There are many reasons why North Florida is such an wonderful place to visit (or live). The climate is spectacular; great for boating, golfing, surfing, fishing and other forms of sports and recreation. In addition, the area is rich in arts and entertainment, fine-dining, shopping and history. North Florida also offers miles of beautiful beaches and waterways, cultural pursuits from jazz and Scottish festivals, to hot clubs and remarkable, ethnically diverse restaurants.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Events, Jacksonville, Florida . . .

There is always something exciting to see and do in Jacksonville and the holidays are no exception!

If you’re looking for fun, family friendly and festive events on the First Coast this holiday season look no further than our 2014 Guide to Holiday Events In and Around Jacksonville. Here you will find all of the best tree lighting ceremonies, Santa visits, Gingerbread House making events, light displays, boat parades, holiday shows and everything you need for a holly jolly holiday season. Be sure to check back throughout the season for updated holiday events.

Tree Lightings

28th Annual Christmas on the St. Johns Tree Lighting Ceremony (November 28 | 7:00 p.m.) – Watch in awe as The Landing’s 56-foot-tall energy efficient tree comes to life as 78,000 LED lights glow in the night sky. This gorgeous tree also features more than 100 ornaments and is programmed to perform a 10-minute synchronized light show set to holiday music. The evening will conclude with a fireworks display on the St. Johns River.

St. Johns Town Center Holiday Spectacular (November 15 | 2014 2:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.) -Nothing says the holiday season like a tree lighting and what better place to celebrate the reason for the season than at the St. Johns Town Center. Chances are you will already be there holiday shopping so grab the fam and enjoy some family friendly holiday fun. The 9th Annual Holiday Spectacular will be headlined by Country music star Joe Nichols and include family-friendly activities like stilt walkers, costumed characters, balloonists, holiday-themed photo opportunities and more. In addition, St. Johns Town Center retailers will be offering holiday shopping opportunities, in-store promotions and specials throughout the weekend. The highlight of the event comes at 8 p.m. when Santa leads the crowd in an official countdown to light the 32-foot tree. The tree lighting will be followed by an energetic fireworks finale.

Beaches Town Center Holiday Celebrations (December 6, 2014 |3:00 p.m.) – The Beaches Town Center Holiday Celebrations will begin with a bike parade through the town center followed by musical and dance performances, face painting, craft tables, Mr.s and Mrs. Claus and the gorgeous tree lighting! The Mayors of both cities will light the tree just in time for Santa to start meeting the children.

TPC Sawgrass Tree Lighting Ceremony (November 28, 2014 | 6:30 p.m.) – Experience a holiday tree lighting at one of golf’s great locations — The Clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass! The 6:30 p.m. tree lighting is a complimentary family event — music and hot cocoa included.  A buffet dinner by reservation follows the lighting.

Annual Christmas Tree Lighting at The Ritz Carlton Amelia Island (November 26, 2014 | 5:30 p.m.) – This YMCA fundraiser will light up the Ritz Carlton as local entertainment and Santa himself arrive to celebrate the season. The tree lighting will be followed by spectacular fireworks.

Holiday Light Displays

Jacksonville ZOOLights (December 12 – January 3 | Monday through Thursday 6:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. & Friday through Sunday 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.) – Join Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens for the 3rd Annual ZooLights and watch as thousands of LED lights transform the zoo into a luminous winter wonderland filled with moving sculptures, forests of lighted trees and animal silhouettes. In addition to the lights, zoo guests can enjoy the Zoo’s lighted train, carousel ride, the 4-D Theater featuring The Polar Express, marshmallow roasting and even “warm weather” ice skating!

Deck the Chairs (November 28, 2014) – The famous Lifeguard chairs in Jax Beach will light up this holiday season during the 2nd Annual Deck the Chairs. The Beaches Winter Light Festival will feature a display of more than twenty American Red Cross life guard chairs in Latham Plaza decorated in coastal-themed designs and lights. Kick off is the day after Thanksgiving with chair decorating, music, hot cocoa, judging and lighting ceremonies.

Atlantic Beach Christmas (December 1 – throughout the season) – This is one of many spectacular and magical holiday lights displays throughout Jacksonville. Atlantic Beach Christmas is located in the Ocean Walk neighborhood. If you take Seminole all the way down to the end and enter the neighborhood at the second entrance you will run right into Snapping Turtle Drive. Take a left here and you won’t be able to miss this vibrant display.  The houses that put it on recommend you park your car on Ocean Walk Drive West and taking a short walk over to the cul-de-sac. In addition to the incredible lights on these two houses, there is holiday music that plays well into the night.

