Iconic Holiday Traditions Return In-Person
Asheville’s most cherished holiday events are back IRL in 2021 and ready to dazzle visitors in-person once again.
- Christmas at Biltmore, Plus a Multi-Sensory Art Exhibit: Biltmore Estate, America’s Largest Home, opened for the Vanderbilt family on Christmas Day in 1895. More than a century later, Biltmore continues to astound with its 35-foot Christmas tree, hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights and lavishly decorated interiors. This Asheville tradition is given an additional burst of color and light alongside a new exhibition, Van Gogh Alive. Described as “an unforgettable multi-sensory experience,” Van Gogh Alive immerses guests through color, sound and even scent. Exhibit runs Nov. 5, 2021, through March 5, 2022.
- The Nation’s Gingerbread Masters Compete: After adjusting to an all-virtual format in 2020, the Omni Grove Park Inn’s 29th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition is back in person in 2021. From traditional to off-the-wall, there are gingerbread houses of every size, shape and theme. Visitors will experience gumdrop-adorned castles and sugar-spun landscapes that will likely inspire gingerbread traditions of their own. Winning confections will be on display Nov. 28, 2021, through Jan. 2, 2022.
- Stroll a Glittering Garden Landscape at the North Carolina Arboretum: In 2021, Winter Lights is once again a walk-through experience. Surrounded by one million colorful LED lights, guests wander through imaginative holiday scenes in a magical forest setting showcasing the flora and fauna of one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. Proceeds from Winter Lights benefit the North Carolina Arboretum, a mission-driven institution that supports dozens of conservation and environmental education programs. Winter Lights runs Nov. 19, 2021, through Jan. 1, 2022.
- More Family-Friendly Holiday Events: The Holiday Season is full of family-friendly events for the delight of all. The 2021 Dickens Festival, in Biltmore Village, will feature excerpts from A Christmas Carol and a genuine chestnut roaster amid shops, cafes and Old World ambiance (Dec. 3 and 4). The Lake Julian Festival of Lights, a drive-thru light show at a popular South Asheville park, features twinkling lights and whimsical animated displays (Dec. 1 through Dec. 23). Runners will enjoy the Ugly Sweater Run in Fletcher, a festive 5K where participants don their most garish holiday attire (Dec. 4).
Funky and Heartwarming Holiday Fun
From the quirky and off-beat to the just plain heartwarming, Asheville has a variety of out-of-the-box holiday events for the whole family.
- Colorful Winter Tree Carnival for a Good Cause: Rabbit Rabbit, the downtown venue and outdoor event space, is excited to announce the first annual Winter Tree Carnival. The Winter Tree Carnival is a walk-through exhibit where nonprofits and local businesses decorate and display evergreens to highlight their cause. Starting in mid-November, the eclectic tree display will be accompanied by holiday movie events, winter pop-up shops and a special festive drink menu. A portion of the proceeds benefit Manna Foodbank. Exhibit runs mid-November through January 2, 2022.
- A Holly Jolly Laugh Riot on Wheels: In Asheville, holiday colors are red, green … and purple. Few things are more iconic in Asheville than the ultraviolet LaZoom bus careening through downtown, costumed characters in tow. This year, LaZoom’s famous ‘Hey Asheville’ Tour gets an injection of Holly Jolly with a cavalcade of zany characters and holiday un-traditions. Runs Nov. 26 through Dec. 24.
- “Uncommon” Holiday Bazaars: Visitors to Asheville can enjoy a variety of makers’ markets showcasing the best of Asheville farmers, artisans and craftspeople. Uncommon Holiday at A-B Tech is in its seventh season of bringing together small businesses selling jewelry, records, candles, woodworking, plants and more (Dec. 11 and 12). The Holiday Bazaar at UNC Asheville offers farm-fresh local produce including baked goods, honey, pickles and cheese, as well as arts and crafts (Saturdays, Nov. 27 through Dec. 18). At the WNC Agricultural Center, ‘Tis the Season Holiday Fair is a massive indoor market featuring North Carolina wines, delectable holiday foods, as well as art, crafts and homewares (Nov. 19 through 21).
- Magical Holiday Nighttime Treetop Climb: For the intrepid family of outdoor explorers, the Adventure Center of Asheville is hosting a Holiday Nighttime Treetop Climb. Kids and adults can watch the stunning mountain landscape transform from sunset to nighttime from a magical treetop vantage point. Over 15,000 colored lights and psychedelic lasers will sparkle on thousands of leaves, cables, rope and platforms, creating a totally unique canopy experience (Dec. 27).
Under-the-Radar Towns With Over-the-Top Charm
In the midst of a hectic holiday season, it can be incredibly soothing to slow down and explore the communities and towns that surround Asheville.
- Appalachian Santa at Montgomery Sky Farm in Leicester: This isn’t your typical mall Santa. The Appalachian Santa featured at Montgomery Sky Farm nearby Leicester, NC sports a plaid shirt, traditional Southern quilt patterns and a rustic vest, among other mountain accoutrement. Along with Appalachian Santa, Montgomery Sky Farm offers a rustic farmyard holiday experience featuring mini goats, Highland cows, warm beverages and cookies. Leicester offers sweeping rural landscapes and charming shops just 10 minutes from Asheville (Dec. 3 through Dec. 10).
