The Southern Christmas Show is a big deal. Every year, more than 100,000 people file through the doors of The Park Expo & Conference Center to browse knick-knacks, buy gifts, sample food and drink, appreciate art, munch on strudels, admire crafts and generally get into the holiday spirit.
The event is in its 48th year in Charlotte, and began when the newly built Park was the biggest expo center in the Carolinas. It remains under the control of the family-owned Southern Shows, which also operates the Southern Home and Garden Show and the Southern Women’s Show, among others.
This thing isn’t just about old ladies in tacky sweaters. You run into literally every type of person here. People who grew up coming to the show are now going back themselves. If you’re a grinch, you’ll hate it, but otherwise you’re bound to find something to enjoy.
This thing is a true regional draw. Only 20 percent of Southern Christmas Show attendees are from Charlotte. About one-third more come from the counties surrounding Charlotte, and another third from the Carolinas. About 5 percent come from outside the region, some even flying in for the event.
To hold that many people, the 250,000-square-foot show is split between the three buildings that make up The Park. The first building, Liberty Hall, is where you go in and is home to the most highly decorated area known as Olde Towne. Independence Hall is more utilitarian in design and has row upon row of vendors. Freedom Hall is slightly more decorated and less crowded.
Fast facts and insider knowledge
- The show runs from November 11 to November 22 this year. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. all other days.
- If you want to avoid crowds, don’t get there early. Get there late in the day, after 3 p.m.
- Bring cash. You’ll need $7 to park on site, and while most vendors are taking plastic these days not all of them are.
- Tickets are $12 at the door, but you can get them for $9.50 with your Harris Teeter VIC card at a number of locations. Details.
I’ve taken my family to the show each year since I’ve lived in Charlotte, and it doesn’t really change. That’s OK. I have my favorite things I do every year. Yours are probably different.
9 things I love about the Southern Christmas Show
(1) The North Carolina food samples
The state Department of Agriculture has a store where they have 30 local vendors from around the state sell their wares. Each day, there’s at least seven foods to sample. This place is packed but worth it. Go for the maple butter or the chow chow.
(2) The miniature houses
The local chapter of the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts always puts together an “Enchanted Village” of miniature homes and other scenes. As someone with terrible dexterity, I love seeing how people can make these things.
(3) The N.C. wine shop
There’s a whole wall full of local wine shops, and most of them will give you a free sample or two. The main store has 10 different wineries represented, including Treehouse Vineyards in Monroe and Dennis Vineyards in Albemarle. Duplin Winery is right next door and has wine slushies and food, too.
(4) The Moravian cookies
These aren’t the easiest to find, but they’re sold in at least two locations at the Southern Christmas Show. I always get some for my mom for Christmas.
(5) The mom-and-pop craft shops
I met Linda and Bob from Y’all Talk Funny in Bessemer City, and they’re making a killing selling these “elf butts” that you stick up alongside your tree to make it look like one’s taking a peek inside. They also are doing brisk business in these risqué hand-painted glasses.
These are the things you’re going to find here. I also love the handmade wooden toys (I’ve bought my son a truck here), the activity boxes (yep, he has one of these too) and one year I bought my wife a set of “redneck goblets” — mason jars on top of wine glass stems.
(6) The mini-doughnuts
They’ve got this cool little machine that cooks them in front of your face. Optional chocolate dipping sauce.
(7) The entryway
There’s always something visually stunning as you walk in and this year is no exception. They’ve got these elaborate Christmas-y scenes set up. Plus a giant wreath you can get your family’s picture in.
(8) The model train
This comes from the Metrolina Model Railroaders.
(9) The competitions
There are four competitions people can enter: Decorated trees, wreaths, mantles and doors. All are on display and they’re awesome to look at.