Passing through the Bold City during the holidays? There’s no better time to experience our beautiful Bold City than when the holidays are upon us! From beachside Christmas lights to our annual boat parade, there’s sure to be a holiday celebration in JAX that will be right up your alley. We’ve compiled some of the most popular and well-known holiday events in Jacksonville from November through January to help you prep for the holidays.
City of Jacksonville Tree Lighting Ceremony
Typically hosted on a Wednesday during an Art Walk in early December, the tree lighting is a Jacksonville tradition and involves the lighting of a large Christmas tree with more than 70,000 lights and 150 ornaments. Started over 30 years ago, the official Christmas tree lighting is a staple of Jacksonville holiday events and the real kick off to the holiday season. And since it’s hosted during Art Walk, you’ll often find plenty of holiday-themed festivities and vendors all around as well.
The event has changed locations many times. It used to be held at the Jacksonville Landing, but the city recently bulldozed the historic, skyline defining structure to make a grass field. Now, the tree lighting is held in James Weldon Johnson Park, formerly known as Hemming Park. The park was first established as a public square by Isaiah D. Hart in 1857 and is within easy walking distance to the main library, Sweet Pete’s candy shop and MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Nothing gets me in the holiday spirit like rewatching “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the classic 1946 Christmas tale where a despondent George Bailey looks for the meaning of life. The Alhambra Theater, a Jacksonville institution since 1967, is putting on a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life from Nov. 25 to Dec. 24. The Alhambra Theater is fun at any time of year, but their holiday programming is always one of the highlights of the season. Be sure to purchase tickets well in advance – this show will sell out!
Adventure Landing hosts WinterFEST every year, typically from late November until early January. The popular water park transforms into a lovely Alpine experience featuring ice skating, the mistletoe marketplace, Crystal Creek Lodge and other outdoor holiday fun. WinterFEST is a great option with ice lighting, gorgeous lights around the park and s’more roasting! Whether you’re a local or visiting for the season, WinterFEST is a holiday memory waiting to happen.
Zoolights at the Jacksonville Zoo
The Jacksonville Zoo’s holiday event Zoolights is a must-see! Running select nights during December, ZooLights brings thousands of Christmas lights to the zoo that will transform the space into a beautiful experience. You can view the lights by walking through the zoo or boarding the lit-up train during the event. Other events offered during ZooLights include marshmallow roasting, Carousel rides, and more!
Holiday Spectacular at the St. Johns Town Center
An annual event at the St. Johns Town Center (a popular outdoor mall in the Bold City) is the Holiday Spectacular. Typically held early in November, the Holiday Spectacular includes a kickoff event with a lighting of the Christmas tree by Santa Claus complete with a fireworks display. Shoppers and visitors can enjoy holiday entertainment throughout the event including live music and several main stage activities. For more info, check the St. Johns Town Center events page.
Running from Nov. 21 to Jan. 1, Deck the Chairs is an annual event offering a unique take on Christmas lights in the bowl today. As an annual lighted sculptural display, lifeguard chairs are sponsored and then decorated by various organizations and businesses that can be found throughout Jacksonville. Completely open to the public, the displays are lit up every night from 5 pm until 1 am offering unique holiday displays every year. Displays of the past have included large lit up jellyfish, different takes on gingerbread houses, and some interactive photo opportunities!
The Jacksonville Light Boat Parade, scheduled for Nov. 28, is a beloved Jacksonville holiday tradition of 30+ years. Decorated boats make their way down the North and South banks of the St. Johns River winding through downtown Jacksonville. It’s free to enjoy the brightly-lit show beginning at 6 p.m. The boat parade ends with fantastic fireworks at the end of the night.
Whether you’re a musical fan looking for a night out at the theater or you’re looking to get some ice skating in with friends or family, there are a wide number of holiday events to choose from in Jacksonville. As a visitor or a local, see what event strikes your fancy and go out and enjoy the festivities! With unique holiday displays and fun events for everyone, they’re sure to be something on the list that you’ll enjoy.
Did we leave out your favorite? Tell us about any holiday events you love in the comments and we’ll be sure to add to a future list!