Christmas season is definitely one of the best times in the year. A time to be home with friends and family and celebrating with decorations and food! Every town, city, and village has their own traditions for the holiday season, and Christmas in Syracuse is no different. From the typical tree lighting to a festival of trees and a gingerbread gallery, there are plenty of events to fit any personality for Christmas in Syracuse, New York.
Post originally published on December 7, 2017. Most recently updated on December 3, 2019.
Lights on the Lake
The longest drive-through light display in the northeastern US, Lights on the Lake in Liverpool is a Syracuse tradition. The season starts with two free nights – a walk-through on opening night followed by a dog walk the next night! From then on, cost is $10 per car on weeknights and $15 on weekends. Check local businesses for discount presale tickets. So get yourself a cup of cocoa, put on the Christmas radio station in your car, and go for a leisurely drive. Looking for something to do before or after? Check out my list of things to do in Liverpool.
Christmas Tree Lighting
Black Friday in Syracuse means more than shopping before the sun rises. It also is the beginning of the holiday season and celebrations of Christmas in Syracuse with the lighting of our Christmas tree. Located in the heart of downtown at Clinton Square, the tree is the center of Christmas celebrations. The fountain that is so beautiful in the summer has been transformed into an ice rink, for beginners and advanced skaters alike. While it’s no Rockefeller Center, it is perfect for us. Ice skating next to a giant Christmas tree is the epitome of holiday activities. While you’re there, check out some other things to do in downtown Syracuse.
Festival of Trees
One of my favorite Christmas traditions in my hometown is the Festival of Trees at Syracuse’s Everson Museum of Art. Each year the museum is filled with decorated Christmas trees and wreaths for the beginning of December. The trees are decorated and donated by companies, schools, organizations, and individuals around the community. The trees and wreaths are then on display for a week and a half for museum visitors. People may purchase one (or more!) with the cost being a donation to the museum. Sold trees stay on display through the end festival before they are delivered or picked up to be brought home as a decoration.
Throughout the festival are various events, including a fashion show, a teddy bear tea party for children, and a visit from Santa! Live music is there for your enjoyment as you look at the displays. Choirs and bands perform on the stage downstairs, so support your local groups! There is also a café serving desserts and drinks to snack on. In previous years some of my favorite trees included the travel tree (of course!) decorated with globe ornaments and photos from around the world and the Girl Scout cookie tree. The Girl Scout tree was covered in actual cookies! And it had a rainbow of ribbon wrapping from the tip to the trunk. It was adorable.
Other Exhibits at the Everson
Another plus of visiting the Everson for the Festival of Trees is being able to see the current exhibitions as well. There were some beautiful sculptures on display which I loved. Visiting the museum is just $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, and FREE for children under 12, military, and museum members. This includes the festival! Throughout the year the museum offers “pay-what-you-wish” night on Wednesdays and FREE admission on the third Thursday of each month from 5-8pm with FREE docent tours. The first Friday of each month the museum stays open late (until 9pm). In the summer the Everson projects movies on the outside of the building for a great FREE summer activity. Local craft markets and music happen throughout the year as well.
Holidays in the City
Downtown Syracuse gathers together to celebrate the holiday season! The main events include holiday shopping at local businesses, Christmas caroling, and visits with Santa and his reindeer. The best part? There’s a trolley to bring you around downtown! When I was a little girl, Prancer was my absolute favorite Christmas movie, so I was convinced that one of the reindeer was actually Prancer. Who knows? Maybe it was…
Either way, Holidays in the City celebrates many of the events listed here. The places are located in the city center and includes several local businesses offering incentives to stop in. Many bars and restaurants offer discounts on drinks and food. Local shops have discounts on merchandise.
Previous years have included local ‘celebrity’ bartenders, Christmas movie screenings, and coloring contests for kids. (Fun fact: I won the coloring contest when I was a kid! I got tickets to go see The Nutcracker, another holiday favorite.) Check it out and I might see you there!
Holidays at the Zoo
One of my favorite places that celebrates the holidays is the Rosamond Gifford Zoo – and Christmas is no exception! In addition to weekend breakfasts with Santa for the kiddos, the animals get to enjoy the holiday too! Zookeepers prepare ‘gifts’ for the animals for behavioral enrichment. Visitors can watch the animals open their gifts throughout the day.
Hesitant to visit the zoo in the winter? Don’t be! Winter is just as amazing at the zoo. Find out why!
The Erie Canal Museum is host to another great Christmas in Syracuse event: the Gingerbread Gallery! An event that began in 1987 has grown so much over the years. Originally just a one day event is now a six-week celebration also beginning the day after Thanksgiving. You can submit your interest in building a gingerbread house earlier in the year and the museum will call in September to get confirmation from potential bakers. Like the festival of trees, the gingerbread gallery holds several special events throughout the season. These events include a grand opening, a local author’s book signing, children gingerbread house workshops, and an adult build and sip event!
Admission to the gallery is $7 for adults, $5 for seniors, and $2 for children. The museum is open daily from 10am-5pm, with exceptions for the holidays. It’s a great activity for the whole family between Thanksgiving and New Years!
It’s A Wonderful Life
Here’s a new tradition that I love – and definitely took advantage of the first year it was held: a screening of It’s A Wonderful Life at the Landmark Theater downtown. Said to be inspired by nearby Seneca Falls and included on my list of 31 Christmas movies for December, this holiday classic is a must-watch. Seeing it in the historic & beautiful Landmark Theater is a plus! Wear an ugly sweater to the event to purchase coffee or cocoa for just $1!
If you’re looking to venture a little farther outside of the city, you can find many more activities – too many to mention them all here. But, some worth noting are below!
A Dicken’s Christmas in Skaneateles Every weekend from Thanksgiving until Christmas, see characters dress up in period clothing as they walk around town and interact with visitors.
Holidays at Beak & Skiff Visit the apple farm in the winter and join many events including craft nights, live music, and holiday cocktails.
Lorenzo’s Christmas Celebration Head the Cazenovia to see the historic mansion decorated for the holidays while enjoying music, refrshments, and sleigh rides.
Does your hometown have any special Christmas traditions? Share them in the comments! I’d love to check them out in future years. 🙂