Drumstick Dash Indy
The Drumstick Dash | Drumstick Dash Indy
The Drumstick Dash | Drumstick Dash Indy

Everything You Must Do in Indianapolis This Holiday Season

The Indianapolis holiday season isn’t just about Christmas carols, cookie swaps, and shopping mall gridlock. There’s also a stocking full of over-the-top light shows, concerts, pub crawls, and out-of-control New Year’s Eve parties. And you don’t have to be a good boy or girl to get in on the goodies. Here's everything you must do this holiday season.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Indianapolis Motor Speedway Lights | Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Light up your night at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

No, you can’t turn a 230-mph lap, but you do get to drive your car (slowly) around this famed racecourse, all the while looking at more than 2.5 million lights incorporated into dozens of massive holiday displays. This year’s exhibit features two miles of tiny bulbs lining a route that travels through the IMS infield and along the front stretch of the historic track.
Cost: $25-$30 per car

Walk through a winter wonderland at Newfields

If you’d like your holiday lighting displays to be a bit more highbrow (and 100% car-free), visit the Winterlights show at Newfields (formerly the Indianapolis Museum of Art). Guests can see more than a million lights while ambling the museum’s fields, gardens, and woodlands. This is the event’s first year, so we’re not sure what Newfields means when it says there will be whimsy trees and a snowflake bridge, but we’re sure it’s worth seeing.
Cost: $8-$20

Work up an an appetite at the Drumstick Dash

Earn that second slice of pumpkin pie with this Thanksgiving morning run/walk through Broad Ripple. There’s a 4.5-mile course and a 2.75-mile course, and you can show up in anything from state-of-the-art running gear to a Santa costume. You can register in advance and actually try to win, or forego all the paperwork and just fall in with the thousands of participants running/walking/skipping through the neighborhood. Proceeds benefit Wheeler Mission Ministries.
Cost: Registration is between $0-$35

Put the X in Xmas at the Phoenix Theatre

This holiday season, the Phoenix Theatre serves up A Very Phoenix Christmas 12, a holiday pageant that’s definitely not for kids -- or for easily offended adults. Expect music, weirdness, and a collection of greatest hits from previous editions of the annual spectacular. Some of the sketches include, “Tacobell Canon,” “Don’t Eat the Baby,” and “The Things They Merried.” Did we mention that this isn’t for kids? Because it’s definitely not.
Cost: $25-$35

Enjoy the musical based on Indiana’s favorite movie

Indy residents can’t get enough of A Christmas Story, the 1983 film about a boy named Ralphie who wants an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle for Christmas. The guy who wrote the original story is from Indiana, and the movie is set here too. Which means you might want to call early for your tickets to A Christmas Story -- The Musical, which plays at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre.
Cost: $69-$79
ugly sweater bar crawl
ugly sweater bar crawl | Flickr/Henry Jose

Paint happy little trees while knocking back a few

Scarlet Lane Brewing Company in McCordsville is serving up Bob and Beer Night, a holiday salute to quick-painting PBS fixture Bob “Happy Little Trees” Ross. Participants get a canvas and all necessary painting supplies, then get to dab away until they’re satisfied with the finished product -- which absolutely doesn’t have to be a Ross-style landscape. Afterward, everybody votes on their favorite, which will be displayed in the Scarlet Lane Tap House. Each painter receives two beers for motivation.
Cost: $12-$20

Imbibe some Christmas spirits during a nighttime holiday parade

The city’s only after-dark parade is the main event at Broad Ripple Lights Up!, the Broad Ripple neighborhood’s annual yuletide festival. Dress in a costume (or an ugly sweater) and enjoy the area’s long roster of bars and eateries before watching the 5:30pm parade -- a salute to quirkiness that can include anything from a women’s roller derby team to Santa Claus riding on the back of an ATV. Follow Santa all the way to the Broad Ripple fire station for the parade’s after party -- or just step back into the nearest drinking establishment.
Cost: Free

Listen to Jane Lynch make Christmas carols fun

Broadway staple (and Glee fixture) Jane Lynch belts out kitschy-but-catchy versions of TV Christmas special staples, such as “Up On the Housetop,” along with original tunes including “Sentimental Christmas” and “Winter’s Never Cold (When You’re Around)” at The Cabaret. She’s joined onstage by Kate Flannery (The Office) and Glee’s vocal arranger, Tim Davis. Expect lots of tight, three-part harmonies, along with a close-up look at the performers in the tiny confines of their intimate venue.
Cost: $85-$115 (with a limited number of $20 student tickets)

Go bar crawling in your ugliest holiday duds

Don your most tasteless Christmas sweater or holiday onesie for the 12 Bars of XMas Bar Crawl, a tour of a dozen Broad Ripple watering holes including Rock Lobster and Average Joe’s Sports Pub. The first 500 participants partake in a lunch buffet, and everybody gets a stadium cup, Santa hat, and a wristband that gets you food and drink specials (and no cover charges) at participating establishments. Obviously you have to be 21 to participate, and the event takes place rain or shine or snow. But trust us, after a couple of bar visits, you wouldn’t notice a meteor shower.
Cost: $17-$25

Celebrate a country Christmas with some rocking out

Mosey on over to The Vogue for Country Christmas with Cowboy Jukebox, featuring spot on covers of everyone from Florida Georgia Line to Dolly Parton -- all courtesy of Chicago’s top country cover band. Joe Hess & The Wandering Cowboys rounds out the lineup.
Cost: $7.50-$15

Take a walk on the fringe of the Christmas theater scene

We’re not quite sure what to expect from Merry Fringemas! A Holiday Spectacular at the Indy Fringe-Indy Eleven Theatre, but that’s probably just how its planners want it. All we know for sure is that there’s a different show each night, and that the lineup will include some sort of opera homage, plus storytelling, and at least one drag queen. So don’t go expecting to see a scene from The Nutcracker or a homey rendition of “White Christmas.”
Cost: $15

Get your a cappella groove on with Straight No Chaser

Pitch Perfect fans (and folks who just love unaccompanied singing voices) are already talking about the upcoming concert from Straight No Chaser, the nationally famous male a cappella group formed more than two decades ago at Indiana University. Expect everything from Christmas carols to mash-ups of current tunes, all of them accompanied by exactly zero instrumental breaks. The group visits Bloomington on December 15, followed by four Indianapolis shows.
Cost: $33 (students only)-$73 at Bloomington; $39-$226 (Indianapolis)

Wear an ugly sweater and listen to great tunes

The Sixteen Candles Ugly Xmas Sweater Party puts a whole new spin on sweatin’ to the oldies. Don your most loathsome woolen monstrosity and dance to ‘80s hits by Sixteen Candles -- but remember to stay hydrated.
Cost: $15

Ring in the new year with an NFL player-turned-comedian

Few have taken a career path as bizarre as that of Pat McAfee, who spent eight years as a punter for the Indianapolis Colts -- but now is more famous as a comedian. Get a taste of his jokes (and enjoy the after-party) at Pat McAfee Presents a Ridiculous New Year’s Eve at Old National Centre.
Cost: $50-$205

Get outside for your New Year's Eve celebration

Unless you’re a big fan of frostbite (and maybe getting eaten by wolves), hanging around outside on New Year’s Eve in Indianapolis isn’t advisable. But you might want to make an exception for Downtown Indy Inc.’s 4th Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration. It takes place on Georgia Street, offers multiple bands, food, and drink, and culminates not with a midnight ball drop, but with the (carefully controlled) descent of a full-sized IndyCar from high overhead, accompanied by fireworks.
Cost: Free admission

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Sam Stall is a regular Thrillist contributor.