If what makes your holidays happy is nestling up on the couch every night with some hot chocolate and Netflix, then have a cozy holiday season! But if what gets your bells a’jinglin’ is attending festive events (or doing some combination of nestling and event-attending), then check out the list below.
Miracle on Congress St. Tucson may not have a 34th St., but we do have a street that's pretty much the place to be all year round, and that's no different during the holidays. Throughout the holiday season, the HUB and Playground Bar and Lounger are partnering to provide a little holiday cheer downtown on the weekends. Crafts, holiday treats and family fun will be made even better by the presence of adoptable puppies and Santa Claus himself! There's also a bar with holiday-inspired cocktails, and hot cocoa and cookies for the kids. Fridays through Sundays from Nov. 29 to Dec. 22. 4 to midnight Fridays, 11 a.m. to midnight Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sundays. 300 W. Congress St.
Luminaria Nights. One of the most magical, sparkly events of Tucson’s holiday season, Luminaria Nights at the Tucson Botanical Gardens is perfect for your kids, your grandparents, your friends, your family members visiting for the holidays, and pretty much anything you can think of. Stroll through the always-lovely gardens, decorated with more than 3,500 luminarias and 24+ Korean lanterns. Don’t miss the 10-foot poinsettia tree, an appearance by the Grinch, a chance to write a letter for Santa’s Mailbox and the garden snowfall experience. That’s right! Falling snow! Not real snow, but perhaps even better, because it’s not freezing cold. There’s also a musical lineup featuring plenty of talented Tucsonans. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 8 and Friday, Dec. 13 through Sunday, Dec. 15. Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way. $18 GA, $12 members, $9 children, $6 child members. Prices increase $1 for day-of admission.
Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul. If you can’t get enough of strolling through magical, lit-up gardens during the holidays, don’t miss this annual extravaganza at Tohono Chul, featuring more than a million twinkling lights! Three weekends worth of viewing the stars through telescopes, sipping on hot chocolate and perhaps finishing up some holiday shopping will be accompanied by live music and appearances by Santa Claus himself. From the Jovert Steel Drum Band to Mr. Nature’s Music Garden to the UA Fred Fox Wind Quintet to Cirque Roots, there’s a wide variety of live entertainment to get you in the holiday spirit. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 6-7, 13-14 and 20-21. Tohono Chul, 7366 Paseo del Norte. $16 GA, $12 members, $5 for kids 5 to 12 and free for kids under 5.
25th Annual Parade of Lights. There’s something about being downtown in a city during the holidays that makes everything feel especially festive. Is it because there are so many Christmas movies that take place in New York City? Is it because going downtown often means you’re celebrating and having fun anyway? Is it just because of all the decorations? Whatever the reason, don’t miss this event full of lit-up floats, the must-see tree lighting ceremony and free streetcar rides all day long! With 60 illuminated buildings and nearly 150 street trees wrapped with lights, downtown truly is a wonderland this time of year. 4:30 to 9 p.m. (tree lighting at 5:30 p.m. and parade at 6:30 p.m.) on Saturday, Nov. 30. Jacome Plaza, 101 N. Stone Ave. Free.
Marana Winter Waterland. You’re probably familiar with the 5 C’s of Arizona by now, but over in Marana this December, it’s all about the 3 C’s of the holiday season: crafts, cocoa and carols! The town got a new splash pad this year, so they’re celebrating in their very own winter waterland. Don’t worry—you won’t need to suit up and go swimming or anything. But there will be a debut of a special, holiday-colored water show for you to ooh and ahh over. Live performers, vendors and kids activities round out the excitement. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 13. Crossroads at Silverbell District Park, 7548 N. Silverbell Rd. Free.
