While white Christmases, cozy nights by the fire, and sleigh rides encapsulate more traditional holiday imagery, here in Charleston, we get to enjoy decorated palm trees, outdoor festivals, and Antebellum architecture. And we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Although many favorite events are postponed this year due to the ongoing pandemic, we’ve also seen the reappearance of many local traditions that we can’t wait to celebrate again. So, bust out the holiday spirit and get ready for a great Southern holiday season.
Here are 26 things to do in Charleston over the holiday season 2021.
1. Festival of Lights
Date: November 12 – December 31
Time: 5:30pm – 10pm nightly
The Festival of Lights allows families and community members to enjoy holiday decorations from the comfort of their own cars. The 3-mile display, located at James Island County Park, features over 750 stunning light displays. After taking in the twinkling exhibits, get out of the car to partake in activities like marshmallow roasting, festive train rides, an enchanted walking trail, an old-fashioned carousel, and of course, to visit the big man himself, Santa Claus. Food and beverages are also available for sale, and you can get some holiday shopping done at the gift shop. Per beach holiday season tradition, you should also take a peek at Winter Wonderland, the area’s largest holiday sand sculpture. You’ll be amazed at what can be done with over 50 tons of sand. Those who can’t get enough of the holiday season can also come on New Year’s Eve to watch some midnight fireworks.
2. Festival of Trees
Date: November 15 – January 4
Time: 8:30am – 5pm
The holiday season is a time to give back to the community that you love. The Festival of Trees provides an opportunity to do just that while getting into the holiday spirit. Located at the Charleston Visitor Center downtown, this event features 25 themed trees and 16 decorated wreaths for your viewing pleasure. Each tree and wreath is up for silent auction with all proceeds benefiting Dragon Boat Charleston, an organization that provides mental and physical support for cancer patients, survivors, and families. This event is perfect for locals and visitors alike; locals will love supporting local artists and organizations, and visitors can take advantage of the Charleston Visitor Center while getting a taste of the holiday season. If you’re looking for something special, come on November 19 to their Sparkles and Spirits opening event. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite decoration!
3. Drayton Hall Candlelight Tours
Drayton Hall, one of Charleston’s historical treasures, is the oldest untouched house open to the public in the US. Now, you have the opportunity to view this gorgeous property as it was before electricity. Weekends through December 18, you can book your spot for a nighttime tour by candlelight. You’ll enjoy a special type of magic viewing Drayton Hall in the orange glow of candle flames, taking you back to the mid-1700s when Drayton Hall was first built. The tour is offered through audio broadcast, allowing you to take in the tour at your own pace. Afterward, you can enjoy a warm seasonal beverage (non-alcoholic) while taking in the grounds. Whether you’re a lover of history or you’re just a dreamer who enjoys the feeling of stepping back in time, you’ll love this tour.
4. Illumination Charleston
Date: December 2 – 5
Time: 3-day event
This three-day event is perfect for designers, crafters, and history lovers. Featuring appearances by celebrity chefs, like Chef Kardea Brown, local artisans, and tours of historic homes, Illumination Charleston is the event to attend if you’re one who likes to throw stunning holiday gatherings. Tickets are available in packages or ala carte, so you can pick and choose the tours, talks, or classes you wish to attend. For those who aren’t too into the craft scene, there will also be an outdoor concert by Charleston’s Grammy-winning Ranky Tanky, a BBQ, and wine and beer tasting. You’ll even have the opportunity to pick up unique gifts from local crafters and artisans. So, get ready for some inspiration, community, and good times and get your Illumination Charleston tickets today!
5. Drayton Hall Oyster Roast
This Charleston favorite is back! The Drayton Hall Oyster Roast has it all: a beautiful nighttime atmosphere on historic grounds, mouth-watering oysters with all the fixin’s, chili, beer and wine, and live music. Even if you’re not a fan of seafood, you’ll find something to love at this popular event. Locals love the Lowcountry vibe, and visitors adore the Southern hospitality that you can’t find elsewhere. Tickets are sold individually or as a table, and be sure to grab them fast; this event sells out quickly every year. Whether you’ve got family in town, you’re looking to impress some coworkers, or you’d like to enjoy a romantic date night beneath mossy trees, you won’t want to miss this year’s Oyster Roast.