- Main Street Holiday Magic in Black Mountain: Black Mountain, a small-town gem 15 minutes east of Asheville, offers incredible food, crafts and scenery year-round. Black Mountain is particularly festive when the community comes together for a weekend of Yuletide reverie. On Friday, Dec. 3, downtown Black Mountain celebrates a Holly Jolly Christmas, when shops stay open late, the streets are lined with luminaries and refreshments and Santa stops by for a visit. On Saturday, Dec. 4, downtown comes alive again with a Christmas Parade featuring dozens of floats, performers and St. Nick himself. Finally, on Saturday evening, the Circle of Lights at Lake Tomahawk offers carriage rides, a bonfire and live music to celebrate the season.
- Black Mountain holiday visitors will also enjoy the town’s Deck the Trees celebration, a monthlong public exhibition of trees decorated by local community groups for the benefit of Swannanoa Valley Christian Ministry Fuel Fund, which helps struggling residents heat their homes through the winter. Trees are displayed throughout the town, but especially at the historic Monte Vista Hotel, from Dec. 2, 2021 through Jan. 3, 2022.
Handmade Holiday: Asheville Holiday Gift Guide 2021
With global supply chains snared, there is even more of a reason to buy local this year. Fortunately, holiday shoppers around the globe can access a curated list of handmade goods from Asheville artisans and craftspeople. The Asheville Gift Guide 2021 features mountain-made treasures like Oowee Products, full-grain custom leather goods hand-stitched by Ashevillians with autism; Nine Mile Hot Sauce, produced by Asheville’s famous local Caribbean-inspired eatery (and currently in the running for Best Gift for Foodies by USA Today); and SoulKu, meaningful and authentic jewelry handmade by moms in Asheville. COMING SOON: The Asheville Gift Guide website launches Nov. 3. Let us know if you would like insights on products or supporting images.
Winter Wellness in Asheville
Asheville’s roots as a wellness destination go back to the 1800s and the earliest days of health-conscious travel, when Americans were prescribed “mountain air” for their maladies. However, when it comes to wellness, spring and summer often get the seasonal attention. The truth is that winter, with its fresh sunny days, stunning views, fireplaces galore and (occasionally) frozen waterfalls, is ideal to experience all things “well” in the mountains.
- Frozen Waterfall Yoga Hikes: Throughout winter, Namaste in Nature will be holding guided morning and afternoon waterfall hikes. Brisk sunny days, open trails and expansive views through the bare trees make for an exceptional hiking experience. When temperatures occasionally take a deeper dive, frozen waterfalls create a wonderous winter backdrop for yoga al fresco.
- “Order In” a Wellness Retreat—Massage, Private Chef or Tarot: Asheville Wellness Tours has a new option for visitors who want to relax and stay in. It is now possible for visitors to order in a full-fledged wellness experience with their crackling hotel fireplace or cabin mountain view as a backdrop. Personalized massage therapists, private chefs, yoga instructors and even tarot readers are available for a customized experience.
- Creative Self-Care—Winter Wellness, Any Way You Want: Self-care adventures in Asheville are as innovative and varied as they come. Winter wellness in Asheville runs the gamut from a world-renowned subterranean spa (with mountain views) to a lively scene of indie entrepreneurs passionate about self-care in all its forms.
- Sample a city-wide menu of wellness offerings including: Color therapy yoga at Asheville Iridescence Yoga • Decadent foot soaks and massage therapy at Wake Foot Sanctuary • Dry heat and cold plunge at Sauna House • Sound healing sessions at Skinny Beats • Sensory deprivation and salt water flotation at Stillpoint Wellness • Handcrafted skincare, with a mission to maximize self-care for people of color, at Healed Skin & Candle Co. • Aura readings (for visitors and their pets!) and customized aromatherapy at Adoratherapy • Salt cave meditations and new “hammam baths” inspired by ancient Turkish and Moroccan cleansing rituals at Asheville Salt Cave. Check out these spa and wellness experiences with an Asheville twist.
- Surrounded by the highest peaks in the eastern U.S., Asheville is steeped in natural history, winter adventure and cultural legacies—including America’s Largest Home, Biltmore, and America’s favorite scenic drive, the Blue Ridge Parkway (which intersects Asheville at several points).
- Tucked away in the peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville is located in the middle of the Eastern Seaboard (though about as far from salt water as you can get and still meet that definition) and is roughly a day’s drive or less for 50 percent of the nation.
- Compared to the Northern U.S. and Western mountains, Asheville is known for its mild winters. Annual snowfall averages about 12 inches, and single events rarely have more than 6-8 inches.
Handmade Holiday: A Gift Guide from Asheville Makers Looking for the perfect holiday gift idea, stocking stuffer or present for a loved one? We've got your holiday shopping covered!