SOUTHEASTERN N.C. — Li’l Friday is a weekly roundup of events in art, music, theater, comedy, pop-up markets and more. Yet, the Thanksgiving Day edition focuses on holiday events — over 40 — throughout the end of the year.
It’s wise to check in ahead of attending any one happening to ensure it’s scheduled as normal. Inclement weather and unforeseen circumstances may shift for organizers at the last minute.
Christmas Tree Lightings
Across tri-county region
The night before the flotilla, Nov. 25, the Town of Wrightsville Beach will host its tree-lighting ceremony, complete with a visit from Santa. Hot chocolate and cookies will be served as well, as the Elf patrol arrives promptly at 5:30 p.m., followed by Old Saint Nick at 5:45 p.m., and the holiday troupe performing at 6 p.m.
Downtown, the City of Wilmington will deck the halls at the foot of Market and Water streets, Nov. 25, with entertainment beginning at 5:30 p.m. A festive countdown commences at 6:25 p.m. ahead of the tree lighting, and then Santa arrives.
Also taking place Nov. 25, Pender County’s Town of Burgaw will illuminate the tannenbaum at 6 p.m. There will be Christmas carols performed, kids’ activities and a visit from Santa.
Further northeast, the Town of Topsail Beach will present its 17th annual Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting on Nov. 26, 4:30 p.m. Light refreshments and caroling will take place with the tree-lighting happening after the parade.
Holden Beach‘s annual tree lighting ceremony will take place on Dec. 1, 6 p.m., with games, live music, plus visits from Santa and the Grinch. There also will be a Merry Twistmas Contest — show off your best moves — and an Ugly Christmas Sweater Contest.
Another downtown tree will be lit at Riverfront Park, 10 Cowan St., on Dec. 3 at 5:30 p.m. The Live Oak Bank Pavilion will have events planned around it, including a musical performance from the Cape Fear Chorale from 5:45 p.m. to 6 p.m., followed by the lighting by Mayor Bill Saffo. Santa will be on hand until 7:15 p.m. for visits and on the lawn at 7:30 p.m., a screening of Dr. Seuss’ “The Grinch” (2018) will take place; lawn chairs and blankets welcome. Riverfront Park will also be open for ice-skating (see below) and there will be food and beverages for sale, along with free hot chocolate while supplies last. Toys For Tots will be collecting new unwrapped toys.
On Dec. 3, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Belville Riverwalk Park will host an all-day celebration. There will be music by the Brunswick Brass Band, performances by the Coastal Dance Academy and Santa visits. The Christmas tree will be lit at 5 p.m.
NC Holiday Flotilla
Motts Channel, 4 Marina St., Wrightsville Beach • Free
Southeastern North Carolina’s premiere boat parade will return Saturday, Nov. 26, as hundreds of lights and displays decorate vessels that travel down the Intracoastal Waterway to Motts Channel to Banks Channel and then to the Coast Guard Station. After the parade, fireworks will light up the sky.
But before Harbor Island sparkles and shines, a day in the park will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., at Wrightsville Beach Town Complex. It’s free to attend and will feature live music from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. A car show also will be set up, with registration from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.; judging begins at noon, with awards at 2 p.m. There will be 100 arts, craft and food vendors, inflatables and other fun games for children.
Holiday Train Expo
Independence Mall, 3500 Oleander Drive • Admission: $5-$7
Annually, the Cape Fear Model Railroad Society sets up a holiday display in the Dillards wing of Independence Mall to showcase the wonderland of the holidays. There will be 12 layouts featuring more than 30 trains, dressed for the season. The expo is open beginning Black Friday, Nov. 25, and remains open on Saturdays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m. It’s closed Christmas Eve and Day but will reopen Dec. 27-30 during the same hours.
All is Bright
10200 Hwy. 17, Hampstead • Admission: $5-$25
Poplar Grove Plantation is bringing in the carol of the bells for six weeks through Dec. 30, with the official tree lighting taking place on opening night, Nov. 25. All is Bright features the plantation grounds bedazzled in tens of thousands of lights and illuminated scenes with photo opportunities. The Manor House is also decked out and open.
