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20+ Spectacular Christmas Events in Columbia, SC

Check out these awesome Christmas events for special performances, local shopping, and beautiful Christmas lights in Columbia.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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South Carolina is far removed from the North Pole, but Columbia’s residents know how to celebrate the Christmas holiday season. From mid-November through the New Year, visitors can enjoy spectacular light displays, entertaining shows, and local shopping extravaganzas. It’s easy to find Christmas events in Columbia – the hard part is finding room for them on your schedule.

Columbia was founded after the Revolutionary War to provide a centrally located capital city – it was previously in Charleston. Fortunately, that makes it easy to get to Columbia today, especially since it’s at the intersection of Interstates 26, 20, and 77.

Browse the list of Christmas lights in Columbia, nightly events, special one-night performances, and holiday markets.

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Christmas Events in Columbia Map

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.


November 16, 2023

Vista Lights

The Vista is one of Columbia’s charming neighborhoods. The 48-block neighborhood around Gervais and Huger Streets is an official South Carolina Cultural District because of its cultural, architectural, and historical heritage.

Vista Lights is an annual celebration kicking off the Christmas holiday season in the capital city. Celebrated for 38 years, the event is an open house introduction to more than 60 local retail shops, art galleries, and restaurants. It’s an excellent opportunity to find Christmas gifts made by local artisans and discover a new favorite restaurant.

The event starts at 6 p.m. with live music and Santa Claus on Lincoln Street. A tree lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. keeps the evening going.

The event is free, but you’ll be tempted to spend money at the retail shops and restaurants.

November 16 – December 31, 2023

Fireflies Holiday Lights

For the second time, Segra Stadium – home of the Columbia Fireflies Minor League Baseball team – is transformed into a spectacular Christmas light display in Columbia.

Fireflies Holiday Lights features more than one million LED lights throughout the stadium and baseball field. Displays cover the diamond, fill the seats, and wrap around the stadium.

Although visitors are not allowed onto the baseball field, it’s a rare opportunity to walk along the warning track surrounding the field. But the best way to experience the spectacular light show is to walk the stadium’s perimeter around the outfield seats.

The event also includes the Richardson Tree Farm, visits with Santa Claus, and marshmallow roasting on firepits.

Fireflies Holiday Lights is held from Thursday, November 16 until Sunday, December 31 – except for November 20, November 23, November 27, and December 25. The light display is open from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m.

Tickets to the event start at $10 per person in November and increase to $12 in December. Parking is free at the Freed Street Parking Garage.


November 17, 2023 – January 10, 2024

Wild Lights at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden

Long after the animals go to sleep, things get wild at the Riverbanks Zoo & Garden. Wild Lights is an annual Christmas holiday light display featuring more than 60 larger-than-life 3D displays, bonfires, and photos with Santa.

READ MORE: How to Experience the Wild Lights at Riverbanks Zoo & Garden in Columbia, SC

The 3D displays tower over the guests while meandering the concrete paths through the zoo. Go for a nighttime ride on the carousel, take a photo with Santa, and roast marshmallows on the bonfires during this spectacular Columbia event.

Wild Lights is open from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on select dates from mid-November through mid-January. Tickets vary in price from $20-$25 for adults and $15-$20 for children.


November 19, 2023

Governor’s Carolighting

South Carolina’s Christmas holiday season begins with the Governor’s Carolighting. During the annual event, Governor Henry McMaster lights the State Christmas Tree on the north side of the State House facing Main Street. The tree remains lit every night through the end of December.

The free event begins at 6 p.m.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

November 21, 2023

Sleigh Bell Stroll

One of Columbia’s hallmarks and most exciting family Christmas events is the Holiday Lights on the River at Saluda Shoals Park. The dazzling display of Christmas lights, from static displays to animated wonderlands, lines the paved road through the park so visitors can admire the displays from the comfort of their cars.

The Sleigh Bell Stroll is a fascinating one-time opportunity to see the spectacular lights without any cars. Participants park at the east entrance near St. Andrews Road and walk the 2-mile route through Saluda Shoals Park.

