Holiday Festival of Lights
Holiday Festival of Lights | Piwakawaka Photo
Holiday Festival of Lights | Piwakawaka Photo

The Most Festive Things to Do in Charleston This Holiday Season

The tree is going up in Marion Square, Holiday Festival of Lights is officially open on James Island, and soon nary a door without a wreath on it will be found in the Holy City -- in other words, the holiday season is upon us once more! Sure, there might not be actual snow on the ground, but Charleston manages to put you in the holiday spirit, regardless of the temperature outside. From holiday performances, to award-winning light shows, to Christmas cocktails, there’s no better place to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year than the Holy City.

Holiday Festival of Lights
Holiday Festival of Lights

See the twinkle of 2 million lights

Now in its 28th year, the award-winning holiday light show and Christmas village at James Island County Park is a perennial favorite with locals and visitors alike. Get your picture taken with Santa, do a little shopping, roast marshmallows over an open fire. It’s like a Christmas carol come to life, but minus all the curmudgeonry and ghostly retribution.
What it costs: $15 per vehicle

Take your holiday back to the '80s with a play

Holiday Road is a fun, quirky romantic comedy that takes place at a high school teachers' lounge Christmas party in the '80s. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry (maybe), you’ll sing along to Cyndi Lauper. Plus, beer, wine, and snacks will be for sale at the snack bar.
What it costs: $35, not including snacks or beverages

Drink some holiday-themed cocktails

The monthlong Christmas pop-up at The Gin Joint is back for its second year in a row. Expect some great holiday-themed cocktails (like a Grinchy Gimlet and a drink inspired by the best holiday movie of all time: Die Hard), and note that this is the one time of year you can actually get vodka at The Gin Joint!
What it costs: Free to enter, $11-$13 for drinks

Experience a Motown Christmas

Your favorite Christmas songs are getting a Motown Makeover, sung by current and past members of The Temptations, The Miracles, and The Capitols. Who knew “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” could be this sexy?
What it costs: $44.50-$54.50

Give the gift of something homemade

Start off your holiday shopping experience with an arts & crafts festival at Magnolia Plantation & Gardens in West Ashley. In addition to giving your loved one a one-of-a-kind gift, your purchase also helps to support local artisans! That’s holiday shopping you can feel good about.
What it costs: The festival is free, but entry to the garden at Magnolia is $10-$20.

Say 'bah humbug' along with Scrooge

Charleston Stage brings Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol to life in this family-friendly holiday experience. Expect colorful costumes and sets, live orchestra accompaniment, and even some new special effects that help bring the story to life. Because watching Ebenezer Scrooge learn the true meaning of Christmas never gets old.
What it costs: $26-$68

Make a holiday wreath all your neighbors will be jealous of

Learn how to make a showstopping holiday wreath that will be the talk of your tablescape for years to come. Grab some friends for a fun holiday twist on girl’s night out. All supplies and some holiday treats will be provided!
What it costs: $86

See what Christmas was like back in 1860

This fun, interactive experience allows attendants to experience what it was like to celebrate Christmas in Charleston back in the days leading up to the Civil War -- presumably with less cholera, typhoid, and smallpox.
What it costs: $20

Put a little 'Folly' in your jolly

This original holiday show, performed by the artists at the C-PAC, is sure to put you in the holiday spirit. Featuring classic and modern holiday songs, original choreography, and dancing reindeer. You can also opt for the "Dinner and a Show" package and enjoy a three-course dinner at Edison James Island before the show.
What it costs: $18 - $67

Meet some (arts &) crafty bastards

Take care of some last-minute holiday shopping with homemade goods from local and regional artists, artisans, and crafters at this traveling arts & crafts expo. In addition to some unique handmade gifts, you’ll also enjoy live holiday music, plus food & drink available for purchase!
What it costs: Festival entrance is free, but bring cash to make purchases

Run run, Rudolph!