There will be fire-pits and marshmallow roasting areas, with various food trucks featured every night among other cuisines, hot and cold libations, wine and beer, and arts and craft vendors. Santa will be present Saturdays, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. As well, a letter-writing station will be set up to send well wishes to the military men and women serving far from home this holiday season.
Tickets are available at www.poplargrove.org or at the gate. The event takes place Nov. 25-26, Dec. 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, 21-23, and 28-30, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Funds raised help Poplar Grove continue its mission of “education, conservation and preservation.”
Cape Fear Festival of Trees
N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, 900 Loggerhead Road • Tickets: $3-$12.95
The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher has transformed into a winter wonderland with the return of the Cape Fear Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser for Lower Cape Fear LifeCare.
For over 30 years, the annual holiday attraction has drawn thousands of visitors to walk through and view uniquely decorated trees, trimmed and dressed by area businesses, organizations and individuals. More than 50 have been sponsored this year, with proceeds benefitting the nonprofit. LCFLC supports patients with life-limiting and serious illnesses through health services and programs at various levels of care, including hospice and palliative care.
Visitors can also add a name to the Memory Dove Tree to honor and remember loved ones who have passed.
The trees are viewable with aquarium admission through Jan. 2 during the museum’s hours, Sunday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; reservations must be made online. The aquarium is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. LCFLC does not receive ticket proceeds, so donations are welcome. As well, festive handmade wreaths will be available for purchase to benefit the nonprofit.
Island of Lights
Various locations on Pleasure Island • Free
Pleasure Island’s holiday happenings kick off Nov. 25 when the month-long Island of Lights celebration lights up Carolina Beach Lake. Located at the intersection of Atlanta Avenue and Lake Park Boulevard, there are displays aplenty and visitors are welcome to walk around it nightly when it illuminates at 7 p.m.
Friday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m., the Carolina Beach Christmas parade will travel down Atlanta Avenue to Lake Park Boulevard to the Federal Point Plaza. Businesses, organizations, local leaders and Santa will participate on floats and various holiday displays.
The next day, the Island of Lights Holiday Flotilla takes place in Carolina Beach at 6 p.m. The lit boats will move from Snow’s Cut Bridge to the Carolina Beach Boat Basin. Participants will be able to text their favorite decorated boats to determine the People’s Choice award.
Wilmington Railroad Museum
505 Nutt St. • Admission: $5 a person
Annually, downtown’s Wilmington Railroad Museum also has a train and light show, featuring more than 25,000 lights, visits with Santa, even Polar Express readings.
The museum is open Friday and Saturday, with shows at 6:30 p.m. to 8 pm. on Nov. 25-26, Dec 9-10, 16-17, and 23. After Christmas Show (no Santa) on Dec 30.
Find out about the museum and holiday events here.
Ice skating at Riverfront Park
Live Oak Bank Pavilion, 10 Cowan St. • Admission: $5 a person
Riverfront Park at Live Oak Bank will be transformed into an ice-skating rink this holiday season. The rink is made of synthetic ice and skaters should bring their own skates (rentals not available). Slots are an hour long.
The schedule is: Dec. 1-2, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Dec. 3, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Dec. 4, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.; and Dec. 5-9, 5 p.m. to 4 p.m. Register here.
Cameron Art Museum
3201 S. 17th St. • Tickets: Free to $25
The local art museum is preparing to celebrate the season with a slate of events, including performances, family-friendly activities and more.
It starts Nov. 30 when the community is welcome to enjoy coffee with artists that sell their wares in the museum shop. It’s free to the public, and gingerbread cookies and coffee will be served.
Come Dec. 2, CAM launches “Illumination 2022,” the opening night party to celebrate a popular annual exhibition featuring handmade lanterns by artists across the nation There will be light bites and cocktails, with live music by Neighbro, playing popular ‘60s tunes. Tickets are $25.
The next day, Dec. 3, a family-fun day will take place with Clyde’s Holiday by the Sea. Attendees help decorate sea critters to add to CAM’s Holiday by the Sea installation, displayed around Minnie Evans Gate House throughout the season. Tickets are $10 and the event takes place from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
A free event, CAM’s Holiday Open House will take place Thursday, Dec. 8, with hot chocolate and treats. The following Sunday, Dec. 11, another celebration free of charge to the community is Minnie Evans’ birthday celebration. Evans, a 19th century artist and Airlie Gardens gatekeeper, has become well-known for her bright and colorful mandala illustrations. The event will include a performance by Joyce Greer, who uses storytelling to bring African-American heroines to life. It also includes a first-look at a new documentary, “Minnie Evans: Visionary Artist.” Filmmaker Linda Royal delves into Evans art, many pieces on display as part “60+” an exhibit celebrating 60 years of CAM serving Wilmington.
