gingerbread Village, a local tradition now in its 27th year.

Corinne's expert tip: The event is free, but bring cash to donate to the Northwest Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Visiting the festive display also gives you a chance to check out the new-and-improved Sheraton Grand Seattle Hotel— and its many alluring amenities.

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Photo courtesy of Enchant Christmas®

Mischievous, Enchant Christmas® returns to T-Mobile Park for its second year from November 22 through December 29. While snow falls gently around you, travel the World's Largest Light Maze with hot cocoa in hand. Mosey through all-new food options and a Christmas Market experience with more than 70 local artisans, and glide along a light-adorned ice-skating trail, all while holiday music and live entertainment spread the joy of the season. General admission includes full access to the World's Largest Christmas Light Maze, a food and Christmas Market experience featuring more than 75 vendors, Santa's Landing, Kid Zone and the Ice Skating Trail; VIP tickets elevate the outing even further. Visit

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Mischievous, Enchant Christmas® returns to T-Mobile Park from November 22 through December 29, bringing fun and merriment for the whole family.

Corinne's expert tip: Those 21 and older may want to buy a ticket to the Hit it Here Terrace Club. Also, if you're looking to enhance the entire experience, enjoy red carpet treatment with tickets that grant VIP access.

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Christmas Ship Festival
Photo courtesy of Argosy Cruises

Mark your calendars for November 29 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, from Tacoma to Kirkland. Choirs onboard sing 20-minute performances to these communities, all broadcast via a 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 the dozens of additional brightly decorated boats). The Grand Finale enlivens Seattle's waterways on December 23.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Seattle anxiously awaits the annual Christmas Ship Festival, which fills the city's waterways with celebratory, caroling boats ranging from Argosy Cruises to smaller, personal crafts.

Corinne's expert tip: Find the full Argosy schedule on their website. Be sure not to miss the grand finale on December 23 at 7 p.m.! (Even if you don't book a cruise, watch from the shore in prime— and packed —viewing spots like Gasworks Park, where the second performance takes places at 8:45 p.m.) Argosy Cruises is proud to donate a portion of all Christmas Ship™ Festival proceeds to The Seattle Times Fund for the Needy.

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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