Oro Valley Festival of the Arts and Tree Lighting. This festival is two days of pure holiday joy. From music and dance performances to an activities station to even glass blowing with Sonoran Glass Academy, there’s truly something for everyone. Make sure you stop by one of the over 150 artisan booths to pick up some holiday treats or gifts for your loved ones, and stop to visit Santa and get a free picture. The TUBACHRISTMAS holiday play-along is another event that would be tu-bad for you to miss. On Saturday, the festivities culminate in a lighting of the holiday tree, with activities from 2 to 6 p.m. The art festival is 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 7 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8. Oro Valley Marketplace, 12155 N. Oracle Rd. Free.
Enchanted Snowfall at La Encantada. When it snowed in February in Tucson this year, the city certainly felt like it was in an enchanted snowglobe. Snow?! In the desert?! It was such an unexpected in wonder in such an unexpected place that it really felt like magic, or maybe like we were in a snowglobe. If you’re looking to relive that feeling, but without all of the crazy drivers, head over to La Encantada on Saturdays this holiday season to watch two 15-minute snowfalls a night. Between displays, enjoy live music, and sip on Mexican hot chocolate served up by Blanco Tacos + Tequila. 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 7, 14 and 21. La Encantada Shopping Center, 2905 E. Skyline Dr. Free.
70th Annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights. Walking around the neighborhood looking at the Christmas lights on others’ houses is one of the most time-honored holiday family traditions, right? And in Tucson, there’s a whole neighborhood full of gorgeous displays for you to take in in wide-eyed wonder. The festival began back in 1949, when neighborhood developer CB Richards purchased the first set of lights and had some Aleppo pines planted, along with electrical connections hooked up near each tree. Essentially, this place was specifically engineered to be full of holiday magic. Ever since then (except for one year during the energy 1970s energy crisis), Winterhaven has turned into a twinkly wonderland every December. You can walk, hayride, party bike or even trolley limo your way through! The final night, you can even drive through the neighborhood yourself. 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, to Sunday, Dec. 29. Winterhaven. Entrance is free, but please do bring a donation for the Community Food Bank—last year, the festival raised more than $27,000 and more than 56,000 pounds of food.
Messiah & Bach. Ah, there are few holiday experiences more vast and all-encompassing than a performance of Handel’s Messiah (or of highlights from it). Handel composed the music for this show in a frenzied 24 days, writing the letters “SDG” for Soli Deo Gloria (“To God alone the Glory”) at the end. This led to the popular story that he was divinely inspired to write “Messiah” when he saw heaven open up before his eyes. Who knows? But if you’ve ever seen the piece performed live, you sort of get the same feeling. The Tucson Symphony Orchestra is bringing you this in addition to several other holiday pieces, including Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 and Handel’s Water Music, Suite No. 2. 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 16, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15. Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Dr. $46 to $86.
Lights of the World. If you’re into spectacle, you’ll love this big, colorful, six million twinkly lights extravaganza. The dozens of larger-than-life displays at this event showcase the features of different cultures from across the globe, from the Eiffel Tower to the Taj Mahal. Plus, exhibits like a dragon with 10,000 scales and an animal garden. There are also carnival rides and games, as well as daily performances with acrobatics, dance and music—this year, there’s even a sea lion show the last couple of weeks of December. 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Sunday through Jan. 5 (plus Dec. 23, 25, 30-31 and Jan. 1). Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way. $18 adults, $15 seniors/kids 12 and under/military with ID. Free for kids under 3.
Gingerbread House Reveal. Every year, El Conquistador, A Resort builds a marvelously large, life-size gingerbread house that makes you almost understand how Hansel and Gretel could have gotten so easily carried away in that old story. This year, they’re getting ready to top themselves once again. At the grand reveal, make ornaments and decorate crafts, snack on holiday treats, watch a movie and take pictures with Santa. 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 4. El Conquistador Tucson, 10000 N. Oracle Rd. In lieu of an entrance fee, please bring a new, unwrapped toy donation for Toys for Tots.