As well, music of the season will be enjoyed at Jazz at CAM, which requires tickets. The “Sounds for the Season” from the Ernest Turner Trio on Thursday, Dec. 1, 7 p.m.; the Wilmington Symphony Youth Orchestra’s The Tritones on Sunday, Dec. 4, 2 p.m.; the Wilmington Chamber Orchestra on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m.; and Wilmington Voices Holiday Choral Performance on Sunday, Dec. 18 at 3 p.m.
To cap off the holidays, CAM will close “Illumination” in the new year with its floating lantern ceremony Jan. 8. The free event allows the community to decorate their own paper lanterns in remembrance, reflection and gratitude and set them afloat on the museum pond. There also will be live music, hot chocolate, beverages and treats from CAM Cafe. Lantern sleeves are for sale for $12 in the museum shop.
Leland in Lights
Founders Park, 113 Town Hall Drive • Free
Leland’s Founders Park will become Leland in Lights starting Dec. 3 until Jan. 3.
The park features large motion displays, including singing Christmas trees, snowmen playing baseball, two children having a snowball fight, even Old Man Winter blowing cold weather to the South. Santa shows up a few times and his reindeer also make an appearance among thousands of “dripping” lights and ornaments. The Candy Cane Forest is a hot spot, as are all the cutout light displays for photo-ops.
On Dec. 3, 9, 16 and 17, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Leland Express will take passengers around Founders Park, while on Dec. 10 the “Polar Express” will be screened for free in the park after dusk.
Opening night, Dec. 3, also will have Dixieland Kettle Corn Company, Cheez Boss, and Brown Dog Coffee Company serving food and beverages.
Christmas in the Square
Pender County Courthouse Square, 100 S. Wright St., Burgaw • Free
Burgaw will have the tinsel strewn across hundreds of booths set up in its town square on Dec. 3, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Arts and crafts vendors, live entertainment and food vendors will be part of the celebration.
Riverlights Festival of Trees
Marina Village, 109 Pier Master Point • Free
Starting Dec. 3, Riverlights will live up to its name with a centerpiece 20-foot tree lit and surrounded by additional Chritsmas trees decorated to show area nonprofits’ missions.
At the kickoff, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Marina Village, there will be a holiday-curated pop-up market with 30 local vendors, street performances from Wilmington Ballet Company bringing to life “The Nutcracker,” holiday music performed by the Eugene Ashley High School band, visits with characters from “Frozen” and photos with Santa.
A & M’s Red Food Truck will be serving sliders and tacos and Coastal Craft Creamery will have holiday-flavored ice cream for purchase.
All trees will remain lit from dusk to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31.
Various locations • Tickets: Free to $25
There are numerous chances to take in the famed Tchaikovsky ballet throughout the holiday season. The dancers bring to life the story of Clara, who travels into the Land of Snow as she battles the Mouse Queen to reign over The Land of Sweets and its ruler, the Sugar Plum Fairy.
City Ballet will present the show at the Wilson Center on Third Street over two days, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. and Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. Tickets start at $30.
The New York Ballet for Young Audiences features 13 dancers, four children and a narrator performing on Dec. 2 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 3 at 10 a.m. Tickets are $34.
St. James Episcopal Church is holding a Nutcracker Tea Party for families Dec. 17 in the church’s Perry Hall, 25 South Third St. There will be various selections of tea, bite-sized sandwiches, fairy bread, scones, and cookies, made by area bakers. Dancers from the Wilmington Conservancy will perform scenes in character and be available for photo opportunities. Tickets are $30.
That night at the Wilson Center, the conservancy will present “The Great Wilmington Nutcracker” at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and again on Dec. 18 with the same showtimes. Tickets are $30 and up.
