Your Guide to Bull City Holiday Markets & Other Festive Events

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Tower lighting at ATC
Youth groups perform at the 18th annual American Tobacco Tower Lighting. Photo by John Michael Simpson

Compiled by Lauren Rouse

 American Tobacco Tower Lighting – Nov. 29, 7-8 p.m. – Count down the start of the holiday season at this 19th annual event at American Tobacco Campus. Come early to shop and eat at various sponsor booths and grab a light wand courtesy of Dominion Energy and NC 811. After the lighting, enjoy performances from various youth groups including the Lucas Middle School Choir, Shepard Middle School Choir, Empower Dance, Barriskill Dance Theater and Walltown Children’s Theatre, plus special appearances by Imagine Circus, Wool E. Bull, Rudolph, Frosty, Lisa Gaither Art and Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

 Wool E. Bull’s Winter Wonderland Select nights in November and December – The Durham Bulls Athletic Park transforms into a festive wonderland with large-scale light installations, visits with Santa (or his favorite elf, Wool E. Claus) and an Arctic Chill Tavern beer garden on select nights this December. Enjoy sledding on six Frosty Fun Hill slopes, reserve an infield igloo and ride the Bulls Express train around the outfield. Indulge in seasonal snacks and drinks and then shop for unique gifts at Hinterland Market. The ballpark’s stands dazzle with a spectacular 13,000-light, 4-mile display of colors and music. 

holidays in the park
Visit the Museum of Life and Science to enjoy festive activities and light displays, complete with a train ride along the Ellerbe Creek Railway. Photo courtesy of Museum of Life and Science

Holidays in the ParkSelect nights in December – Enjoy a memorable stroll with your loved ones through outdoor and indoor spaces at the Museum of Life and Science on select nights in December. Follow shimmering pathways and glowing trees from the gardens to the Dinosaur Trail and revel in the tropical temperatures inside the Magic Wings Butterfly House. Plus, take a train ride on the Ellerbe Creek Railway, passing colorful light displays along the way.

Christmas Tree Shopping – Throughout November and December – Pick up your tree, wreaths, garland and other holiday accessories (like those cute, wooden reindeer!) at your local TROSA tree lot – TROSA residents will trim, bag and load your tree on your car. Most lots are open up until a few days before Christmas. 

Santa Paws – Dec. 1, 5-8:30 p.m. – Take the pups to get a professional photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Durham Armory. Then take them through the holiday pet market, compete in the canine ugly holiday sweater contest, and canine food and toy drive.

Holiday Hoopla Market Dec. 1, 5-9 p.m.Liberty Arts Studios hosts this market of sweets and treats plus locally made, unique gifts for practically everyone on your shopping list.

Christmas by Candlelight – Dec. 1 and 8, 5:30-9 p.m. – Experience an 1870s Christmas on this candlelight tour through the Duke Homestead State Historic Site. Learn the history behind the Duke family home as costumed interpreters bring it to life while engaging in storytelling and delighting in cookies, cider, singing, live music and more. 

Glass Jug Beer Growler

Holiday Extravaganza Dec. 2, 4-7 p.m. – Santa heads to The Glass Jug Beer Lab brewery to visit with kids, adults, pets – all are welcome to snap some photos with the big guy! Food truck Gator on the Grill serves from 5-8 p.m., plus free face painting and balloon animals, cinnamon sugar hot pretzels will be available for purchase, there will be free Christmas tree ornament decorating with NailedIt DIY Studio, mulled wine and hot apple cider and much more!

Handel’s MessiahDec. 1, 7:30-9:30 p.m. – Celebrating the 90th anniversary of Duke University Chapel Choir’s first performance of selections from Handel’s “Messiah,” this show depicts the birth, death and resurrection of Christ, presented on period instruments with Baroque-era tuning at the Duke Chapel.