6. Wine Under the Oaks
What’s better than Southern fare and wine tasting? That’s easy: enjoying both beneath centuries-old oaks in the best city in the world. Wine Under the Oaks is an annual tradition that brings tons of visitors every year. Participants can enjoy complimentary desserts and oysters as well as cooking demonstrations. And, of course, plenty of wine samples as well. Beyond the food and drinks, you can also peruse themed tents, dance to live music, and explore the gorgeous grounds of the Boone Hall Plantation. This event takes place beneath the famed avenue of oak trees which were planted in 1743. Now, the branches of these stunning oaks have met above the wide avenue, creating a natural tunnel that exemplifies the feel of the American South.
7. Charleston Holiday Market
Date: November 19 – 21
Time: Friday 10am – 8pm, Saturday 10am – 6pm, Sunday 11am – 5pm
For a market unlike anything else, make your way to the annual Charleston Holiday Market, located at the convention center. This 3-day event can be the perfect opportunity to get all of your holiday shopping done while supporting local artists, crafters, and hobbyists. You won’t be able to get enough of the endless booths featuring holiday decorations, unique crafts, and handcrafted designs. You’ll come for the community spirit and leave with plenty of presents that you can’t wait to give. For those uninterested in shopping, food will be available, and kids will even have the opportunity to meet Santa.
8. Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour
Date: Every day through December
Time: 10am – 12pm
The holiday season offers the perfect time to be a tourist in your own town. Take advantage of the season by participating in a Charleston Strolls Holiday Walking Tour. The tours delve into the rich history of Charleston in locations where motor vehicles aren’t allowed, creating the feeling of stepping back in time. The tour includes The Battery, Four Corners of Law, and an abbreviated tour of the Edmondston-Alston House including a view of Charleston Harbor. Throughout the tour, you’ll also get to enjoy Charleston’s beautiful holiday decorations. Be sure to book ahead because space is limited. After, you and your family can enjoy all of the offerings of downtown Charleston.
9. Charleston Farmers Market
Date: Saturdays & Sundays
Time: 9am – 3pm
Every holiday season, the Charleston Farmers Market, which takes place Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year, takes on a special holiday charm. Located in Marion Square, which will be decked in beautiful holiday decorations for the season, the Charleston Farmers Market gives you the opportunity to support local farmers, enjoy farm fresh produce, and purchase the wares of local artisans. With cobblestoned streets, decorated historic buildings, and outdoor stands, this holiday market will make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. After you’re done browsing the market, you can take advantage of the amazing shops and restaurants of downtown Charleston and make a full day of it. This is one of those events that you’ll want to come back to time and time again. You’re never sure of what you might find here. Bring your friends, too; one of the best ways to spread holiday cheer is to support local vendors.
10. Christmas on The Battery
Date: Thursday, December 2 & Friday, December 3
Time: 5:30pm – 8pm
The holidays in Charleston are a time to enjoy the unique history that this city offers. Christmas on The Battery presents the perfect opportunity to take advantage of it. Bring your friends and family to enjoy a self-guided tour of the famous Edmondston-Alston House beautifully decorated by candlelight. To add to the nostalgia, you will also enjoy performances by the Charleston Caroling Company. After the tour, sip on a hot beverage outside with live storyteller Fouché Sheppard. She is a famed Charleston Gullah storyteller who brings African American stories to life through rhyme, song, and dramatic performances. This Southern holiday adventure could be the highlight of your season.
11. Grand Illumination and Dinner
Date: December 16 – 18
Time: 6pm – 8pm
This two-part event combines live performances and early American cuisine in a festive and historical celebration. As you arrive, you’ll travel back to the Christmas of 1782 with costumed actors around the grounds performing Arthur Middleton’s return to Middleton Place at the end of the Revolutionary War. To capture the historic spirit, your pathway will be lit with torches and decorated with other period designs. After the educational performance, you and your party will sit down to enjoy some early American dishes from a fixed menu. Please note that this is a socially distanced event and CDC recommendations will be followed. The walking route is approximately ½ mile, and to ensure social distancing, the time slots will be strict, so be sure to arrive on time. Buy your tickets fast before they sell out.
12. City of Charleston Parade of Boats
Date: December 11
Time: Starts at 5pm at Mount Pleasant
The famed Charleston Parade of Boats is back! An event that locals look forward to each year, the Parade of Boats features local boats decorated with lights and other Christmas decorations. They make their way slowly through Charleston Harbor, starting at Mount Pleasant, to Ashley River, allowing plenty of time for enjoyment. Every boat is decorated by its owner, promising a variety of holiday-themed designs. You might even get a glimpse of Santa! You can view the parade from anywhere, but the best spots are The Battery, Waterfront Park, and Mount Pleasant Memorial Waterfront Park. If you want to view at these areas, however, you should arrive quite early; this is one of the most popular holiday events in Charleston. Although the event is outside, organizers ask that attendees wear masks and do their best to social distance so that everyone can enjoy the evening safely.