Blackhawk Bluff Lights – This neighborhood located off Girvin Rd. was the first place I ever visited to look at Christmas lights after moving to Jacksonville. Almost the ENTIRE neighborhood gets in on the fun and decorates with thousands of twinkling lights and Christmas displays. As you enter the neighborhood you’ll put on your parking lights and slowly meander through the canopy of shimmering lights that hang out of the trees. Be on the lookout for the massive stars in one part of the neighborhood!

Jax Illuminations (November 21 – January 4 | 6:00 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.) – This dazzling lights display will send you through almost a mile of 500,000 lights twinkling to holiday music you tune into on your radio. Jax Illuminations is located at the Morocco Shrine Center 3800 St. Johns Bluff Rd. South. The dazzling displays costs $20 to ride through.

Christmas on Crystal Springs (November 27 – January 1 | Sunday through Thursday 6:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. & Friday through Saturday 6:30 p.m. – 11 p.m.)  – This one house located off of I-10 at Chaffee is a sight to see. Each year they put up several hundred thousand lights choreographed to music.

Riverside Luminaria (December 21, 2014) – This magical tradition in Riverside will put a smile on your face as you enjoy the annual lighting of the lanterns at sundown as well as bike rides, church festivities, block parties, light parades and much more.

Luminary Night at the St. Augustine Lighthouse (December 3, 2014) – The highlight of the holiday season at the lighthouse is Luminary Night.  Visitors are invited to enter the lighthouse grounds for a free evening of children’s holiday crafts, warm refreshments, live music performances (including a string quartet inside the lighthouse tower), visit with Santa, and an up-close look at the museum’s Christmas decor.  This is a special evening the whole family will enjoy.

Light the Park Town of Orange Park (December 3, 2014 | 6:00 p.m.) – Join the town of Orange Park as they light up Town Hall Park  for the holiday season. This special event will also feature a reading of “It was the Night Before Christmas.”

Pictures With Santa/ Dining with Santa

The Avenues Mall (November 7 – December 24) – Eager children and their families can once again experience the magic of the holiday season with a visit to the Simon® Santa Photo Experience at The Avenues. Children can be photographed with Santa through Wednesday, December 24 at 6:00p.m. The Santa Photo Experience is located in the Center Court on the lower level. The most convenient entrance to the Santa Photo Experience is between Dillard’s and JCPenney.

St. Johns Town Center (November 16 – December 24 ) – Santa will be in front of Dick’s Sporting Goods for your Holiday photos!

Orange Park Mall (November 7 – December 24) The most convenient entrance to the Santa Photo Experience is the AMC entrance or through Dillard’s.

A Visit With Santa (December 6 -December 7, 2014 | 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.) – Santa is taking a break from the toy shop and visiting Catty Shack! For one weekend only, come meet Santa and tell him your Christmas list! Afterwards, enjoy a leisurely, guided tour of our sanctuary and see all the residents (Siberian tigers, lions, cougars, black leopards, a bobcat, a coatimundi and foxes)! Tours last approximately 45 minutes.

Beaches Town Center Holiday Celebrations (December 7, 2014 | 3:00 p.m.) – The Beaches Town Center Holiday Celebrations will kick off with a bike parade led by Santa Claus himself! Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive by sleigh and begin meeting and greeting with the children at 6:00 p.m.

Science with Santa at MOSH (December 13 | 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.) This December MOSH will host Science with Santa. These special holiday programs will take place in the JEA Science Theater at 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., The Alien Who Stole Christmas will play in the Bryan-Gooding Planetarium at 11 a.m. ($5 per person in addition to Museum admission). The day will also include holiday crafts and visits with Santa at 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m.

Santa’s Storybook Tea (November 29, 2014, December 6, 13, & 20, 2014 | 12:00 p.m.) – A Ritz-Carlton, Amelia Island tradition; fireside holiday storybook read by Santa plus an afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, pastries, cakes, candy and a picture with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Boat Parades

Community First Jacksonville Light Boat Parade (November 29, 2014 | 7:00 p.m.) – Set sail this holiday season as captains and crew deck out their boats with dazzling lights and decorations and float up and down the St. Johns River. Following the Community First Jacksonville Light Boat Parade enjoy dazzling fireworks from the two barges in front of The Jacksonville Landing and Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront.

Hyatt Community First Jacksonville Light Boat Parade Viewing Party (November 29, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.) – Watch the city light up for the annual Community First Jacksonville Light Boat Parade from the river deck of Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. Enjoy face painting, cookie decorating and arts and crafts while festively decorated vessels in all shapes and sizes parade along the St. Johns River. In addition, refreshments are available for purchase. Reservations are not required. River deck admission is $5 or one unwrapped gift per adult. Kids 12 years old and under are free. All proceeds benefit the Greater Jacksonville USO.

2014 Regatta of Lights (December 13, 2014 | 6:00 p.m.)  - St. Augustine Bayfront will light up the night when a holiday parade of sailboats, trawlers, shrimp boats and other vessels glitter with vibrant holiday lights and displays. Awards will be given for best theme, most colorful, best in class and best overall.