Darren Criss: A Very Darren CrissmasDec. 1, 8 p.m. – Debuting his first full-length project and pulling from Christmas classics, novelty songs and ballads, the “Glee” star and Emmy Award-winning performer brings his talents to the stage at the Carolina Theatre’s Fletcher Hall.

Holiday Greenery: Build Your Own WreathDec. 2, 9-11 a.m. – Make your own holiday garland at Sarah P. Duke GardensDoris Duke Center with Plant Collections Manager Elisabeth Hall and horticulturist Michelle Rawlins. The two experts illustrate best practices for transforming greenery, stems, berries and more into a holiday wreath to enjoy at home. Don’t forget to bring hand pruners and any decorations you want to include.

Brunch and Photos with SantaDec. 2, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. – Santa makes a stop at Durham Food Hall for photos, reindeer games, face painting and more. Enjoy brunch or lunch from vendors throughout the hall  before or after meeting St. Nick. 

Art-N-Soul Holiday MarketDec. 2, noon-4 p.m. – Shop for unique gifts, enjoy craft cocktails, listen to live music by Steve Holcomb and grab some grub from Cousins Maine Lobster or Ty’s All Natural at Mystic Farm and Distillery’s “Handmade for the Holidays” market. Don’t forget to take a photo with Santa Claus to commemorate the day. 

The Motown Sound of ChristmasDec. 2, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.Durham Arts Council and Pure Life Theatre join forces this holiday season for a performance that showcases singers and dancers throughout the Triangle plus an array of music selections at PSI Theatre.

Durham Tree Lighting
Photo by John Michael Simpson

Holiday Tree Lighting – Dec. 2, 5-9 p.m. – The tree lighting is a celebration of the holidays and also of the city of Durham. This year’s program includes a holiday market, music from the Choral Society of Durham, Fruits of our Labor and Duck. Batalá Durham provides the drumroll to the tree lighting, current Mayor Elaine O’Neal lights the tree, and the jolly old man in a red suit will also make an appearance! “The downtown Durham tree lighting highlights Durham’s diversity and our welcoming community,” says Nicole J. Thompson, president and CEO of Downtown Durham Inc., which organizes the event. “It is always a fun, family-friendly and uniquely Durham experience.”

Durham Symphony’s Holiday Pops ConcertDec. 2, 7 p.m. – The symphony fills the Durham Armory with holiday tunes, featuring classical works and music honoring Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and the upcoming New Year, preceded by a surprise visit from Santa and followed by a dessert buffet during intermission. Also take part in the silent auction and bid on a variety of unique items while enjoying the concert!

Durham Ballet Theatre Winter ShowcaseDec. 2, 7 p.m. and Dec. 3, 3 p.m. – The ballet theater presents its winter showcase at the Durham School for Ballet and the Performing Arts, offering a program full of aerial performances, dance numbers and new choreography by local artists. 

The Hip Hop NutcrackerDec. 2, 7:30 p.m. – A dynamic cast of 12 all-star dancers, a DJ, violinist and one of many iconic hip-hop founders Kurtis Blow come together to bring a reimagined version of this classic story. Follow along with Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince as they battle a gang of mice, fused with the spirited graffiti and visuals of modern New York City at the Durham Performing Arts Center.

Black Santa – Dec. 3, 16-17 and 21-24 – Bring your little ones to the Hayti Heritage Center to meet Black Santa and tell them what they would like for Christmas! The mission of Black Santa is to provide every child and family with a magical holiday experience.

Holiday Patchwork Market – Dec. 3, noon-4 p.m. – More than 70 local makers and vintage vendors come together at the Durham Armory to create a unique shopping experience with a diverse selection of high-quality and original goods. 