You’ll have two hours to experience the Christmas light display in peacefulness. Then, a bus brings everyone back to the parking lot.

Registration is required by November 20 for this event. It costs $7 per adult and $2 per child.


November 23 – December 31, 2023

Holiday Lights on the River

The Holiday Lights on the River is Columbia’s longest drive-thru Christmas light display. The 2.5-mile route features dozens of sports-themed light displays, animated displays, and displays hanging from trees.

READ MORE: How to Drive Through the Holiday Lights on the River at Saluda Shoals Park in Columbia, SC

At the Environmental Center, visitors can roast marshmallows on firepits, explore the Santa Claus’et Gift Shop, and go for a hayride. Get a professional photo with Santa and then pick up a Tin Can Kettle Corn bag. Go for a short walk on the Wetlands Trail to experience a stunning laser light show.

The Holiday Lights on the River is held nightly from November 23 until December 31, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day. Admission is $25 per vehicle. It takes about an hour to drive through the light display casually.


November 25 – December 17, 2023

Bierkeller Weihnachtsmarkt

“Bierkeller Weihnachtsmarkt” is German for “beer cellar Christmas market.” The special event is hosted by Bierkeller Brewing Company, the only authentic German brewery in Columbia.

The Christmas market is modeled after the spectacular Bavarian markets, allowing visitors to experience the unique festive atmosphere without flying across the big pond. The market features local arts and crafts vendors, classic holiday music, festive lights, and Glühwein – a German mulled wine.

It’s also a great chance to try authentic German beer, Bavarian pretzels with beer cheese, and Bratwursts.

The free event is at The Esplanade at CanalSide, a waterfront public park overlooking the Columbia Canal and Congaree River. Parking is available at the nearby parking garage.

The event runs each weekend from November 25 until December 17. The market is open from 12 p.m. until 10 p.m. on Saturdays and from 11 a.m. until 6 p.m. on Sundays.


November 27, 2023

Photos with Santa at Ho-Ho-Hotel Trundle

Experience a 1920s Art Deco Christmas at the 41-room boutique Hotel Trundle with the special Photos with Santa at the Ho-Ho-Hotel Trundle event. Visitors arrive on a first-come, first-served basis for 10-minute photo sessions with Santa. Capture as many photos as you like with your smartphone or camera. Then, enjoy the complimentary hot chocolate and holiday activities!

The one-day event is from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. on Sunday, November 27, 2023.


November 30, 2023

Holiday Planetarium Lighting

The South Carolina State Museum starts Christmas with the Holiday Planetarium Lighting. The one-night event features extended hours so visitors can explore the exhibition galleries. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer plays in the 4D Theater. Visitors can peek at the stars in the Boeing Observatory. And Santa makes an appearance for photos.

The event uses a “pay-as-you-may” general admission price – you can pay $10 per person or enter the event for free. However, the 4D Theater and Planetarium shows are $5 per person.


November 30 – December 3, 2023

Junior League of Columbia Holiday Market

Each year, the Junior League of Columbia organizes the Holiday Market as their biggest fundraiser of the year. Almost 200 merchants display arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, and baked goods. It’s a fantastic opportunity to find a memorable Christmas gift.

The four-day event is held at the South Carolina State Fairgrounds from Thursday, November 30, until Sunday, December 3. General admission to the market for all four days is $10 per person. The holiday market is open from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day except Sunday when it’s open from 12 P.M. until 4 p.m.

Ladies Night Out is a special event during the holiday market. Held on Thursday, the event for guests 21 and up is an opportunity to “bring your girlfriends and shop the night away.”

The Holiday Ball is 6:30 p.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday. The black-tie optional event features live music, private shopping, and cocktails.

Sundaes with Santa is an opportunity to get photos with Santa and enjoy children’s crafts and games. The event is held from 12 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

December 1, 2023

Carols Along the Riverwalk

Experience a “reverse caroling event” during the Carols Along the Riverwalk in Cayce. The event begins at 6 p.m. on Friday, December 1, at the Cayce Riverwalk Picnic Shelter. Live music and treats start the evening. But you’ll need to walk about half a mile on the riverwalk along the Congaree River to find the various high school and church choirs caroling in the forest.

