Portland’s holiday traditions

Revel in Portland’s holiday spirit with these events and activities.

Portland sign with red-nosed deerThe nose of the deer on the famous Portland Oregon sign turns red every holiday season.

Like an Advent calendar loaded with sugary treats, the days leading up to Christmas in Portland hold an abundance of sweet memories.

Holiday events & festivals

The city’s official holiday season kicks off the day after Thanksgiving with the hugely popular tree-lighting ceremony held in Pioneer Courthouse Square. Top notch performers like Pink Martini help lead the festivities and countdown to the moment the towering tree gets set aglow.

High above the city, the historic Pittock Mansion creates an equally enchanting scene.  Each December, the mansion’s 16 rooms are filled with a breathtaking display of lights, trees and decorations revolving around a chosen theme.

Nearby, the Oregon Zoo provides a dazzling display of twinkling cheer with its ZooLights display, featuring more than a million colored bulbs. (See a full list of holiday light displays, including the Portland International Raceway.)

Looking for more tree inspirations? Stroll through a yuletide forest comprising dozens of uniquely adorned Christmas trees at Providence Festival of Trees or explore a western frontier town turned winter wonderland at Alpenrose Dairy’s Christmas in Dairyville. The family fun at Dairyville includes caroling, holiday flicks and live animals along Storybook Lane.

Another storybook world comes to life each winter thanks to the Mount Hood Model Engineers. Each November the group allows a coveted glimpse at their elaborate model railroad display, which encompasses nearly 1,200 square feet. Or take a trip on the Holiday Express, a vintage steam locomotive that carries Santa and his elves on a yuletide ride from on the Oregon Pacific Railroad in Southeast Portland.

Need some grown-up time? Toast the season with pals at the Holiday Ale Festival in Pioneer Courthouse Square, which boasts more than 50 seasonal craft brews and a special Sunday Beer Brunch.

Holiday light displays

The Oregon Zoo provides a dazzling display of twinkling cheer with its ZooLights display, featuring more than a million colored bulbs. Other beloved light displays include Winter Wonderland at the Portland International Raceway, the Christmas Festival of Lights at the Grotto and Southeast Portland’s Peacock Lane.

Read about more Portland holiday light displays >>

Holiday music

Anyone who appreciates a good carol will love Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree, an annual showcase of both traditional and contemporary holiday music, performed by more than 350 singers, dancers, local actors and a live orchestra. Choir lovers should also catch The Most Wonderful Season by the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. And get ready to clap and shout along with the region’s premier gospel singers at Gospel Christmas, another annual Oregon Symphony production.

Traditionalists may prefer to ring in the season with more classical fare, such as Handel’s Messiah performed by the the Portland Baroque Orchestra. They’ll also enjoy Comfort & Joy, a concert of classical Christmas music presented by the Oregon Symphony.

For a creative twist on holiday tunes, try the annual Tuba Christmas concert, where more than 300 tubas play in the middle of downtown Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Holidays on stage

But if your holiday spirit is a tad more Bad Santa, the annual presentation of “Twist Your Dickens” at Portland Center Stage is just the ticket. Created by legendary comedy improv troupe Second City, this irreverent riff on “A Christmas Carol” has become a perennial local favorite.

Last but not least, if there’s one can’t-miss seasonal event, it’s the Oregon Ballet Theatre presentation of The Nutcracker — the only George Balanchine-choreographed production of the holiday classic west of the Mississippi.

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