Hanukkah Festival at Jewish for Good
Photo by Susan Murray

Hanukkah Festival – Dec. 3, 2-5 p.m. – Celebrate the Festival of Lights with Jewish for Good at the Levin Jewish Community Center of Durham. There will be kids activities, games and crafts, holiday foods for sale including sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and latkes, interactive menorahs, opportunities to learn more about the holiday and a community shuk (gift and craft market). “[This] is a time to gather in community and celebrate with the Triangle’s vibrant Jewish community,” says John DeMartino, director of marketing and communications at Jewish for Good. “Hanukkah is a celebration and commemoration of the resiliency of the Jewish people, and it’s important we continue to display that resilience.”

N.C. Jazz Ensemble Holiday ConcertDec. 3, 4 p.m. – Immerse yourself in festive vibes and big band sounds as the sensational ensemble, led by dynamic vocalist Denise Barnes, takes center stage at the Hayti Heritage Center. This talented band of educators and artists will play to the theme of “Holiday Rhythms Marching On.”

The Jinkx and DeLa Holiday ShowDec. 3, 8 p.m. – To round out your weekend, laugh along with “The Queens of Christmas” as they take you through an array of old and new classic songs and comedy at the Durham Performing Arts Center

Dr. Seuss’ ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas’ – Dec. 5-8, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 9, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 10, 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. – The Durham Performing Arts Center hosts Broadway’s holiday hit set in Whoville, where the Grinch devises a plan to steal presents and decorations in an attempt to ruin the holiday for the Whos. However, through a heartwarming revelation, he learns the true spirit of Christmas and ultimately joins in the festivities. Featured songs include “You’re A Mean One, Mr Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Holiday Market at The Durham – Dec. 6, 6-9 p.m. – Celebrate the season with festive drinks and shopping for gifts from local vendors, all in support of Durham YMCA of the Triangle’s Y Learning nonprofit, which provides certified teacher-led instruction and after-school and summer camp care at no cost to Durham families who need it most.

Hannukiah Installation and Nightly Candle Lighting – Dec. 7-14 – All are welcome to watch the candles light up on unique, custom-designed, 8-foot-tall piece each night outside Jewish for Good

Boom Unit Brass Band Holiday Party – Dec. 8, 8 p.m. – This is the only office holiday party in town where everyone is invited. Boom Unit Brass Band and family welcome you to join in an end-of-the-year celebration with The Spectacles, Ctrl-Alt-Del, Burns, Zoltar’s Fortune and Radar’s Clowns of Sedation all to send off 2023 with a boom at Motorco Music Hall.

Story Time and Tot Shabbat – Dec. 8, 9:30 a.m. – Bring the kids to Jewish for Good‘s family-friendly event with stories and songs celebrating Hanukkah.

Holiday Parade – Dec. 9, 10 a.m. – Kickstart the holiday season with downtown Durham’s holiday parade. Celebrate and show your support for local bands, drill teams, schools and community organizations as they make their way down Main Street. The festivities culminate with a guest appearance from Santa Claus.

• Brightleaf Square Holiday Market – Dec. 9, 10:30 a.m. – 3 p.m. – Shop gifts, stationery, clothing, candles, jewelry, desserts, coffee and other items from more than 25 local small businesses right along the Durham holiday parade route – grab some treats or a drink from Clouds Brewing while you browse.

flART Market – Dec. 9, noon-5 p.m. – The final flea and art market of 2023 features live music and performances from local artists, food trucks and 60-plus local vendors showcasing a variety of handmade, locally sourced and vintage goods at Artpost Supplies and Studios.

Holiday Art & Vintage MarketDec. 9, noon-7 p.m. – Join The Glass Jug Beer Lab in RTP for a market filled with holiday cheer created by Fae And Ghoul Collective in collaboration with Hotdogs Rescue. Drink, eat, shop a market of more than 15 local art and vintage vendors, and adopt while listening to an assortment of local musicians. Participate in $1 raffles to win big prizes (raffle proceeds go directly toward benefiting Hotdogs Rescue).

Triangle Youth Ballet: The Nutcracker – Dec. 9, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. – A cast of more than 100 young ballet dancers take the stage at the Carolina Theatre, performing to music from the Tchaikovsky Virtuosi and conducted by Andrew McAfee.