‘Nochebuena: A Christmas Spectacular’
Wilson Center, 711 N. Third St. • Tickets: $25 and up
As the holidays approach, Wilson Center will celebrate with L.A.-based Ballet Folklórico de Los Angeles and Mariachi Garibaldi de Jaime Cuéllar — most recently and notably recognized for their Academy Award performance in honor of the Oscar-winning Pixar movie “Coco.” The company will entertain on Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m., in “Nochebuena: A Christmas Spectacular,” a show that highlights the traditions and customs Mexican families participate in each Christmas Eve.
‘Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol’
Thalian Hall Ruth and Bucky Stein Theater, 310 Chestnut St. • Tickets: $34
A biannual production, “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,” will open Dec. 8 from Big Dawg Productions. The modern Christmas classic gets a retelling of Dickens’ ‘Scrooge’ classic from the mind of his business partner, Marley, who’s dead at the onset of the tale. Marley has been condemned to eternity in hell and has a chance to free himself by redeeming the miserly Scrooge. The show runs Dec. 8 through 18; tickets, times and days can be accessed here.
‘A Very Merry Downtown Christmas‘
Brooklyn Arts Center, 516 N. Fourth Street. • Tickets: $80 (table for two) and up
Music maestro Brian Whitted will lead a holiday revue on piano, backed by an orchestra nonetheless, at the Brooklyn Arts Center. It will run for one weekend only, with four shows taking place Dec. 8 through 11. Produced by Opera House Theatre Company, for which Whitted is musical director, talented performers will rotate through each show, singing holiday classics and hymns. Tickets are $80 and up and start at tables for two, but move up to tables for eight — or even securing BAC’s balcony reserve for 50 or your closest friends. Learn more about the show here.
‘A Christmas Story’
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St. • Tickets: $22-$34
Based on the famed 1983 movie, “A Christmas Story: The Musical” will open Dec. 9 at Thalian Hall’s main stage. The show centers around Ralphie’s desire to receive a Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot BB gun for Christmas, to his parents’ dismay. Thalian Association for Community Theater last presented the musical in 2017, bringing to life Jean Shepperd’s short story “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash” — the basis for the movie script as well. The cast is full of adults and children bringing to life the zany antics the story has become revered for — Flick sticking his tongue to a flagpole, the Old Man winning a “special award,” and Ralphie donning a bunny costume on Christmas morning — to name a few. Tickets are $22 to $34; the show runs through Dec. 18, days and times can be found here.
Ugly Sweater Party
Leland Cultural Arts Center, 1212 Magnolia Village Way • Tickets: $15
Time to dust off the tackiest adorned holiday sweater stowed away the other 11 months of the year as it will have its time to shine at the Leland Cultural Center on Dec. 9 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. There will be live music from Holy Heat, as well as an ugly sweater and best sweater contest. Tickets are $15 and wine will be sold by Noni Bacca.
Bourgie Nights, 123 Princess St. • Suggested donation: $10
It’s the office Christmas party for area musicians on Dec. 9, and the community is welcome to join in on the celebration at Bourgie Nights. Featuring 14 singer-songwriters and bands, the show consists of each act performing three songs — two holiday tracks and one original composition. This year the tinsel-strung concert, eggnog included, will welcome Sean Thomas Gerard, Justin Lacy, Haley Heath, Julia Rothenberger, Sheme Of Gold, Jason Andre, Mike Blair, Billy Heathen, Tres Altman, Mark Jackson, Cara and Jay, Tanner Lackey, Ahna Ell and Benjamin Lusk. The $10 suggested donation at the door goes to the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation.
Charlie Brown Christmas
Wilson Center, 711 N. Third St. • Tickets: $10
Charles Shultz’s annual holiday classic featuring the Peanuts gang discovering the true meaning of Christmas will be brought to life at Wilson Center by Cape Fear Community College’s theater department. The show takes place at 3 p.m. Dec. 10; tickets are $15 for adults and free for kids 12 and under, as well as CFCC students. CFCC faculty and staff received discounted entry for $9.99.
Old Wilmington By Candlelight Tour
126 South Third St. • Tickets: $50
On Dec. 10, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Dec. 11, 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., the Lower Cape Fear Historical Society will be celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Candlelight Walking Tour. The holiday event takes place in downtown Wilmington and features historic sites and houses of worship.
The tours are self-guided, though each site has a docent who will share history of the structure. All stops are adorned for the holiday season.