13. Summerville Christmas Parade
Date: December 12
Every year, Summerville closes its main streets to welcome Santa and ring in the holiday season with a parade. Promoting positivity, this parade shows off some local traditions and welcomes people from all over to enjoy the wonders of a Southern Christmas season. This year’s theme is Christmas in the Pines, and we can’t wait to see how participants interpret it. The parade lasts around 1.5 hours and features floats, candy thrown at the crowd, dancers, and more. It’s a popular event, so be sure to come early to snag a great spot. After the parade, make a day of it by wandering around Summerville, enjoying the decorations, and doing some holiday shopping. As always, please wear a mask and do your best to social distance. The parade is scheduled for December 12, but if there’s rain, it will be postponed until December 19.
14. North Charleston Christmas Parade and Festival
Date: December 4
Time: 4pm – 8pm
If there’s one thing that Charlestonians can’t get enough of, it’s Christmas parades. Head up to North Charleston early December for the annual North Charleston Christmas Parade and Festival. Offering everything that an unforgettable festival needs, this event will have live music, tons of food, an artist market, and more. Children will also enjoy plenty of activities, and good children will even get a chance to meet Santa and tell him what they want for Christmas. The entire event culminates in a parade that begins at 5pm. Afterwards, you can stick around for some holiday shopping around town. To capture the best of community and holiday spirit, this is one event to look forward to.
15. See Decorations at Marion Square
Date: As long as decorations remain
Time: All Day
Sometimes, the best events are the ones that aren’t even planned. Whenever you need a refill of holiday spirit, come to Marion Square to take in the decorations. Each year, the famed square is filled with lights as well as a massive lit tree at its center for a holiday look that you can’t get anywhere else. The square offers the best of both worlds, exemplifying the feel of a European Christmas market with the friendliness of Southern hospitality. After enjoying the decorations, head to King Street or Market Street for some downtown shopping or some of the greatest cuisine that you can find on earth. Come on the weekends to enjoy the holiday-themed Charleston Farmers Market. Or, head there on a quiet weekday evening to enjoy a stroll among the decorations.
16. North Charleston Christmas Tree Lighting
Date: December 3
Is it even the holiday season if you haven’t enjoyed a Christmas tree lighting? Head to North Charleston to witness the annual lighting of the Christmas tree located on the lawn of the Felix C David Community Center. The stunning 40-foot tree is beautifully decorated and ready to bring holiday cheer to the community of North Charleston. Participants will sing Christmas Carols, meet the mayor, and enjoy the feeling of community and fellowship (safely, of course). After the event, feel free to stroll around the circle to enjoy the Christmas decorations, do some shopping, and have a nice holiday evening with someone special.
17. Charleston Holiday Pub Crawl
The holiday season isn’t always about quiet nights around the fire. Sometimes, you have to get a little wild, too. Gather some friends and join the Charleston Holiday Pub Crawl occurring daily through January 10. The raucous tour features historic pubs, complimentary appetizers, and local brews or other libations. For 2.5 hours, you and your group will hop between 3 – 5 different pubs and bars. Along the way, your guide will share stories about prohibition, pirates, the Revolutionary War, and more. Whether you’re a local looking to have some fun or you’re new to town, this is an event that you won’t forget. Plus, a portion of the proceeds go to MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, so you know that you’re doing good while getting your drink on.
18. Isle of Palms Holiday Street Festival
We love the holiday season because it offers the opportunity to party… A lot. Join yet another Christmas festival in the Charleston area at the Isle of Palms Holiday Street Festival. This popular event is not one to miss. You’ll enjoy tons of food vendors, live entertainment, goods from arts & crafters, and more. Kids will have loads of fun playing on inflatables and enjoying other activities, and adults will love the opportunity to find unique gifts and getting to know other members of the community. Santa will make an appearance (of course), and afterwards, you can further explore the town of Isle of Palms, head to the beach, and take advantage of the wonders that the Charleston area offers.
19. Aquarium Aglow
This brand new event is gearing up to become a Charleston favorite. You may have visited the aquarium before, but never like this. On select nights, the aquarium will be open late so that visitors can enjoy tens of thousands of lights decorating the aquarium. Learn about local aquatic life while enjoying the stunning decorations. There will also be food and beverages available for purchase (including wine and beer) as well as live entertainment. This isn’t your typical aquarium visit; it’s more of a holiday gathering. Whether you’re looking for education or a bit of a party, Aquarium Aglow offers both. Be sure to book in advance because there are limited tickets per evening.