Palm Valley Light & Boat Parade (December 6, 2014 | 6:30 p.m.) – Head out to Palm Valley to see a spectacular boat parade!There are several vantage points where the public can watch the parade from. There are the three wonderful restaurants along the waterway, Barbara Jean’s, The Palm Valley Fish Camp and Lulu’s but make your reservations early before they are all booked. There’s plenty of free parking under the bridge on each side of the waterway. Also, there are a few places at the end of Canal Blvd. Of course, there’s the entire walkway on the south side of the Palm Valley Bridge. There’s a concrete barrier separating the traffic from the walkway. The vantage point from the bridge is spectacular! Make this classic event part of your holiday plans each year. You won’t regret it!

Holiday Shows/ Theatre

Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra (December 8 | 7:00 p.m.) – The holidays come alive with a FREE concert by the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra.

The Community Nutcracker (December 12, 2014 – 8:00 p.m. & December 13, 2014 2:00 p.m. & 8:00 p.m.) – Every year, The Community Nutcracker delights audiences of all ages with this holiday classic. More than 200 children from Northeast Florida audition and perform in the production. Additionally, The Community Nutcracker issues 2,000 free tickets to various Jacksonville agencies and organizations to attend a Community Service Night performance. Residents and clients from area nursing homes and nonprofit agencies are also able to attend the ballet.

A Bethlehem Visit: Live Walk-through Nativity (December 12, 2014 – 6:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. & December 13, 2014 5:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.) – Imagine a bustling 8,000+ square foot village with merchants, townspeople, artisans and dozens of live animals.  Stroll through the city and get up-close and personal with more than 200 costumed cast members as they re-create the city of Bethlehem as it might have been on the night of Jesus’ birth. Authentic sights, smells and sounds greet guests as they make their way to seek out the manger and the Christ Child at Ponte Vedra Presbyterian Church. This holiday tradition would not be complete without carols sung by a roaring bonfire, free hot chocolate and cookies served to all.

A Christmas Carol at the Times Union – Moran Theater (December 23, 2014 | 7:30 p.m.) – Experience Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” through the eyes of Charles Jones. This spectacular production will take you inside the famous novel with moving renditions of holiday songs such as God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Wassail Wassail, Good Christian Men Rejoice, Away in a Manger, Greensleeves, The Boar’s Head Carol and many more. ‘

Christmas Made in the South (November 28, 29 & 30, 2014 | Various Times) – As Christmas time approaches what better way to get ready for the holiday season than to stroll the aisles for treasures at this year’s award winning 26th annual Christmas Made in the South! Christmas Made in the South is focused on keeping the world of fine artisans and craftspeople vibrant.  Exhibitors will be there all three days demonstrating and selling their handcrafted works.

St. Augustine Winter Spectacular (December 6, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. & 7:00 p.m.) – St. Augustine Winter Spectacular! is a family-friendly, entertaining holiday production that follows a young girl’s journey home for the holidays. Lots of local organizations participate in this event, making it one of the largest parades in Northeast Florida. Expect to see lots of holiday decorations, marching bands and even Santa himself!

Christmas Parades

60th Annual St. Augustine Christmas Parade (December 6, 2014 | 10:00 a.m.) – Celebrate the holiday season with floats, festive decorations and plenty of fun during the 60th Annual St. Augustine Christmas Parade.

40th Annual British Night Watch Grand Illumination Parade (December 6, 2014 | 8:00 p.m.) – Re-live the British Period (1763-1784) in St. Augustine in this colorful and exciting re-enactment featuring hundreds of British troops, their Native American allies and civilians.

Fernandina Beach Lighted Christmas Parade (December 13, 2014 | 6:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.) – America’s Youth Inc. sponsors the annual Fernandina Beach Lighted Christmas Parade. The parade route will travel from Buccaneer Field along Ash Street to Front Street and Centre Street/Atlantic Avenue to Central Park.

Gingerbread Houses

Gingerbread House Extravaganza (December 3 – 23, 2014) – The Jacksonville Historical Society is proud to present this beloved holiday tradition. Now in its 13th year, the Gingerbread House Extravaganza will feature gigantic, creative gingerbread houses built by chefs, bakers, architects, engineers, culinary school students, families, young people and other individuals. These tasty creations will be on display at the Jacksonville Historical Society headquarters, historic Old St. Andrews, immediately across the street from the Veteran’s Memorial Arena.

Publix Gingerbread House Decorating (November 28, 2014 – December 1, 2014 | Various Times) Forgo the mess at home, and bring the family here! This class allows you and your children (up to three kids) to decorate your own gingerbread house. One adult is required for each family group; children should be at least 4 years old.