Jonkonnu – Dec. 9, 4:30-6 p.m. Celebrate Jonkonnu, an African American holiday event, with St. Sya Academy at Historic Stagville. Drummers and dancers will traverse the historic grounds, while a troupe of local musicians and students perform at Horton Grove to honor this celebration with roots in West Africa and the Caribbean. After the performance, take a lamplight tour of former slave dwellings and learn more about the meaning of Christmas during times of slavery.

Hanukkah 8K Family Fun Run and Pool Plunge Family Swim – Dec. 10, 9 a.m.-3p.m. Jewish for Good invited participants to keep the energy burning, just as the oil and light did in the story of Hanukkah, with an 8k at 9 a.m. and family fun run at 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 10. Push yourself to complete the whole thing, or just take a lap around the Levin Jewish Community Center of Durham and celebrate. Participants in the event, now in its fourth year, can enjoy doughnuts and Hanukkah gelt at the end! Stick around in the afternoon for a Hanukkah family swim that starts at 1 p.m. Barrel down the waterslide into the icy water, hang out on the pool deck and sip some hot chocolate before the lighting of the 8-foot-tall menorah at sundown.

Holiday Craft Market Dec. 10, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. – More than 50 local markers and artists specializing in a range of mediums like pottery, painting, textile arts, photography, jewelry and much more sell their wares at the Durham Central Park Pavilion during the Durham Craft Market‘s annual fair.

Family Day: Lights Celebrate – Dec. 10, 1-3 p.m. – Young dancers from North Carolina Arts In Action kick off Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University‘s multicultural celebration of lights. Families can explore how artists use lights as a tool to express identity, emotions and perspectives as well as learn about the different ways people celebrate light around the world.

Santa on the Roof – Dec. 10, 1-4 p.m. – Santa returns to The Roof at The Durham Hotel this year for photos (taken by attendees) overlooking the city as well as complimentary hot chocolate. Santa joins the event from the North Pole via Santas Just Like Me, a local organization that has provided North Carolina families with the option to visit with a Santa of color since 2013.

• Schmooze and Nosh: A Musical Hanukkah BrunchDec. 13, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. – Jewish for Good‘s Hanukkah celebration for older adults includes food, entertainment and activities over brunch with Eliana Light, an artist and musician at Beth El Synagogue

Candlelight: Holiday Special – Dec. 13, 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. – Experience the enchantment of a live, multi-sensory concert under the gentle glow of candelight at Hayti Heritage Center. The program, inspired by winter and the holidays, features classics from “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” to Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker.”

Holiday Music on The Roof – Dec. 13, 7:30-8:30 p.m. – Head up to The Durham Hotel‘s heated rooftop for a holiday-themed performance from Durham-based singer/songwriter Ally J, whose “old soul” lends textured vocals and sultry melodies that spin classics into jazzier renditions; her range spans from deep, expressive blues to sweet falsettos. 

Theatre in the Park’s ‘A Christmas Carol’ – Dec. 13-15, 7:30 p.m.; Dec. 16, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; Dec. 17, 2 p.m. – Ira David Wood III’s cherished musical comedy returns to the Durham Performing Arts Center to celebrate its 50th anniversary! Join Ebenezer Scrooge on a transformative journey guided by spectral visitors, unveiling the true meaning of Christmas. With six enchanting performances and a heartwarming narrative, this play brings to life the magic of redemption, compassion and a festive spirit for audiences of all ages. 

Christmas in the Piedmont – Dec. 16, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. – Visit Bennett Place State Historic Site to learn how soldiers celebrated and families decorated for Christmas during the Civil War. There will be cooking demonstrations in the kitchen house, Christmas decorations and packages in the main house, soldiers will be on hand to demonstrate Christmas in the field and, of course, there will be a visit from Old Saint Nick. Complimentary hot apple cider will be on hand alongside a bake sale, with proceeds going toward the preservation of the site.

