Celebrate Smoky Mountain Holiday Traditions

Enjoy a cozy and festive holiday escape in the North Carolina Smokies. There are plenty of gorgeous winter-time mountain views to go around. Many small towns began adapting their festivities to keep residents and visitors safe during the pandemic, and while 2021 is no different, there are more events for visitors to enjoy.

Wander among dazzling light displays, enjoy a small town parade on main street, and support local small businesses as you check off the gifts on your shopping list. Take part in the holiday cheer happening across the Smoky Mountains at one of these great events. Please note that scheduled events are subject to change—refer to event websites and organizers for the most up-to-date information. We’ll update this blog as we learn of new events.

Our Top Picks For Holiday 2021 Events in the Smoky Mountains

People boarding The Polar Express in Bryson City
The Polar Express. Photo courtesy of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad.

The Polar Express Train Ride

November 12 – December 23, 2021

All aboard! The Polar Express is waiting to take you and your family on a fantastic holiday ride to The North Pole to meet Santa Claus. This 1¼ hour round-trip excursion comes to life as the train departs the Bryson City depot for a journey through the quiet wilderness. Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a treat while  they listen and read along with the magical story. Children’s faces show the magic of the season when the train arrives at the North Pole to find Santa Claus waiting. Santa will board the train, greet each child and present them with a special gift as in the story, their own silver sleigh bell. Christmas carols will be sung on the return back to the Bryson City Depot. Excursions in 2021 will operate with reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, and all passengers must wear face coverings.

Christmas Cookie Walk and Bazaar

December 4, 2021, 9:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.

Fill your basket with a remarkable selection of Christmas cookies and treats while getting in some early  holiday shopping. Visit the Christmas Cookie Walk and Bazaar at the United Methodist Church at 76 Main Street in Bryson City. All proceeds benefit the United Methodist Women’s Group’s outreach efforts.

Franklin’s Winter Wonderland Nights

November 27 & December 4, 2021, 5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Kids on ice slide in Franklin
Winter Wonderland in Franklin

Visit the town of Franklin for their 2021 Winter Wonderland festivities! Enjoy unique holiday experiences like living window displays, live sounds of the season, extended shopping hours, and you may even catch a glimpse of Santa! Attendees can witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree during the first night of the event.

Andrews Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade

November 27, 2021, 5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

The Magic on Main Electric Christmas Parade is Andrews’ “crowning jewel” for the holidays. Delight in over 50 lighted floats, and see if you can tell who will win the Best in Show trophy. For everyone’s safety, no candy will be thrown from floats—look for volunteers handing out bagged candy before the event!

Christmas in Highlands

Light Up the Park, November 27, 2021, 6:00 p.m.

Highlands, N.C. welcomes you to join them in their holiday celebrations for their annual tree lighting. The trees in Kelsey-Hutchinson Founders Park will sparkle with millions of lights, to be switched on promptly at 6  p.m. and can be enjoyed by car or on foot. Tune in to WHLC 104.5 FM for a festive program with holiday music, Christmas carols and Santa Claus reading The Night Before Christmas.

Evenings set amongst the softly lit trees of the park, joy and laughter from the ice-skating rink, it’s all available for you throughout the holiday season.

Trim Our Town,  November 27 – December 24, 2021

Light Up the Park kicks off Trim Our Town, where local storefronts engage in a holiday decorating contest. When you vote for your chosen window, you can also win a special prize! Watch for posters at participating stores and vote online for your favorite.

Santa in the Park, November 27 – December 18, 2021

Santa and Mrs. Claus will be stationed in the Kelsey Hutchinson Park to hear your Christmas wish list.

Olde Mountain Christmas Parade, December 4, 2021

This long-standing Highlands Christmas tradition features camels, bands, and floats decorated by community organizations parading down Main Street.

Dillsboro luminaries
Dillsboro luminaries. Photo courtesy of Discover Jackson NC

Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries

December 3, 4, 10, and 11, 2021, 5:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Named one of the top 20 events in the southeast for December, Dillsboro Festival of Lights and Luminaries is a step back into Christmas past. Experience Christmas magic as the entire town transforms into a winter wonderland of lights, candles, laughter and song. 2500 luminaries light your way to shops and studios. Horse and buggy rides are available each night, shopkeepers provide live music and serve up holiday treats with hot cider and cocoa, carolers sing, and children visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Murphy Farmers Christmas Market

December 2021 (Exact Date TBA), 10:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Head to the L&N Depot in downtown Murphy to shop from a wide variety of vendors. This is a great opportunity to support local crafters and purchase unique gifts for friends and family.

Sylva NC holiday display
Sylva, NC, holiday display.

Robbinsville Christmas Parade

December 7, 2021, 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The Town of Robbinsville will ring in the start of the holiday season with the Robbinsville Christmas Parade. Floats, Cars, Fire Trucks, Santa, and much more are in store. Bring the family to enjoy the excitement of Christmas.

Holiday Fireworks

December 17, 2021, 7:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.

Downtown Sylva is hosting its first-ever holiday fireworks this year. Get there early to find unique holiday gifts at downtown shops and enjoy dinner at an award-winning restaurant, all to the backdrop of holiday music.

A Night Before Christmas

December 11, 2021, 6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

Waynesville turns into a holiday playground for children and children at heart. Shop and dine along a luminary lined street, tell Santa (and Mrs. Claus, too!) your Christmas wishes, and enjoy musicians and carolers.

Christmas Elves Craft Show

November 13, 2021 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Nothing says love like a gift made by local Smoky Mountain artists and crafters. Visit the Smoky Mountain Event Center in Waynesville for the Christmas Elves Craft Show and find that most treasured gift. Masks are required.

Appalachian Christmas at Shelton House

December 5, 2021, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The whole family will be dazzled by the twinkling lights of Tinsel Trail and the kiddos will meet Santa and tell him all of their Christmas wishes at the Shelton House in Waynesville. Tinsel Trail will stay lit every evening from dusk until dawn through January 2, 2022 for all to enjoy.