This holiday-themed charity 5K leads runners on a tour of downtown Charleston and invites them to participate while wearing their finest holiday-themed apparel, costumes, and accessories. What better way to work off some of that Thanksgiving overindulgence?
What it costs: $10-$35

Experience 'The Nutcracker' on stage

The Nutcracker -- aka the musical inspiration for nearly every holiday commercial ever made -- has been a seasonal favorite for years, and the Charlotte Ballet is bringing its magic to the Charleston stage. The sets and costumes were updated last year, so expect a brand new show different from any you’ve experienced before! Good luck getting “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” out of your head, though.
What it costs: $20 - $75

Cookies & Beer are a match made in heaven

Channel your inner Santa Claus with this collaboration event at Tradesman Brewing, featuring snacks from Trolly Dolly Treats. Participants will enjoy four holiday cookies (chocolate crinkles, red velvet, butter, craisin pecan shortbread) paired with four of Tradesman’s original brews.
What it costs: $7 per person

See the City of Charleston Holiday Parade

Folks of all ages will line the sidewalks of King Street between Broad and Calhoun and watch this traditional parade of holiday floats, marching bands, and school groups make its way to Marion Square. Kids (and adults with a sweet tooth), be sure to watch for flying candy!
What it costs: Free to watch

The closest to a 'White Christmas' you'll get in Charleston

Every holiday season for the past seven years, the Terrace Theater has done a special showing of the 1954 Bing Crosby classic, White Christmas. This year’s event features four showtimes over two days, and encourages attendees to wear their best/ugliest Christmas sweater!
What it costs: $8

Get your bar crawl on

Pretend there’s snow on the ground as you travel from bar to bar in true holiday fashion. The fun starts at The Brick and travels along King Street in downtown Charleston. Participants get a branded Snow Day Bar Crawl cup and a free welcome drink, plus access to drink specials and holiday music at each stop along the way!
What it costs: $13-$30

Learn how to make some seasonal sips

Head down to King Street to learn how to make cocktails that will impress everyone at your next holiday gathering. Award-winning bar manager Ryan Welliver from Cocktail Club will teach you three holiday-themed cocktails that are full of cheer (and booze). Because serving store bought egg nog is so 1993.
What it costs: $25

Have brunch with Santa

Adults and children are welcome to come take photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Mercantile & Mash from 10am to 2pm. Kids can enjoy cookie decorating and a balloon artist, and adults will love the food and drink specials as well. Fun for the whole family!
What it costs: $10

See Sealife by Starlight

Kick off the holiday season with the aquarium’s annual white-themed holiday party, which doubles as a fundraiser for the Sea Turtle Hospital. Tickets include small plates from Good Catch partner restaurants, an open bar (sponsored by Terrapin and PNC), live music, and a silent auction. Plus, the terrace is a great place to watch the Parade of Boats!
What it costs: $80-$100

Watch or join the holiday parade of boats

An annual favorite that’s free to watch and participate in (assuming you have a boat and holiday decorations, that is), this boat parade starts on the Mount Pleasant harbor and winds down the Cooper River, ending at the Ashley River marina. Prizes will, of course, be awarded for the best decorated boats.
What it costs: Free to watch & participate

Take a rock 'n' roll tour of Charleston

This BYO-food-and-drink cruise takes you and your loved ones on a tour of Charleston as seen from the water. There will be lots of Christmas songs, stories of Charleston, holiday cheer, and more than a couple singalong opportunities! BYO snack in case you get hungry.
What it costs: $20 - $40

Feel classy and sophisticated at the symphony

The Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the CSO Chorus present their annual holiday show, featuring festive favorites like “12 Days of Christmas,” “White Christmas,” and more. This is a good excuse to get dressed up and act like a classy, dignified person for a change.
What it costs: $25 - $98

Watch 'A Christmas Story: The Musical'

Straight outta Broadway, this musical take on the classic film features music from the songwriters of La La Land and Dear Evan Hansen. All the classic elements will be there, like the tongue stuck to the flagpole and the Chinese dinner, with the addition of new musical numbers and choreography. It will be in Charleston for just three days, so you won’t want to miss it!
What it costs: $37-$67

Attend a 'Game of Thrones'-themed New Year's Eve Party

Winter is coming! This New Year's Eve, the biergarten transforms into the bar in the North, complete with ice luges, costume contest, ice bars (with beer, wine, and house liquor included), and a buffet -- y'know, just like the North had in Game of Thrones.
What it costs: $125 / person

Break out the black tie for a masquerade ball

Break out your formalwear and classiest mask for this NYE fete! Guests will enjoy champagne and caviar, plus heavy hors d’oeuvres from chef Vinson Petrillo, while the Gatsby Gang will provide live jazz and entertainment all night long. Just remember to put your pinky out when sippin’ on that bubbly.
What it costs: $225 per person

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Sydney Gallimore is a food writer from Charleston, South Carolina who still writes letters to Santa every year. Follow her adventures @Sydney_Inc.