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How to celebrate the holidays in the Triangle

Raleigh's annual New Year's Eve celebration First Night Raleigh culminates in the dropping of a giant acorn at midnight.
Raleigh's annual New Year's Eve celebration First Night Raleigh culminates in the dropping of a giant acorn at midnight.

‘Tis the season again — if you wander into any shopping mall or city center, you may notice hordes of holiday shoppers clutching their Starbucks hot chocolates and marveling at gingerbread-scented candles. Although North Carolina is not often the typical “Winter Wonderland,” seemingly nothing will stop the masses from reveling in the excesses of the holiday season. If for some reason you are remaining in the Triangle for the holidays, here is a roundup of celebrations around the Triangle sure to satiate anyone’s desire for holiday cheer.


Just before Duke students clear out for Winter Break, Raleigh’s Carolina Ballet will present “The Nutcracker” at the Durham Performing Arts Center Saturday and Sunday. Like Handel’s “Messiah,” “The Nutcracker” has long enjoyed a place of de facto holiday tradition throughout the Western world. Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet composition whisks audiences away into the Kingdom of the Snow where the Sugar Plum Fairy performs her illustrious dance and Clara partners with the Nutcracker Prince in a graceful pas de deux. As conventional as holiday affairs come, “The Nutcracker” is sure to please the excitable holiday zealot.

Looking to complete your holiday shopping? Look no further than the Durham Bazaar Holiday Market at the Pinhook Saturday. With a multitude of local vendors and community members selling vintage, salvaged and homemade wares, the Bazaar offers an alternative to consumerist gift-shopping. The event will feature a live DJ, pizza and drinks (for those of age), and vendors will include Carolina Soul Records and Ghostkitty Designs, among many others.

History buffs rejoice! Durham’s Bennett Place Historic Site is organizing “Christmas During the Civil War” Saturday, Dec. 16. Patrons can observe “living historians” re-enacting domestic and military life during the holidays, complete with cooking and weapon demonstrations. Hands-on activities such as decoration-crafting and candle-making will be offered, with a visit from “Old Saint Nick” to top off a day of educational exuberance.

For those tiring of the monotony of traditional holiday celebrations or who identify as a member of the African diaspora, the Hayti Heritage Center is hosting its annual Kwanzaa celebration Saturday, Dec. 30, with unity as the central theme of the event. Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration honoring African heritage within African-American culture, is observed by many community members who retain strong African ties. Attendees can appreciate the euphony of djembe and dunun drums as they mingle about the marketplace where artwork, clothing, food and crafts will be sold and displayed.

Chapel Hill

The Triangle’s Jewish community invites anyone looking for “a shtik naches” to come out to its Triangle-wide Chanukah Party at the R&R Grill — the event accepting those of all levels of observance. The celebration is an opportunity for both Jewish and non-Jewish attendees to connect with members of the Triangle Jewish community. This will be the sixth iteration of the event, which prides itself in being the largest Jewish party of the year.

As the New Year approaches, keep in mind the Morehead Planetarium’s “Night Lights: New Year’s Eve,” Sunday, Dec. 31. Guests can ring in the new year under the stars with games, shows and the popular food trucks “Dusty Donuts” and “Chirba Chirbato,” which will be onsite to compliment the event. Dazzling light displays and galaxy shows compose the Planetarium’s itinerary — fit for astronomers and astrologers alike.


If you’re die-hard Christmas enough to make it out to Raleigh this Wednesday, you can join Governor Roy Cooper and First Lady Kristin Cooper at the State Capitol Tree Lighting on Capitol Square. The festivities will include luminaries and holiday music by the Raleigh Concert Band and Oak City Voices, culminating in the tree-lighting ceremony carried out by Governor Cooper himself. Hot chocolate and holiday cookies will be provided courtesy of the Junior Women’s Club and, of course, an appearance from dear old Santa Claus will provide a festive novelty for revelers.

Raleigh’s famous First Night New Year’s celebration will occur, as always, on Dec. 31, spanning downtown Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street. With nearly 100 performances in over 35 venues throughout downtown, First Night Raleigh is North Carolina’s equivalent of New York City’s iconic Ball Drop. At midnight, a large acorn representing the “City of Oaks” will descend, ringing in the New Year. Partygoers can enjoy multiple events hosted by nearby hotels and bars and end their night appreciating the fireworks atop the looming Ferris Wheel while contemplating the holiday’s annual promise for a new beginning.

The holidays are a perfect opportunity not only to venture out into Durham and the Triangle, but also to explore and form new traditions and modes of celebration. Togetherness remains a hallmark of the holiday season — so, for those staying in the area for the holidays, grab a friend or a relative and indulge in all that the community has to offer and participate in diverse holiday observances and festivities. Not everyone celebrates Christmas — my family doesn’t — but engaging in the community during an inescapable yet altogether revitalizing time of year can bring new meaning to one’s annual holiday experience. 


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