Mercado District Holiday Bazaar. If you make it to five days before Christmas without starting your holiday shopping, you could go to the mall and join a frenzy of fellow Tucsonans fueled by equal parts fear, guilt and frustration. OR, you could go over to the Mercado for a charming bazaar full of photo booths, mariachis, folklorico, shops and restaurants. There’s also family-friendly programming like puppet shows to keep your spirits up and remind you this whole month is supposed to be a good time. 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, through Sunday, Dec. 22. Mercado San Agustin, 100 S. Avenida del Convento. Free.
Pancakes with Santa & Winter Wonderland. In the business world, they talk a lot about the importance of facetime when you’re networking. If you want to make an impression on someone—and if you want them to give you what you want—the more time spent face-to-face, the better. That’s why sitting at a breakfast table with Santa is so important. It gives you a chance to really lay out your Christmas list in a way that’s memorable and hard to resist. After you’re done eating, explore the Winter Wonderland at the International Wildlife Museum, make crafts, play games and take a photo with the big guy. Get your tickets in advance! 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7. International Wildlife Museum, 4800 W. Gates Pass Road. $10 GA, $7 senior/military, $5 kids 4 to 12, free for kids 3 and under and museum members.
Southern Solstice: A Winter Fire Ritual in the Sonoran Desert. There’s always something sort of eerie about the Winter Solstice. There are Christmas decorations everywhere, so everything is lit up and sparkly, but there’s so little actual sunlight. This year, embrace the strangeness and the wonder by heading to the park to watch fire dancing, acrobatics, aerial performances and stilt dancing by 20 performers as the sun dips below the horizon. The performance is dedicated to all of our ancestors, and invites viewers to celebrate this special place in Earth’s orbit. 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21. Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, 3482 E. River Rd. $10 to $20.
Whether you’re the type of person who doesn’t consider it the holidays unless you see a live performance of The Nutcracker or someone who’s simply Nutcracker-curious and wants to see the show for the first time, you have plenty of options here in the Old Pueblo.
Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker. In this performance at Centennial Hall, see the ballet performed by dancers from the Moscow Ballet—only fitting, when you consider the show debuted in Russia in 1892. The troupe tours the U.S. annually, but the children’s parts are danced by local youth. 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 16 and Tuesday, Dec. 17. Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. $34 to $142.
Ballet Tucson’s The Nutcracker. Those strange days between Christmas and New Year, where you have family in town and don’t know where to take them, where you feel like you should be celebrating something but you’re not sure what, where the decorations feel strange and frozen, always leave me feeling like I need something to do. What better way to spend an afternoon or evening than at this award-winning production by our local ballet company? 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 28, and 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 29. Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. $30 to $$58.
A Southwest Nutcracker Featuring the Tucson Symphony Orchestra. Tucson Regional Ballet puts a special twist on their performance of this show, by giving it some Sonoran flair. It’s the same lovable story (and the same fantastic dancing) but with coyotes, cavalry and rattlesnakes to spice things up a little bit. 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15. Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. $15 to $36.
Gotta Dance! This local children’s dance studio is putting on their production of The Nutcracker for the very first time! What could be more in the spirit of the holiday season than by watching a ballet and simultaneously supporting the dreams and development of kids in your community? 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21. Leo Rich Theatre, 260 S. Church Ave. $20.
Zoo Lights: Holiday Magic. If you prefer to only attend events with a million twinkling lights or more during the holidays, we’re happy to announce that that leaves you with several options for things to do in Tucson. At the Reid Park Zoo, stroll through the grounds visiting the animals (mostly lighted animal displays, as the real animals will likely be in their heated, behind-the-scenes habitats) while you munch on s’mores and sip hot chocolate (with or without alcohol). You can also get your picture taken with Santa, ride the carousel, enjoy special character nights and listen to live music. 6 to 8 p.m. Members-only night Wednesday, Dec. 4, then open to the public from Thursday, Dec. 5 to Monday, Dec. 23 and Thursday, Dec 26 to Monday, Dec. 30. Reid Park Zoo, 3400 Zoo Court. $10 adults, $6 kids 2 to 14, free for kids 1 or younger. $3 off for members. (Members-only night is $4 for adults and $2 for kids).