This post was originally published on December 8, 2016.
If you’ve always celebrated Christmas in one place, shaking up that routine can be uncomfortable and hectic. I spent about a decade living away from home but always traveling back to my parents’ house for Christmas before my siblings and I finally convinced them to come down here instead.
When a new generation takes the reigns as the host of a family’s holiday celebration, there’s bound to be a bit of a learning curve. That first Christmas away from my childhood home I remember waiting around for my parents to take the lead, forgetting that we were the ones in charge now.
Seriously, who put us in charge of anything?
I felt lost as a relatively new transplant to the city with no real traditions here and failed to acknowledge that my parents, true out of towners, had zero familiarity with Charlotte and its holiday offerings.
So if you’re hosting family for the first time or are still trying to convince them to come to Charlotte later this month, keep these activities in your back pocket for negotiations and emergency entertainment.
Speedway Christmas – Drive your car through 3 million lights along a 3.75-mile course at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Open nightly 6 – 10 p.m. through December 31 (closed Christmas Day). Pricing: $25 – $30/car – get tickets.
Holidays at the Garden – Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden is aglow with 600,000 twinkling lights. Lights illuminate 5 – 9 p.m. nightly through January 1. Pro tip: Grab dinner at The String Bean in Belmont. Pricing: $14.95 adults, $13.95 seniors, $8.95 kids – get tickets.
Christmas Town USA – Hundreds of thousands of people visit the small town of McAdenville (15 miles west of Charlotte) to see their elaborate residential Christmas light displays each year. Lights glow nightly through December 26 (5 – 9:30 p.m. weekdays, 5:30 – 11 p.m. weekends). Pricing: Free.
Charlotte Ballet’s Nutcracker – If this classic performance is part of your holiday tradition back home, you’re in for a treat with Charlotte Ballet’s show with all new sets and costumes. Performances through December 23 – get tickets.
Panthers vs Falcons on Christmas Eve – It’s been a depressing season for the Panthers, but a Christmas Eve afternoon home game is still a good excuse to round up the family for a festive tailgate. Pricing: $50 and up – get tickets.
Holiday on Ice – Charlotte’s Uptown outdoor skating rink is open daily at NASCAR Hall of Fame through January 8 beginning December 14 (see calendar for dates and times before 12/14). Pricing: $10 admission, $4 skate rental – get tickets.
Gingerbread Lane at Ballantyne Hotel – View elaborate gingerbread creations and vote on your favorites. Admission is free and you can vote with a minimum $1 donation to the Levine Children’s Hospital.
Holiday Tea at the Ballantyne Hotel – Sip on a selection of loose-leaf teas paired with savory tea sandwiches, sweets and special holiday treats (see the menu). Tea is served 1 – 5 p.m. Wednesday – Sunday through December 31. Pricing: $49 adults (add champagne for $10), $29 kids – call for reservations (704) 248-4100.
NoDa Co. Store’s Gingerbread House Competition – Participate as a family or battle against each other at this free gingerbread house competition on December 20. Houses must fit in a 24″ x 24″ space and there’s no fee to enter. Houses must be presented by 5:30 p.m. and the event runs through 10 p.m.
UnDeck the Hall – The morning after Christmas, NASCAR Hall of Fame will let fans select a gift from the decorated trees as the displays are taken down. Decorations include autographed memorabilia, race tickets and more. Catch it December 26 beginning at 10 a.m. Pricing: Free with museum admission – get tickets.
For the kids
Train to Christmas Town – Elves serve hot cocoa and cookies to passengers on a magical train ride to Christmas Town where Santa himself boards the train to greet each child with a gift. Multiple departure times through December 23. Pricing: $25 – $70 – get tickets.
Polar Express Train Ride – Hop aboard the Polar Express to the North Pole. Passengers will enjoy hot cocoa, cookies and a reading of the classic children’s book on the way to meet Santa. Departures December 9-11 and 15-22. Pricing: $30 – $46 – get tickets.
For the grownups
Gingerbread Wars – Seven contestants will be selected to compete in “the most festive, skill testing, sweat breaking competition yet” on Christmas Eve Eve (12/23). The winner will get a VIP booth for the rest of the night along with an Uptown prize pack valued at $600. Pricing: Free to spectate, $5 to enter to become a contestant – details.