Cinotti’s Bakery Gingerbread House Family Fun Nights (Saturdays in December | Various Times) – Each year Cinotti’s Bakery opens their doors for families to come and decorate a gingerbread house together. This year is no different as the popular JAcksonville Bakery celebrates its 14th Annual Family Fun Night with a Christmas tree, carols, cookies and coffee!

Gingerbread Pirate Ship (November 26 – December 29, 2014) – The world’s largest Gingerbread Ship returns to the lobby of the Ritz Carlton for the holiday season. Shaped and baked by our talented pastry chefs with pirate characters sculpted from chocolate. You don’t want to miss seeing this amazing pirate ship. Ship departs on December 29.

Festive Fun Runs

Gingerbread Man Dash 5K (December 6, 2014 | 8:00 a.m.) – Join your favorite holiday cookie at the 4th Annual Gingerbread Man 5k Dash on December 6th at 8:30 a.m. at the Heritage Landing Sports Complex. The real Gingerbread Man will be out running amuck around the course…catch him if you can!  Holiday socks, hats and general candy cane striped attire are encouraged.

Festival of Lights 5K (December 13, 2014 | 6:00 p.m.) – The Festival of Lights 5K will be held the same evening as San Marco’s Holiday Magic. The 5K and 1 Mile will both start and finish on San Marco Blvd. in the Square. The event will feature carolers, jugglers, food & drink, bell ringers, pictures with Santa, Christmas Tree lighting, horse drawn carriage, Christmas music and much more.

Santa Suits on the Loose 5K (December 13, 2014 | 8:00 a.m.) – Run, walk, or jog a race in a Santa suit!

Jungle Bell Run/Walk (December 20, 2014 | 6:00 p.m.) – Chosen as one of the Most Incredible Themed Races, Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis is a fun and festive way to kick off your holidays by helping others! Wear a holiday themed costume. Tie jingle bells to your shoelaces. Raise funds to help find a cure for arthritis, the nation’s leading cause of disability. Run or walk a 5 kilometer route with your team members and celebrate the season by giving.

The Subaru Distance Classic (November 27, 2014 | 7:00 a.m.) – kick off your Turkey Day with a half marathon, 6K or 1-miler during the popular Subaru Distance Classic in Pickwick Park in Mandarin.

Reindeer Run Half Marathon & 5K (December 7, 2014) – Fun races and activities for the entire family.  Musical Christmas entertainment on the route. Kids Zone with free atrs and crafts and bounces houses. Beer Garden, Chocolate milk  and holiday cookies and treats for all participants.

Other Holiday fun

Adventure Landing WinterFEST (November 21, 2014 – January 11, 2015) – Enjoy snow in Florida during the 4th Annual WinterFEST at Adventure Landing in Jacksonville Beach. The winter activities and holiday fun include ice skating, snow fall, s’more roasting, light display, holiday carnival games and much more.

Polar Express Camp-In (December 20, 2014 |6:00 p.m. – 7:00 a.m.) –  All aboard! Join MOSH for an overnight adventure filled with holiday arts and crafts, a science show and Museum exploration, including an up-close look at our holiday train display. End the night with a holiday train movie and a cup of hot chocolate before heading up to bed in one of the exhibits. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to make a new holiday memory! The Polar Express Camp-In begins at 6 p.m. and ends the next morning at 7 a.m.

Downtown Fernandina Beach Annual Pajama Party (November 28, 2014 | 8:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m.) – The Historic Fernandina Business Association will be hosting its Annual PJ Party & Costume Contest in downtown Fernandina Beach. The downtown merchants will offer special discounts and refreshments for shoppers in their pajamas from 8 to 11 a.m. Friday, November 28, the day after Thanksgiving.  There will be entertainment, a costume contest and new this year, the South Second Street Block party.

Hollidazle (December 13, 2014 |10:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.) -Enjoy extended shopping hours at Riverside Arts Market during this special holiday experience the entire family will love! This nighttime Riverside Arts Market experience will include holiday lights and short format Christmas classics (think How the Grinch Stole Christmas) on a 32’ big screen on the River Stage as well as winter brews, wine and holiday cocktails for the grown-ups and hot chocolate and other treats available for the kids. Holiday-themed activities will complete the festive experience!

Christmas in Avondale (December 6, 2014 |4:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.) – This December 6, the streets of Avondale will be closed and packed with families and friends celebrating the start of the holiday season. Christmas in Avondale will include  live music, games, and many planned activities to ensure that everyone has a great time.

Jolly Jump & Santa (December 12, December 16, December 19 & December 22, 2014 | Various Times)  – Don’t wait in a long line to see Santa! Head to Pump It Up for Jolly Jump & Santa where you can bounce and snap as many photos with Santa as you want!

I think this year my family and I are most looking forward to the Blackhawk Bluff Lights and meeting Santa at the Beaches Town Center!

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