30+ new events, favorite traditions to celebrate a Chattanooga Christmas 2023

Staff File Photo by Matt Hamilton / Children gather to look through the display windows during the annual reveal of the holiday windows at the EPB main office on November 23, 2022.
Staff File Photo by Matt Hamilton / Children gather to look through the display windows during the annual reveal of the holiday windows at the EPB main office on November 23, 2022.

In "Tennessee Christmas," Amy Grant sings of missing out on snow in Colorado and wishing she could bring home a California tan for New Year's Eve but decides she'll gladly forsake her travels for a tender Tennessee Christmas and the love and laughter she'll find around the tree at home.

Which brings us to a Chattanooga Christmas. Family is at the heart of the holidays for most of us, no matter how and when we celebrate. What if we drilled down further? How are we spending our time before the cocooning starts? What are the broader traditions that make a Chattanooga Christmas special?

Here are some of the events that many families include in their traditions, along with a handful of one-offs that are sure to get you feeling festive. You'll find a Ricky Skaggs concert among the music offerings, multiple "Nutcrackers" and lights galore. With roughly six weeks to put them on your schedule, you'd better get busy.

Keep in mind that this list is by no means exhaustive. We'll have continuing coverage of upcoming events as we go through the season.

— Asian Lantern Festival: Chattanooga Zoo has an all-new collection of 30-plus lanterns and nine interactive displays for the second year of this illuminated celebration. It's open nightly through Jan. 14 (closed Christmas Day and New Year's Day). Admission fees.

  photo  Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Giraffe lanterns light up the night as part of the Asian Lantern Festival at the Chattanooga Zoo on Dec. 21, 2022.

 — Be the Change Youth Initiative has four upcoming shows in its Concert for a Cause series. Dates are Nov. 30 at Hi-Fi Clydes, Dec. 1 at Redbud Music Venue, Dec. 8 at Vagabond Barber Co. and Dec. 9 at Songbirds. There's a wish list for toys, which will be donated to Chattanooga Room in the Inn, the Partnership for Families, Children and Adults' Camp Hope, Isaiah 117 House and Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. Admission fees.

— Bobby Stone Film Series marches through the month with a wide range of holiday films at Walker Theatre, starting with "Home Alone" on Dec. 2 and ending with "The Grinch" on Dec. 22. In between are such classics as "The Polar Express," "A Madea Christmas," "Elf," "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation" and "Gremlins." Admission fees.

(READ MORE: Courter: Bobby Stone remembered as smart, kind, compassionate)

— Chattanooga Ballet will present "The Nutcracker" in four performances Dec. 8-10 in Memorial Auditorium, with live music by the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera. As a prelude, dancers will offer a new event, Land of Sweets, Dec. 3 in the Read House Silver Ballroom. Admission fees for both.

Chattanooga Boys Choir will present two performances of its winter concert on Dec. 2 at First Baptist Church, Golden Gateway. Guests will include the Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's Youth Symphony, Metropolitan Bells and the UTC Trembling Troubadours. Admission fees.

— Chattanooga Dance Theatre gives Tchaikovsky's classic ballet a twist in "Nooga Nutcracker," set in present-day Chattanooga, with Clara receiving help from the Chattanooga Mocs to defeat the mouse queen. There's still ballet, but also modern, jazz and acrobatic dance styles. There are two performances on Dec. 16 in the UTC Fine Arts Center. Admission fees.

— Chattanooga Girls Choir will offer "Sounds of the Season" on Dec. 9 at First Cumberland Presbyterian Church. They'll close with their traditional finale, "Edelweiss." Admission fees.

Chattanooga Symphony & Opera has two notable events on next month's calendar. First up are performances of Handel's "Messiah" Dec. 2-3. The musicians will be joined by the CSO Chorus, Choral Arts of Chattanooga, the First Presbyterian Choir and four soloists. The popular "Home for the Holidays" concert returns Dec. 16-17 at Memorial Auditorium. Guests are the CSO Chorus, Metropolitan Bells, Chattanooga Girls Choir and Chattanooga Boys Choir. Admission fees.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga Symphony & Opera's Kayoko Dan takes stock of accomplishments as she finishes her last two season)

Chattanooga Theatre Centre will present its annual holiday production, "Scrooge," Dec. 8-31. This musical adaptation had a successful tour in England and a season at London's Dominion Theatre. Admission fees.

(READ MORE: 'Peter Pan' launches Chattanooga Theatre Centre's centennial season)

Choo Choo Chorus, whose members specialize in barbershop-style harmonies, will perform their Christmas concert Dec. 9 in the Ringgold High School Performing Arts Theatre. Admission fees.

Christmas With Doyle Dykes, featuring songs and stories by the legendary local guitarist, is scheduled Dec. 7 at Songbirds. Admission fees.

Civic Ballet of Chattanooga & Massari Wood Dance Center will present a classic rendition of "The Nutcracker" Dec. 8-10 in the UTC Fine Arts Center. Admission fees.

Enchanted Garden of Lights: Rock City shines in the glow of a million lights, including a mountainside star that can be seen from the valley below. Open nightly through Jan. 6 (closed Christmas Eve). Admission fees.

  photo  Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd / Visitors walk through lighted mushrooms and gnomes as they enter Fairyland at Rock City on Dec. 30, 2018.

 — EPB Holiday Windows: Animated holiday scenes play out in the windows around the EPB Building through Jan. 1. Free.

— Gingerbread houses: Creative Discovery Museum takes the lead on these, with 90-minute sessions for families to decorate a sugary construction to take home. They're held weekends through Dec. 10. The Sweet & Savory Classroom branches out with not only gingerbread classes but classes to make sugar cookies — and those you can eat! Join the fun on select dates through Dec. 23. Admission fees.

