: Gregor Halenda

Oregon’s Holiday Events Keep Spirits Bright

November 24, 2020 (Updated December 16, 2020)

Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s two-week statewide freeze means for you, and follow these steps for social distancing outdoors. Also, remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Before you set out, check road and weather conditions and travel alerts.

Though canceled plans have become the norm for 2020, the end of the year and beginning of the next will have plenty of holiday-themed fun to enjoy if you’ve been cooped up in the house. Organizers of wintertime events around the state are moving forward with modified versions of some of Oregon’s iconic wintry festivities. While these classics may have limited entry and come with social distancing and face-covering requirements, they’re sure to bring with them the same amount of cheer. Remember to stay local and support local. Here are some of the not-to-miss winter events near you.

Oregon Zoo Lights
Experience the dazzling displays of ZooLights with a special drive-through experience. (Photo credit: Courtesy of the Oregon Zoo)

Umpqua Valley Festival of Lights, Nov. 22–Jan. 1, 2020 (Roseburg): As a drive-through event, the annual Festival of Lights adapted easily to 2020 guidelines. The festival returns with 90 holiday displays that include characters from Disney’s “Frozen,” the reported world’s largest nutcracker and animated cheetahs from neighboring Wildlife Safari. E-tickets make the experience contact-less, with proceeds going to Roseburg Rotary Foundation.

ZooLights, Nov. 23–Jan. 10, 2020 (Portland): The holiday tradition at the Oregon Zoo that features 1.5 million colored lights is happening this year as a special drive-through experience. Enjoy the dazzling displays from the comfort of your car with pre-purchased food and gifts. There is limited capacity, and note that you can’t buy tickets on-site, so buy your tickets online early to reserve your spot for a magical evening. 

Christmas at the Coast, Nov. 26–Dec. 31, 2020 (North Bend): The holiday lights that usually grace Shores Acres State Park are moving into town this year. Neighborhoods and businesses in Coos Bay and North Bend are planning to delight residents and guests this holiday season with a self-guided driving tour of the light show. Pick up a map from the Coos Bay or North Bend visitors centers, and book your stay at select lodging properties to receive a special commemorative ornament at either city’s visitor center.

Winter Wonderland, Nov. 27, 2020–Jan. 2, 2021 (Portland): Visitors to this holiday tradition at Portland International Raceway can admire 250 colorful light sets all from the comfort and safety of their vehicle. The impressive display is recognized as the largest light show west of the Mississippi. Tickets are available for purchase online only and there is a limit of six people per vehicle. Face coverings are required when interacting with staff.

Lights at the Oregon Garden Resort, Nov. 27, 2020–Jan. 2, 2021 (Silverton): While the Oregon Garden’s annual Christmas in the Garden event is postponed until next year, resort guests will get exclusive access to a new nighttime display featuring thousands of twinkling lights, a magic candy cane tunnel and giant ornaments on an one-way path. The resort space will include covered areas with heaters and fire pits, plus traditional German drinks and sweets. Santa even makes appearances for social-distance photo ops with face coverings.

Winter Fair, Nov. 27–Dec. 31, 2020 (Canby): New in 2020, the Clackamas County Winter Fair is a quarter-mile drive-through experience featuring thousands of holiday lights at the Clackamas County Fairgrounds. Kids will marvel at the 100-foot light tunnel and wave at Santa as they leave letters in his special mailbox. Space is limited; buy your tickets online in advance.

Lights at Village Green, Nov. 27–Dec. 31, 2020 (Cottage Grove): While The Village Green Christmas Market is postponed until next year, Lights at The Village Green is a new, limited experience featuring dazzling holiday displays from years past. Hotel guests staying overnight under the Christmas rate will gain access to the lights, and a very limited amount of single-day tickets are available for non-guests to purchase.

Safeway Providence Festival of Trees, Nov. 30–Dec. 6, 2020 (Medford): For the first time, spectators can watch as each tree featured in the Festival of Trees is meticulously adorned with ornaments and decorations from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1. This can all be done from the safety of the sidewalk of the One West Main Building in downtown Medford. The event’s annual gala will be held virtually on Dec. 2, where bids for auction items, including the trees, can be made virtually from a smartphone or tablet with proceeds benefiting caregivers hit hardest by COVID-19 and wildfires. The trees will then be on display again at the One West Main Building from Dec. 2 to Dec. 6.

