5 Ways to Get into Portland’s Christmas Spirit

Oregon's Mt. Hood

Oregon’s Mt. Hood

‘Tis the season — and Portland offers lots of ways to get in to the holiday spirit!  Some are traditional and some, like Downtown Portland’s Ugly Sweater Contest, have a quirkiness we’ve come to expect from Portland.  Here are five of our favorite ways to enjoy the holidays in Portland!

1.  Find some snow!  Although white Christmases are rare in Portland, nearby Mt. Hood has plenty of snow.  Less than 90 minutes from downtown Portland, Mt. Hood offers opportunities for skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, and snow tubing.  Would you rather stay warm & dry?  Historic Timberline Lodge offers magnificent mountain views, hot chocolate, and a big fireplace!

2.  Catch a holiday show.  Portland-area theaters’ holiday offerings are in full swing.  Whether it be classics like A Christmas Carol or The Nutcracker, modern productions like Plaid Tidings or The Santaland Diaries, or the music, insight, and humor of Portland’s own Susannah Mars, nothing quite gets us in the spirit like donning a Santa hat, joining a theaterful of festive Portlanders, and enjoying a holiday show!

Portland Tuba Christmas rehearsal

Portland Tuba Christmas rehearsal
(photo courtesy Ann McBride)

3.  Enjoy — or create — some music!  Holiday concerts abound all over Portland.  A perennial Portland favorite is the Singing Christmas Tree, a choral extravaganza.  Looking for something a bit more participatory?  Portland’s infamous Tuba Christmas — one of many nationwide — attracts tuba players & enthusiasts alike.  Not a tuba player?  Check out the PDX Choral Calendar to find a singalong Handel’s Messiah! Or make your own music in your neighborhood and go caroling. We’ve been celebrating this way with friends for nearly 20 years.  It’s always a fun evening spreading holiday cheer.

4.  Spend some time with Santa.  Rumor has it that he spends some time talking to kids at several area shopping malls, but the Polar Express train ride (which recommends that kids wear pajamas on board) takes kids directly to the North Pole.  Trains depart Hood River, just over an hour east of Portland, four times daily on November & December weekends.  Over 21?  Take Portland’s MAX train downtown and sample Santa’s Smokin’ Bock (and many other holiday-themed adult beverages) at Portland’s annual Holiday Ale Festival.

Portland's Christmas Tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square

Portland’s Christmas Tree in Pioneer Courthouse Square

5.  Find some lights.  Holiday light displays are all over town — and many have a unique Portland twist.    Celebrate with the animals at Oregon Zoo’s ZooLights or with area choirs at The Grotto’s Festival of Lights.  Step back in time at the Pittock Mansion or kick off the holiday season with thousands of fellow merrymakers at the city Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland’s “living room,” Pioneer Courthouse Square.  Looking for a drive-thru experience?  Portland’s International Raceway offers a Winter Wonderland light show — and the opportunity to drive your car on the racetrack (watch your speed!).

Perhaps the most uniquely Portland light displays are its Christmas Ship Parade and the decorated houses on Peacock Lane.  The Christmas ships — 55 to 60 private boats fully decorated with lights — ply the waters of both the Columbia and Willamette Rivers throughout December.  Peacock Lane, a one block-long street in southeast Portland that’s had every house decked out for the holidays since the 1920s.  Open to pedestrians and cars alike (please dim your headlights!), nothing says Christmas in Portland quite like an evening at Peacock Lane.

Apparently not everyone is happy to see Santa!

Apparently not everyone is happy to see Santa!

Portlanders:  what’s your favorite holiday tradition in the City of Roses?  Not from Portland?  Share a unique holiday experience from your town!

However and wherever you spend the holidays, enjoy your week or your weekend!

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7 thoughts on “5 Ways to Get into Portland’s Christmas Spirit

  1. I’ll be skipping Peacock Lane this year–too much traffic! Visted the Grotto for the first time last year and really enjoyed it. When I asked our kids last night what is one thing they’d like to do over the holiday break, one said ice skating–so we’ll be hitting the rink at Lloyd Center this month. Another said he’d like to have a snowball fight. Not sure about that, but you can play in the snow just a little more than an hour away from town at Skibowl’s tubing area. No trudging up the hill with a tube–you get pulled up on the rope tow: http://www.skibowl.com/winter/mt-hood-snow-tubing Highly recommend!

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  3. We went to Peacock Lane for the first time last year…only to find we were a week early and nothing was lit up. Bummer. I’ve always enjoyed the Festival of Lights at The Grotto, and you can’t go wrong with Zoolights!

  4. We loved Singing Christmas Tree a couple years ago and we were surprised at how it was so fun, creative, dynamic and honoring the story and spirit of Christmas. I love the Christmas Ships, but my family says meh. This year we put a few new things in the plans (and dropped off others because it’s important to lower the stress/busy in Dec. too.) we want to check out the free Celebration of Lights in Colton at aspen Meadow (on a concert night), Carina, My mom and I got tix before the (kid-friendly but still real ballet) ” Nutcracker Tea” by Northwest Dance sold out, and we committed to doing a couple things as a family to bless our neighborhood and those in need. Always love that you Christmas Carol Erin & Jeff- great post! Have a wonderful PDX Christmas! Brrrr.

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