Traditions around the state for the holiday season … and beyond!

written by Sheila G. Miller

It’s that time of year again. It seems as though, when the weather turns chilly and gray, we find excuses new and old to gather together and celebrate—bring a little light of our own into the dark winter days.

Celebrate the end of 2018 and the start of 2019 in style, with our best ideas for getting out of your ruts and trying some new things.

As expected, there’s no shortage of Christmas-themed events around the state to check out. But we tried to mix it up a bit.

Christmas Ship Festival

First, the obvious.

There are the famous Seattle-area events—Argosy’s Christmas Ship Festival, for example. Each night from late November through December 23 (and operating since 1949), the Spirit of Seattle leads a parade of lighted boats around the Puget Sound to sixty-five different waterfront spots. You can buy tickets to be on one of the boats, or you can watch them from shore.

Leavenworth photo by Brian Munoz

Leavenworth may be best known for its Oktoberfest celebrations, but in December it transforms into a winter wonderland. The Bavarian-themed city hosts a Christmas Lights Festival for three consecutive weekends in December (December 1-2, 7-9and 14-16), then leaves the lights twinkling through Valentine’s Day. If you visit during a festival weekend, you’ll find the lights on beginning Friday evening, with music and visits from St. Nicklaus, then festivities on Saturdays and Sundays at noon, with holiday characters and Santa marching through town.

Carolers, sledding, gluhwein, free cookies—the whole thing is a Christmas delight. Around 4:30 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, half a million lights are lit. Once the festival is over, the lights stay on every night. Bonus: The Bavarian Ice Festival from January 19-20 takes place while the lights are still on. There’s ice carving, snow sculptures, and an annual fireworks show.

The Lights of Christmas 

While we’re on the subject of twinkling lights, check out Stanwood, 50 miles north of Seattle. This city hosts a festival called The Lights of Christmas, a 15-acre holiday light display that’s the largest in the Pacific Northwest. It includes more than a million lights and is open for twenty-one days in December. Go to www.thelightsofchristmas.com for details and to find out when the “pay what you can” days take place.

One of the great aspects of Washington is its many scenic railroads, and in winter several of them transform into holiday must-sees. Mt. Rainier Railroad hosts ninety-minute Polar Express train rides nearly every day in December. Pick from a steam or diesel train. The Chehalis-Centralia Railroad also runs a Polar Express and a Santa Steam Train, and kids are encouraged to wear their pajamas. The Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Moulton runs Christmas Tree trains on the weekends on its 1941 vintage train. You can even buy your Christmas tree while on the train. Or swing a trip on the Santa Train in North Bend on weekends through December 16.

The Bing Crosby Theater

In Spokane, the city celebrates Bing Crosby’s roots—and his famous turn as Captain Bob Wallace in White Christmas—with a daylong Bing Crosby Holiday Film Festival at, you guessed it, The Bing Crosby Theater. The event will take place on December 8. Celebrate the movie that launched one of the great Christmas carols.

If you tire of the Christmas spirit, never fear. Perhaps you go in for the solstice? In Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, the Feast of the Winter Solstice is put on annually by the Fremont Arts Council on the longest night of the year. This year, that’s December 21.

The event, open to members of the Fremont ArtsCouncil and invited guests, is an elaborate potluck with guests wearing next-level costumes and enjoying art installations and live music. Each guest picks a headdress for the event, then enjoy dinner before a ritual that begins at 10 p.m.

Space Needle Fireworks photo by Dave Mandapat

Next up, it’s New Year’s Eve. If you’re ready to forget 2018 or at least welcome 2019, there are First Night celebrations all over the state, including in Spokane and Tacoma. In Seattle, a spectacular fireworks show at the Space Needle is visible from nearly everywhere in the city. In the past, you’ve been able to watch the fireworks from above the fray at the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center. Other popular New Year’s Eve festivities have traditionally taken place at the Museum of Pop Culture and the Pacific Science Center.

As with all New Year’s Eve celebrations, New Year’sDay comes calling, and it’s time for those resolutions. Start 2019 strong with the healthy option—a 5K. It’s OK to shuffle. Resolution races take place on NewYear’s Day in Seattle, as well as a few days later in Battle Ground and Steilacoom. Or swing over to The Worst Day of the Year Run in Bothell on January 5 and embrace the cold, wind and rain. It may be terrible, but there’s soup at the finish line and runners in costume.

Polar Plunge

If you don’t get enough of the cold on your inaugural run of the year, sign up to support Special Olympics Washington by participating in one of its polar plunges around the state. The first of the year takes place in the Tri-Cities on January 20 and then in Anacortes on January 27. Seattle, Tacoma, Wenatchee and Spokane all host polar plunge events in February.

Lunar New Year Celebration photo by Cham Bunphoath

Finally, we know Lunar New Year isn’t until February 5, but it’s still a grand winter holiday tradition, especially in communities like Seattle. Each year, Chinatown celebrates the Lunar New Year (in 2019 we welcome in the year of the pig) in Hing Hay Park. The festival includes music and cultural performances from a wide range of community groups, as well as a $3 food walk, in which restaurants from around Chinatown and the International District offer $3 bites of food. In 2018, Delta Airlines sponsored the food walk and people who participated had a chance to win a pair of round-trip tickets

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