Holiday Festival of Lights_credit Charleston County Parks (2)

15 Must-Do Holiday Events in Charleston

We can’t wait to celebrate the holidays in the Holy City! From plays and concerts to lights displays and dinner cruises, you won’t have any trouble celebrating the season in Charleston. We’ve compiled 15 of our favorite events. Be sure to visit our online calendar for even more holiday happenings.

Holiday Festival of Lights_credit Charleston County Parks (2)

Holiday Festival of Lights / photo by Charleston County Parks

Kick off the holiday season with one of the Lowcountry’s favorite events: the Holiday Festival of Lights Nov. 10 to Jan. 1 at James Island County Park. Journey through 3 miles of 700 magical light displays of all shapes and sizes. This much-heralded event brings to life holiday scenes and Lowcountry landmarks outlined with 2 billion lights. USA Today has named it one of the “10 Best Holiday Light Shows in America.” After driving through the lights, stop off for a train ride, roast marshmallows, visit the gift shop and enjoy holiday entertainment. The festival opens at 5:30 p.m. daily and admission is $20 per vehicle (1 to 15 guests).

Become a part of the glorious Charleston Symphony Orchestra holiday tradition as Maestro Ken Lam conducts the orchestra’s version, “Holy City Messiah,” with the CSO Chamber Chorus and four guest vocalists at three beautiful churches around Charleston. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7 at Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at St. Andrews Church in Mount Pleasant; and 4 p.m. Dec. 10 at St. Theresa the Little Flower Catholic Church Summerville.

The Sound of Charleston Holiday Concerts are Dec. 1, 8, 14,  22, 26 and 30 at the Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St. in Charleston. Celebrate Charleston’s musical heritage with a holiday twist. Tickets are $16 to $28 (children 12 and under free).

Wine Under the Oaks at Boone HallWine Under the Oaks at Boone Hall Plantation is 1-5 p.m. Dec. 3. Admission includes wine samples, bubbles from Biltmore Estate, desserts, food and wine pairing samples, wine and cooking demonstrations with some of Charleston’s finest chefs and a live performance by Charlton Singleton and Friends. Also, see the plantation home decorated in all its holiday finest. Advance tickets are $52 each.

The 22st Charleston Christmas Special is a blend of old and new – from favorite returning cast members to entertainers coming to the show for the first time. Former Broadway stars and Charleston producers Brad and Jennifer Moranz have created everyone’s favorite holiday show featuring classic Christmas favorites blended with new holiday tunes. The Charleston Christmas Special runs Dec. 8-23 at the Charleston Music Hall. Tickets range from $19 to $41; purchase at the Charleston Music Hall Box Office.

Theatrical performers shed light on a turbulent time in Charleston just before the beginning of the Civil War. Christmas 1860 at Edmondston-Alston House, 21 East Battery St., Charleston Christmas Specialhighlights that Christmas before the war. Adorned in period costumes, performers reflect on the events of the day and how their lives would soon be forever changed. Tours are 6:30-8:30 p.m. on Dec. 1 and Dec. 8 (tours given continuously). Tickets are $20 in advance; $25 at the door; call 843-722-7171.

Step back in time at the Family Yuletide in the Stableyards at Middleton Place. Fresh greenery, berries and other natural items gathered from the plantation will be provided to make wreaths and other holiday decor. Stableyards artisan shops will be lit by candlelight as craftspeople ply their trades and interact with visitors. Seasonal refreshments provided. This event is 5:30-8 p.m. on Dec. 9. Tickets are $15 for adults; $5 for children ages 4-13.

Several theaters around the Charleston area have special holiday-themed plays and musicals:

  • “Holiday Road” – Nov. 21 to Dec. 31 at 34 West Theater Co., 200 Meeting St. in Charleston.
  • “The Kris Kross: A Merry Madcap Mystery” – Thanksgiving through New Year’s at Black Fedora Comedy Mystery Theatre, 164 Church St. in Charleston.
  • “A Christmas Carol” – Nov. 29 to Dec. 20 at the Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St. in Charleston.
  • “Annie” – Dec. 1-17 at Footlight Theatre, 20 Queen St. in Charleston.
  • “A Christmas Story” – Dec. 1-17 at Flowertown Players, 133 S. Main St. in Summerville.
  • “Junie B in Jingle Bells Batman Smells! ” – Dec. 9 and 16 at the Dock Street Theatre, 135 Church St. in Charleston.

Holiday Parades: City of Charleston parade is 2 p.m. Dec. 3 along Broad, King and Calhoun streets, ending with Santa’s arrival at Marion Square where the tree of lights in the center of the park will come to life after dark. More than 3,000 participate in the Summerville Christmas parade through the historic downtown at 2 p.m. on Dec. 10. The North Charleston Christmas parade and festival is 3-8 p.m. Dec. 2 around Park Circle and includes children’s activities, craft and food vendors and live musical performances. The Town of Mount Pleasant features more than 100 floats parading down Coleman Boulevard in its parade, which ends with a tree lighting and fireworks at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 10.

Charleston Holiday Parade of Boats

USCG Cutter Yellowfin / photo by Karen Race

Gather on the shores of the Charleston harbor to watch boats of all shapes and sizes decorated for the holiday season. The Parade of Boats begins about 5 p.m. on the Mount Pleasant side of the Cooper River and ends on the Ashley River about 7:30 p.m.

Book your spot on the Keep the Light Shinin’ Holiday Dinner Cruise with Charleston Harbor Tours. Celebrate the holiday in Lowcountry style aboard The Carolina Queen. This event features a buffet dinner, cruise around the Charleston harbor and music by The Plantation Singers. Cruises are Nov. 25, Dec. 2, 15, 22 and 23.

Plan a visit to King Street. It’s the perfect place to spend a day shopping and grab lunch or coffee while watching the holiday hustle and bustle. Don’t miss 2nd Sunday on King from 1-5 p.m. the second Sunday of each month. King Street is closed to vehicular traffic from Queen Street North to Calhoun Street.

Charleston Place Train DisplayFrom Nov. 29 to Jan. 2, stop off at Belmond Charleston Place to see the lobby transformed into a magical holiday wonderland. Situated among the beautifully decorated trees and garland-draped stairways is a miniature replica of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express train. The display features miniature European alpine homes, tiny churches, realistic stables and a blacksmith shop. Three trains, including the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, complete with smokestacks and whistles run on different routes at average speeds of 70 MPH (scale speed).

Happy New Year, Charleston is a non-alcoholic, family friendly New Year’s Eve celebration in Marion Square. This free event include a variety of programs: comedy, African dancing, many forms of music including classical, gospel and jazz, children’s activities and more.

Celebrate the New Year with style aboard the SpiritLine New Year’s Eve Dinner Cruise. Enjoy a four-course dinner and live music and dancing aboard the elegantly decorated Spirit of Carolina. Cost is $99 per person and includes party favors and a champagne toast at midnight. Boarding begins at 9 p.m.