Mt. Hood Christmas Train
The Mt. Hood Christmas Train is still chugging this year to Christmas Town and back. (Photo credit: The Mt. Hood Christmas Train)

Rogue Winterfest, Dec. 1–6, 2020 (Grants Pass): Though traditionally held at the Evergreen Federal Bank’s Bear Hotel in Grants Pass, this year’s event will be held virtually to keep the community safe. Online events include a multiday virtual silent auction, virtual gala and grand auction, and recorded shows of Santa that include stories, crafts and more. The event benefits several organizations that provide mental health services to the region. 

The Mt. Hood Christmas Train, Dec. 4–Dec. 27, 2020 (Hood River): Popping out of a storybook for your real-world enjoyment, the Mt. Hood Christmas Train is still chugging this year, hauling jolly passengers on an hour-long journey to Christmas Town and back. Book your tickets early, as capacity is capped at 50% to allow for plenty of space between parties. Face coverings are required and the train cars are extensively cleaned between each trip.

Christmas Ships Parade, Dec. 4–22, 2020 (Portland): View the dazzling lights from a series of decked-out ships in the annual parade that can be safely viewed from afar. Spectators can watch the light show from a vehicle or on foot in non-crowded viewpoints along the several miles of parade route, happening along both the Willamette and Columbia rivers. 

Holidays at the Hangar, Dec. 5-28, 2020 (McMinnville): Indoor social distancing is easy at the Evergreen Aviation & Space Museum in McMinnville. Forty aircraft decorated with miles of holiday lights will be on display in the 110,000-square-foot aviation building. This year the event will offer three daily 90-minute sessions with a maximum of 80 guests in each session. Tickets must be purchased online. Face coverings are required, and museum staff will be monitoring to ensure attendees are maintaining social distancing. Widespread cleaning and disinfecting will take place between each viewing session. (Note: Event has been postponed until further notice.)

Victorian Christmas, weekends Dec. 5–20, 2020 (Jacksonville): Jacksonville celebrates Christmas and its past with the annual Victorian Christmas, which will take place on a smaller scale this year. The event will kick off with a virtual tree-lighting event on Saturday, Nov. 28, that can be live-streamed via the Jackson Chamber of Commerce Facebook page or Instagram account. On the weekend days in December, there will be photo opportunities with Father Christmas (face coverings required), horse-drawn wagon rides, and a chance to listen to carolers strolling the streets, some in vintage costumes. The Christmas parade and historic tours are canceled. 

Illuminate the Pacific: The Pacific Reef Hotel in Gold Beach transforms its Adventure Theater experience into a holiday spectacular with synchronized Christmas music and lights. Guests can enjoy the nightly show from their room or along the lawn.

New Year’s Eve Snowshoeing at Mt. Hood, Dec. 31, 2020 (Mt. Hood): Ring in the new year from the magical setting of a snow-covered scene at Mt. Hood National Forest. The annual event led by guides at Mt. Hood Outfitters is offering private tours this year, with group sizes of six to nine people. Guides will take attendees on a 3-mile snowshoe tour to view the midnight fireworks. Along the way, they will explain the rich history of the area, teach winter survival strategy and keep an eye out for animal tracks during the tour. If you’re lucky, you’ll get a moonlit excursion. 

Newport Seafood & Wine Festival, Feb. 26–28, 2021 (Newport): The tasty offerings of the Oregon Coast and accompanying award-winning wines can still be enjoyed this year in a modified “to go” fashion. Festival kits of wine bottles, glasses and merchandise, plus a meal kit, will be prepared for festival attendees to pick up at a scheduled time, during which they will also be able to enjoy an hour-long visit to a mini festival of a few well-spaced in-person vendors.

About The

Emily Gillespie
Emily Gillespie is a travel writer whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, CNN Travel and Afar magazine. She’s lived in three of Oregon’s seven regions, currently calling Portland home. She and her husband look for every opportunity to hike to a view, bike through wine country and eat their way through a new city.

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