20. Explore the Lights at Park Circle
Date: Through New Year’s Day
Time: All Day (best after sundown)
At the center of North Charleston, Park Circle is a gathering place for many. During the holiday season, it is beautifully decorated to capture the holiday spirit in a way that you can’t find anywhere else. Come in the evening to fully enjoy the splendor, and take a slow stroll to truly take it in. Afterwards, drive around the town to view other decorations, or stop in to the many boutiques and restaurants surrounding to pick up some gifts or grab a bite to eat. The decorations will be up through New Year’s Day, so you can enjoy the holiday spirit in North Charleston all December long.
21. Folly Beach Christmas Parade
Date: December 14
There aren’t many places in the world where you can enjoy a beach day and a holiday parade. At Folly Beach, you can. Come early on December 14 to snag a sweet spot and watch the festivities. The parade begins at Second Street and West Ashley Avenue and continues to Center Street. Afterwards, you can take a stroll to the beach, which is just a block away, or head to an arts & crafts show at Folly River Park. There, you can browse unique offerings and pick up holiday gifts that your friends and family will love. You’ll also find live music, Santa, and a visit from the mayor. Or, do some shopping in town. It’s up to you; there’s no wrong way to spend the day at Folly Beach.
22. Ripley’s Festival of Trees
Date: November 1 – December 31
Somehow, everything is a bit better when holiday decorations are involved. For the months of November and December, Ripley’s Aquarium in Myrtle Beach is filled with more than 55 decorated trees for guests to enjoy. Fifty of those trees are decorated for each state, giving visitors a little taste of home. The other five feature their own themes which you will have to come and see for yourself. Beyond the beautiful trees, the rest of the aquarium is decorated as a winter wonderland, allowing Myrtle Beach visitors to enjoy both beach life and white Christmases. The best part is that ticket prices stay the same. The only difference is the holiday-themed decorations.
23. 38th Annual African American Spirituals Concert At Drayton Hall
Date: December 12
The holiday season isn’t just a time to enjoy your friends and family. It’s also a time to remember the past and celebrate how far we’ve come. The African American Spirituals Concert is an annual event to honor African American traditions. The gorgeous music, first heard in the fields and houses surrounding Drayton Hall, will be performed by Ann Caldwell and the Magnolia Singers, a local group that performs spirituals, Gullah poetry, and other music of the region. This event, located at the George W. McDaniel Education Center at Drayton Hall, will culminate in a light reception where you can enjoy wassail—a hot mulled libation. Individual tickets or private tables are available.
24. Hip Hop Nutcracker
Date: December 7
If you love The Nutcracker, but you struggle to bring your friends and family to a traditional ballet, then the Hip Hop Nutcracker might be just what you’re looking for. The perfect way to introduce this beautiful classic, the Hip Hop Nutcracker tells the story of the Nutcracker with a modern twist. Tchaikovsky’s famous compositions will be performed by a DJ and a live violinist while twelve hip hop dancers will perform the story set in modern New York City. Not to be missed, this performance is even MC’d by Kurtis Blow, one of hip hop’s founders. The perfect combination of classic and contemporary, this is the perfect evening for any taste.
25. Holiday Swing: A Charleston Jazz Tradition
Date: December 4
Time: 5pm & 8pm
There’s nothing like the cacophonous sound of a big band in an auditorium. Now, you can enjoy that sound plus your favorite holiday tunes at Holiday Swing. Featuring big band and jazz performances, this yearly concert is sure to get you on your feet and swinging. This year, enjoy a special guest appearance by Zandrina Dunning. Originally from Boston, Zandrina has strong connections to Charleston. She has performed with artists like Patrick Davis, Darius Rucker, and Mark Bryan, and she is excited to add her stunning voice to this year’s Holiday Swing. Per Charleston Music Hall rules, all attendees must either be fully vaccinated or present proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours. If you can’t make the live performance, it will be available virtually starting December 18.
26. Under the Streetlamp: Hip to the Holidays
Date: December 5
Under the Streetlamp, a famous musical group that performs classics from the American Radio Songbook, is excited to present a live performance of their album Hip to the Holidays. Blending live music and dancing, this event will feel like a Broadway show. Adults and kids alike will enjoy the modern take on Christmas classics, including fun stories and other elements for an entertainment extravaganza. Under the Streetlamp is no stranger to performance. They’ve been all over the world, including big venues like Radio City Hall and NYC’s Times Square New Years Eve. You don’t want to miss this chance to see them live in Charleston.