Like an Advent calendar loaded with sugary treats, the days leading up to Christmas in Portland hold an abundance of sweet memories. 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. For the 2016 exhibition, “Symbols of the Season,” more than 80 artisans and craftspeople filled the mansion’s 16 rooms with a breathtaking display of lights, trees and decorations.
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. Follow up by boarding the real Mount Hood Railroad for a ride on the Polar Express. Children will love reading along with the story, drinking cocoa in their pajamas and receiving a special gift from Santa Claus himself. 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.
The Heathman Hotel also transports guests to another time with a traditional holiday tea service at the hotel’s Tea Court Lounge, perfect for sippers and shoppers of all ages. (Don’t worry, snacking on their devil’s food chocolate cupcakes won’t land you on Santa’s “naughty” list.) But be sure to keep hungry hands away from the gingerbread city at the Benson Hotel, where the talented pastry chef crafts 200 pounds of marzipan and 50 pounds of gingerbread into a sweet scene infused with holiday spirit.
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.
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 the Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performances of Handel’s Messiah. They’ll also enjoy Comfort & Joy, a matinee concert of classical Christmas music presented by the Oregon Symphony.
But if your holiday spirit is a tad more Bad Santa, the annual presentation of “The Santaland Diaries” at Portland Center Stage is just the ticket. Humorist David Sedaris’ beloved account of life as a department store elf is both sweet and sullen, and is sure to deliver the gift of laughter. PCS will also present Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, which tells the remarkable story of the classic Christmas songwriter.
For a creative twist on holiday tunes, try the annual Tuba Christmas concert, where more than 250 tubas play in the middle of downtown Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square.
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.