Wilmington Holiday Parade
Front Street, downtown Wilmington • Free
The annual City of Wilmington holiday parade will feature local leaders, businesses and organizations, floats, marching bands and clubs celebrating the merriment of the season. The parade takes place along Front Street in downtown Wilmington on Dec. 11 at dusk. Parking is free on Sundays.
NC Symphony Holiday Pops
Wilson Center, 711 N. Third St.• Tickets: $20 and up
The North Carolina classical orchestra will be performing on Dec. 11 for two shows, 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Traditional carols and holiday classics will be performed in this two-hour concert.
Songs of the Season: A Medley of Holiday Classics
Wilson Center, 711 N. Third St. • Tickets: $22
On Dec. 14 at 7 p.m., the Wilmington Choral Society will bring to life a medley of seasonal classics. Songs include “’Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “Sleigh Ride,” “The Wexford Carol,” Irving Berlin’s “Christmas,” “Winter Wonderland” and more. The Cape Fear Academy choir will also perform. Tickets are $22, and the show starts at 7 p.m.
A Magical Cirque Christmas
Wilson Center, 711 N. Third St.• Tickets: $32 and up
Acrobats and circus acts will be dressed in the holly-jolly best as Magical Cirque Christmas opens at Wilson Center on Dec. 15. There are two shows, 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., hosted by Lucy Darling, who introduces dazzling performers that dance, sing, indulge in balancing acts, contortion and magic. The spirit of the season is embraced with holiday music as well.
Kure Beach Holiday Whoobie Whatty
Town of Kure Beach, 105 Atlantic Ave. • Free
Kure Beach will become Whoville on Friday, Dec. 16 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., as it prepares for a Grinch-themed celebration. The evening kicks off with the announcement of the 2022 Kure Beach Cheermeister — awarding the most festively decorated home in town, as voted on by the public (to enter a home, the deadline is Dec. 7, 5 p.m.; click here).
Afterward, the Jim Carrey holiday classic of Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” will be screened. Various activity stations will be set up in the park for families to enjoy, including face-painting, craft-making and cookie-decorating. Photos also will be available with the Grinch. Popcorn and hot chocolate will be provided by Kure Beach First Baptist Church.
The Midatlantic Holiday Revue
Brooklyn Arts Center, 516 N. 4th St. • Tickets: $20-$50
On Dec. 16, the Midatlantic Holiday Revue will be a concert to benefit both the Plastic Ocean Project and Toys For Tots. The night will present an evening of Americana sounds from The Midatlantic and Mike Blair and the Stonewalls, with Celtic punk-grass from The Tan and Sober Gentlemen. Tickets are $20 to $50 and proceeds benefit Plastic Ocean Project, with a mission to remove plastics from the ocean. An unwrapped toy is also suggested to benefit Toys for Tots.
Wilmington Menorah Lighting
Foot of Market and Front streets • Free
Chanukah kicks off Dec. 18 this year and to celebrate the Jewish holiday, the City of Wilmington and Chabad of Wilmington will light the menorah. There will be dancing, music and light refreshments.
Celtic Angels Christmas
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St. • Tickets: $64-$8
For a touch of Ireland this holiday season, international vocalists Louise Barry, Olivia Bradley, Michaela Groth, Katie Sweeney and Chloe Haven — otherwise known ast the Celtic Angels — will perform on Thalian’s stage. The score will consist of traditional holiday and Celtic classics, arranged by Peter Sheridan. Also performing will be the Trinity Ensemble Hands, providing clapping and toe-tapping rhythms, along with the Celtic Knight Dancers. Two shows take place Dec. 21 at 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., with tickets available here.
‘It’s a Wonderful Life’
Thalian Hall, 310 Chestnut St. • Tickets: $14
It’s become a holiday tradition: screening Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at downtown’s historic Thalian Hall every year the week of Christmas. Capra — whose grandson Frank Capra Jr. helped found EUE/Screen Gems studio in Wilmington in the mid-’80s — filmed the Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed classic in 1946. It has since been remastered and follows the tale of George Bailey who is visited by an angel, Clarence, who shows him what life would look like in Bedford Falls if George wasn’t around. There are two showings on Dec. 22 at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., with tickets $14.
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