The event is free to attend. Parking is available at nearby Brookland Cayce High School, and a shuttle bus provides transport to the riverwalk.


December 1-3, 2023

Columbia Classical Ballet Co.’s The Nutcracker

Watch the spectacular Columbia Classical Ballet Co.’s The Nutcracker during Christmas. Directed by Brooklyn Mack, the play is held nightly at the Koger Center for the Arts at the University of South Carolina from Friday, December 1, until Sunday, December 3.

Tickets for the play range from $10-$25.


December 1 – 17, 2023

The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical

Spend an evening at the Trustus Theatre watching a thrilling performance of The Great American Trailer Park Christmas Musical. Directed by Robin Gottlieb, the play follows a trailer park Scrooge struck by amnesia in a north Florida community.

Attendees are invited to wear their best ugly Christmas sweat, buy a bucket of PBR, and enjoy the two-hour show. It’s certainly an interesting way to enjoy the Christmas holiday in Columbia.

Shows begin at 8 p.m. on the following dates:

  • December 1, 2023
  • December 2, 2023
  • December 6, 2023
  • December 7, 2023
  • December 8, 2023
  • December 9, 2023
  • December 10, 2023
  • December 14, 2023
  • December 15, 2023
  • December 16, 2023
  • December 17, 2023

December 2, 2023

20th Annual St. Nicholas Festival

The Holy Apostle Orthodox Church hosts the annual St. Nicholas Festival in West Columbia. The one-day event features local craft vendors, homemade cookies, vocal ensembles, Eastern European and American food, and church tours.

The festival is free to attend, but the scrumptious foods and local arts and crafts might tempt you. All the profits from the festival are donated to local charities. The festival begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, December 2, and ends at 4 p.m.

December 2, 2023

Lake Murray’s Christmas Lights Boat Parade

If you’ve ever visited Lake Murray in the summer, you know people love boating the 50,000-acre lake. The 1.5-mile-long earthen dam is fascinating to travel across. Lake Murray Public Park is at the south end of the dam – the perfect place to watch Lake Murray’s Christmas Lights Boat Parade.

The gates to the small public park open at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, December 2. There’s ample room for visitors with a 300-vehicle capacity, but the gates close once the parking capacity is reached.

The boat parade begins at 6 p.m. Boats must be at least 21 feet long, and boat captains agree to form a single line for the informal parade route past the public park. Shortly after the last boat passes the park, fireworks fill the sky, and the interesting event is over.

Admission to the boat parade is free.


December 2, 2023

Snowball Festival Carnival and Movie

The Snowball Festival Carnival and Movie is one of the best free Christmas events in the Columbia area. The carnival is on Saturday, December 2, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. at the Icehouse Amphitheater in Lexington.

The event begins with face painting, carnival rides, and food vendors. Santa makes an appearance for photos with families. At 5:30 p.m., an outdoor screening of The Santa Clause brings the festive event to an end. The 1 hour, 37-minute comedy movie features Tim Allen as a hapless homeowner who accidentally becomes the new Santa.

December 2, 2023

Carolina Carillon Holiday Parade

The Christmas holiday is not complete without a grand parade. And the Carolina Carillon Holiday Parade is one of the best Christmas parades in South Carolina.

The parade begins at 9:45 a.m. at Sumter and Laurel Streets, proceeds down Sumter Street, crosses Gervais Street, passes the South Carolina State House, and ends at Senate Street.

The parade features marching bands from local high schools and colleges, special performers, holiday floats, cloggers, and South Carolina celebrities.

The event is free to attend.


December 2, 2023

Christmas Olde and New

Experience a historical Christmas during the annual Cayce Historical Museum’s Christmas Traditions Holiday Open House. During the Saturday event from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m., visitors can take a guided lantern tour by Mr. and Mrs. Santa Claus, shop at the outdoor Christmas market, and explore Christmas trees throughout the museum.

December 2-23, 2023

Santa Saturday at the South Carolina State Museum

Santa gets around during the Holidays. But he’s guaranteed to appear at the South Carolina State Museum every Saturday in December.