• Christmas Candlelight Tour – Dec. 16, 6-9 p.m. – Take a special guided tour around the farm at Bennett Place State Historic Site under the glow of candlelight and see how soldiers and civilians experienced the holidays during a time of war. Tours will take place every 15 minutes in groups of 20, and there will be complimentary hot apple cider for your enjoyment. 

• The Glenn Miller Orchestra – Dec. 16, 8 p.m. – Get in the Christmas mood at the Carolina Theatre as more than 18 musicians and singers reimagine favorites like “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” and “Let It Snow.” The orchestra also performs timeless Glenn Miller tracks like “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and “In the Mood,” infusing holiday warmth and legendary tunes into the happiest time of the year.

• Holiday Concert – Dec. 17, 4 p.m. – Celebrate the holidays and the Choral Society of Durham’s 75th season! This concert at Duke Chapel features diverse musical experiences from around the world to commemorate the season, including Ariel Ramírez’s “Navidad Nuestra,” representing Latin American musical stylings, Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols,” portraying British traditions, and Z. Randall Stroope’s “Hodie,” showcasing a blend of American elements.

Nutcracker! Magical Christmas Ballet – Dec. 20, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. – A magical nutcracker doll comes to life at the Durham Performing Arts Center as an international cast and ensemble of Ukrainian Principal Artists showcase the epitome of classical European ballet. This ballet, a cherished holiday tradition, is celebrated for its captivating choreography, iconic characters and memorable musical compositions.

Holiday Music on The Roof – Dec. 20, 7:30-8:30 p.m. – Head up to The Durham Hotel’s heated rooftop on for a holiday-themed performance from Triangle Gay Men’s Chorus, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that fosters a safe place and provides an avenue for LGBTQ+ persons and their allies to develop and display their musical talents, performing a full range of types and styles of choral music.

Christmas Eve ‘Parade of Floats’ Dec. 24, noon-7 p.m. – Head to The Glass Jug Beer Lab downtown to snag a festive flight of floats (a “parade” of floats, if you will) including two Deviation stouts, Chemistree and Cranberry Cinnamon Pi for $14. You can also add a scoop of ice cream to any draft beer or Boylan’s Soda for just a $1.

Mitzvah Day Dec. 25 – Join hundreds of volunteers from around the region in community service on Christmas Day with Jewish for Good. There will be opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to volunteer and do good for others, such as spray painting accessible icons on parking spots, beautifying local parks, visiting nursing home residents, and cooking and serving breakfast at Durham Rescue Mission as well as dinner at the Ronald McDonald House of Durham.

Day After ChristmasDec. 26, noon-10 p.m.The Glass Jug Beer Lab‘s downtown location offers some hair of the dog on Boxing Day with mimosas and bloody marys all day and fresh games of music bingo at 6 p.m.

Kwanzaa Celebration – Dec. 26, 1-9:30 p.m. – Kick off the weeklong African American celebration at the Hayti Heritage Center. Honor family, community and culture by watching documentary film “The Black Candle” and dancing with Winston-Salem singing sensation, African quartet The Healing Force.

Kwanzaa Fest at the Durham Armory
The Akoma de Gado Dance & Drum Performance Ensemble performs at Kwanzaa Fest. Photo by Susan Murray

Kwanzaa Fest – Jan. 1, 2024, noon – The African American Dance Ensemble’s annual Kwanzaa festival at the Durham Armory focuses on family, friends and the fruits of the Earth. It takes place on the seventh day of Kwanzaa, which is dedicated to Imani, or faith. This year, AADE will donate food to Urban Ministries of Durham and honor a senior with funds from the Davis-Williams Scholarship. “If you have never experienced Kwanzaa Fest, join us,” says AADE Program Director Demetrius R. Holder. “It is a time for reflection and celebration, with communal feasts and gatherings that bring together family and friends.”

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Durham Magazine Intern

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