(READ MORE: For many Chattanooga-area families, holiday traditions are built with gingerbread)

  photo  Staff File Photo by Matt Hamilton / All supplies are included for making gingerbread houses at Creative Discovery Museum and the Sweet & Savory Classroom.

 — Holiday Market: Find handmade gifts from more than 200 local food vendors, artists and crafters when Chattanooga Market moves inside the Chattanooga Convention Center, 1 Carter Plaza, the first three weekends of December. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. Local musicians will perform each day, and the second Saturday, Dec. 10, is highlighted by the Lodge Cast-Iron Cook-off as local chefs cook up a dish to impress the judges. Free admission.

Holiday Tour of Homes for CADAS will open the doors to Black Creek homes decked out in seasonal splendor Dec. 2. Catering companies will offer menu samples, a raffle will award prizes and Santa will be in attendance. Proceeds benefit the Council for Alcohol & Drug Abuse Services. Admission fees.

(READ MORE: $16 million road opens up Aetna Mountain for 1,200 homes, developers say)

Holidays Under the Peaks: The peaks, of course, are the iconic architectural features of the Tennessee Aquarium, where the holidays include seasonal trimmings and a scuba-diving Santa. Runs Nov. 27-Dec. 31 (closed Christmas Day). Admission fees.

Home for the Holidays With Karen Mills, spotlighting the local comedian (and former high school and college basketball standout), is Dec. 22. She'll headline a show that features other touring comedians from the area. Admission fees.

Ice on the Landing: This temporary open-air ice-skating rink has a new location this year: First Horizon Pavilion. It's open through Jan. 28, even on holidays. Hours vary throughout the season. Admission fees.

— The Illusionists: Magic of the Holidays features five world-class magicians in a touring production that was a hit on Broadway. They'll be at Memorial Auditorium on Dec. 27. See them before they disappear. Admission fees.

Imax Theater's "Polar Express": The thundering arrival of the train in this animated Christmas classic is especially memorable on the Imax Theater's six-story screen. Screenings play select days through Dec. 26 (closed Christmas Day). Note: The special PJs & Polar event on Dec. 16 is sold out. Admission fees.

James Rogers, a Fort Oglethorpe native whose five decades in show business included stints at Dollywood, will be "Home for Christmas," his annual concert for his hometown fans, on Dec. 21 at the Colonnade in Ringgold. Admission fees.

(READ MORE: Chattanooga entertainer James Rogers releases new book)

  photo  Staff file photo by Robin Rudd / James Rogers will entertain at his annual "Home for Christmas" concert Dec 21.

 — A Magical Cirque Christmas sets a variety show of circus theatrics to a soundtrack of holiday music. The touring production stops Dec. 26 at Memorial Auditorium. Admission fees.

Metropolitan Bells of Chattanooga, a handbell choir, will perform "Christmas With the Metropolitan Bells" concerts Dec. 12 in First United Methodist Church in Cleveland and Dec. 19 at Christ United Methodist Church in Chattanooga. Donations are welcome. They'll also be featured with the Chattanooga Boys Choir on Dec. 2 and the Chattanooga Symphony on Dec. 16-17 (see above).

Nooga Lights: This year, the drive-thru holiday light show has moved to Soddy-Daisy. Also new this year? Synchronized music plays on your FM radio as you drive through the wonderland. Though Dec. 31. Admission fees.

Nutcracker: Magical Christmas Ballet is a touring production that features an international cast and principal dancers from Ukraine, along with local dancers who auditioned for smaller roles. Expect acrobatics, larger-than-life puppets and handcrafted sets and costumes when the company stops at Memorial Auditorium on Dec. 23. Admission fees.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder will play just nine shows on their Christmas tour, but Chattanooga is one of the stops. Along with his ace backing band, the 15-time Grammy winner and Country Music Hall of Fame member will run through a selection of favorites, from "Christmas Time's A-Coming" to "Silent Night," with special guests and audience sing-alongs, Dec. 8 at Walker Theatre. Admission fees.

Ruby Falls Christmas: The lighted wonderland through the caverns to see Ruby Falls' namesake waterfall can also include a visit with Santa on select days. Admission fees for cave adventures, free to see Santa.

— Santa photos: A photo with Santa is a rite of passage for many children, who'll dress in their fanciest duds to smile for the camera and vow they belong on his "nice" list when they tell him their toy wishes. The Big Guy has lots of helpers who pop up during the season, but you can reliably find him on duty, at least through Christmas Eve, when more pressing matters call, at Bass Pro Shops, Hamilton Place and Northgate Mall. Visits are free; fees for photo packages, though Bass Pro gives families a free 4x6 photo.

Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum runs a special train to Santa's Workshop, the North Pole Limited, through Dec. 23. Bookings also are available for a Holiday Christmas Lights Train running Dec. 26-31; Nightcap With St. Nick, through Dec. 23; and a Christmas Tea in Grand Junction Station, through Dec. 31. Admission fees.

Tri-Octaves Christmas concert, featuring Willie Kitchens, formerly of The Impressions, will be Dec. 1-2 at Christ United Methodist Church. The Bethlehem Center will reap the proceeds of this 18th annual event, which features Michael Rodgers and Doug Richesin as the rest of the trio. They'll do identical shows each night. Free.

(READ MORE: Decades after launching career in Chattanooga, The Impressions get sign on statewide trail of musical heritage)

Tuba Christmas: Tuba and euphonium players will gather at Chattanooga Zoo, 301 N. Holtzclaw Ave., for hearty performances of holiday music at 6 and 7 p.m. Dec. 3. Similar concerts are scheduled later in the month in Cleveland and Etowah, Tennessee. Fees for zoo admission.

Contact Lisa Denton at ldenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6281.

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