During Santa Saturday, visitors who pay the general admission fee to the museum can enjoy a meet-and-greet with Santa Claus, watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at the 4D Theater (additional cost), and shop for unique holiday gifts in the museum’s store.

Santa appears at the museum every Saturday from December 2 until December 23 from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. General admission is required, and show tickets are extra.


December 2-3, 2023

Columbia Christmas Extravaganza Holiday Market

The Columbia Christmas Extravaganza Holiday Market is an appropriately named two-day Christmas event. The holiday market features over 150 local vendors, fresh fudge, pictures with Santa, and Christmas crafts. The event organizers boast that it’s “the perfect way to skip out on big box stores this holiday season and choose to support small.”

The indoor event is held at the Columbia Convention Center on Saturday, December 2, and Sunday, December 3. Doors open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. each day of the event.

Admission to the market is $7 per person. Free parking is available at the convention center’s parking lot.


December 8-24, 2023

Carolina Lights

Experience the Carolina Lights drive-through holiday light show from the comfort of your car. The drive-through experience features over 100 LED light displays along a circuitous route through the South Carolina State Fairgrounds.

Concessions halfway through the show sell chocolate chip cookies, milk, water, and soda. But the best way to enjoy this event is to bring your snacks.

Carolina Lights is exclusively a drive-through experience with no other events. The gates open at 6 p.m. every night from December 8 through December 24, except for Mondays. Cost is $20 per car.

After exiting the light show, visitors can request a re-entry pass to experience the drive-through light show again on the same night.


December 9, 2023

Candlelight Tours with Historic Columbia

Explore Christmas of the past during Candlelight Tours with Historic Columbia. During the special one-night event, visitors can explore period Christmas décor at the historic Hampton-Preston Mansion and Robert Mills House.

The event also features period costumes, 19th-century live Christmas music, and a holiday market with local vendors.

Admission to the event is $20 for adults and $8 for children. Historic Columbia members get a discount on admission. The event is from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Saturday, December 9, 2023.


December 9-17, 2023

South Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker

Enjoy an enchanting evening while attending the annual performance of the South Carolina Ballet’s Nutcracker. Directed by William Starrett, the performance features new backdrops and outstanding performances.

Catch the show at the Koger Center for the Arts at the University of South Carolina on Friday and Saturday nights, December 9-10, or on Friday and Saturday nights, December 16-17, 2023. Admission ranges from $35-$60 per person.

December 10, 2023

Lexington County Museum Christmas Open House

The Lexington County Museum Christmas Open House is a fascinating chance to experience a Christmas of the past at the unique outdoor museum campus. Visitors can explore many of the 30 historic structures during the event and see period Christmas decorations.

Hot apple cider and gingerbread cookies are available for a light snack during the event. Live music plays at the historic Fox House.

The free event is from 1 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 10.


December 17, 2023

River Rat Brewery was founded in 2013 to “satisfy anyone’s thirst after a long day’s work.” And during the Christmas holiday season, the local brewery pairs their craft beer with homemade cookies.

River Rats Annual Cookie Beer Pairing is an interesting opportunity to find out which kind of Christmas cookies perfectly pairs with a River Rats craft beer. Enjoy the two-hour event with rooftop seating and plenty of lawn games to entertain you.

The event is from 2 p.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 17, 2023.

December 20, 2023

Celtic Woman: A Christmas Symphony

Experience a unique event during the Holidays in Columbia with Celtic Woman: A Christmas Symphony. The female-led group performs traditional Irish Christmas carols during an uplifting evening at the Koger Center for the Arts at the University of South Carolina.

The one-night event begins at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, December 20, 2023.

December 21, 2023

Home for the Holidays

Settle into a comfortable seat at the Koger Center for the Arts for Home for the Holidays, a special performance by the South Carolina Philharmonic, The Columbia Repertory Dance Co., and several solo artists. Even Santa Claus makes an appearance during the performance.

Catch the spectacular event at 7 p.m. on Thursday, December 21, 2023.


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