How to Do Christmas in Portland Like a Local

When I first moved to Portland in 2014 with two preschoolers, I was overwhelmed by all the options for Portland-area family fun in December. If that’s how you feel, too, I’ve got you. Here’s the comprehensive roundup I wish I’d had back then when the FOMO was so heavy, and I was too tired to research all the options. Over the past decade, I’ve tried at least one version of everything on this list, and I can tell you they’re all kid- and parent-approved.

Simply scan this list and choose what will make your family merry this month, whether that’s one special activity or a dozen.

Winter Wonderland, courtesy Portland International Raceway

Get a tree. Visiting a u-cut tree farm is a festive way to start the season, and often includes a Santa sighting, live music, warm drinks and delicious treats. Be sure to reserve tickets in advance if necessary, as many farms require them. Find our full list of farms here.

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See the lights. Our comprehensive list of light displays includes free displays like Peacock Lane or Lightopia, and paid experiences like ZooLights or Winter Wonderland. Another fun option is attending a free community tree lighting ceremony, or — if you missed the lighting event — go on a tree scavenger hunt and see them sparkle all season long. We’ve listed all the local Tree Lighting Ceremonies on our roundup; find one near you.

Chat with Santa. Have a classic experience at a shopping center like Bridgeport Village, find the big guy in red at a u-cut tree farm, or choose a Santa experience from our Santa Sightings post. We’ve tracked down all the Santas, including local favorite Black Santa, so finding him is a breeze.

Watch The Nutcracker. Whether you stream it from your couch or watch professional dancers live, we’ve found all the options for Nutcracker fun.

See a holiday show. If you’re looking for another holiday performance this season, A Christmas Carol at Portland Playhouse so incredible we’re seeing it twice. Other local favorites include The Muppet Christmas Carol at Oregon Symphony, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at The Judy, and The Nightmare Before Christmas by Steps PDX.

Go on a holiday outing. You can book an adventure on a holiday train or ship, browse our Holiday Calendar, or find an event on our list of Free Things to Do in December. Tuba Christmas (December 16) and The Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition (December 8) at Pioneer Square are both free and festive annual traditions.

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Shop local. The dreaded task of holiday shopping actually becomes a fun experience when you attend a festive holiday market or shop at one of these beloved toy shops or Reader Favorites Winners in the Shopping and Services category.

Bake. Is it really Christmas without a little baking? Make your favorite family recipe or try these easy holiday treats your kids will actually want to make and eat. Want to make the mess in someone else’s kitchen? Check out Portland’s 14 best places to decorate cakes and cookies with kids.

Get away. Sometimes the only time I can really relax is in a house that I’m not responsible for cleaning. If that’s you, too, check out one of these special getaways. They’re a great opportunity to splurge on memories instead of stuff!

Remember it’s about having fun, so do only as much as makes you and your loved ones happy. I listed the options, but they are just that — optional.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate, from our PDX Parent family to yours!

Meg Asby
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