Ultimate Guide to Holiday Events Around Columbia

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Mariah Carey is loudly singing about what she wants for Christmas over the store loudspeakers, houses across the Midlands are already bedecked with lights and inflatables, and we are all eagerly looking for ways to celebrate and say good riddance to 2020.

Like the rest of the year, this holiday season looks a little different than in years past. Gone are the days of large gatherings to sing carols or watch New Years ball drops — at least for now. But the Midlands it still celebrating! Grab your mask and hand sanitizer and get in the holiday spirit!

Here’s a glimpse at some of the festive fun coming up in the weeks to come.

Christmas Lights in the Vista

Dates: November 16-22, 2020

Location: Vista Community, Downtown Columbia

This year marks the 35th Annual Vista Lights. Because of COVID-19, there will not be the annual tree lighting ceremony. Instead, more than 60 galleries, shops, and restaurants in the Vista will host a week of specials and events. Lights in the Vista is the neighborhood’s signature open house which has ushered in the holidays in Columbia for more than 30 years.

COVID-19 protocols will be in place so that kids can still meet Santa, Mom can try her hand at discounted axe throwing and Dad can treat everyone to dinner. 


Holiday Planetarium Lighting at the State Museum

Date: November 19, 2020

Time: 5-7 p.m.

Location: South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais Street, Columbia 29201

The South Carolina State Museum is kicking off the holiday season with this family-friendly event. The evening will include showings of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 4-D and the planetarium experience, Trans-Siberian Orchestra Laser Lights. Kids can also participate in an ornament activity, and the Columbia Craft Brewery and Cotton Mill Exchange will be open for parents. At the end of the evening, guests can go outside to watch as the planetarium dome is lit and transformed into a giant snow globe. The dome will be lit every night after dark through the end of the year.

Social distancing measures will be in place and due to limited capacities, you’re encouraged to purchase tickets online. Activities are included with museum general admission or membership. Planetarium and 4D shows require an additional charge. General admission is $8.95 for ages 13-61, $7.95 for ages 62+ and $6.95 for ages 3-12.


A Holiday to Remember

Date: November 20-22, 2020

Time: 3-8 p.m. (Fri), 9 a.m.-5 p.m. (Sat), 12-5 p.m. (Sun)

Location: Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center, 1101 Lincoln Street, Columbia 29201

Shop, eat, and play all in one place! A Holiday to Remember is a socially distanced event that provides fun for the whole family. There will be vendors (for food and goods), performances and a kids’ zone where kids can play and make a craft.

Admission is FREE.


Lights Before Christmas at Riverbanks Zoo

Dates: Select dates between November 21-December 30, 2020

Time: 5-9 p.m.

Location: Riverbanks Zoo, 500 Wildlife Parkway, Columbia 29210

Would it be Christmas without a nighttime stroll through the Riverbanks Zoo? The holiday season has not begun, according to my kids, until we have seen the Christmas lights at the zoo. This year you’ll need to plan ahead and reserve your tickets. If you have a membership, your first visit is free. Otherwise, tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for kids ages 2-12. Children younger than two are free.


Governor’s Carolighting at the State House

Date: November 22, 2020

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Location: SC State House, 1100 Gervais Street, Columbia 29201

This year marks the 54th annual Governor’s Carolighting at the State House. However, this is the first time in recent history that capacity will be capped at 125. The event will also be broadcast on SCETV. Governor McMaster will be the master of ceremonies, and light the 30-foot-tall Concolor Fir tree. The tree will be decorated with 13,000 lights and 900 ornaments.


Sleigh Bell Stroll

Date: November 23, 2020

Time: 5:30-8 p.m.

Location: Saluda Shoals Park, 5605 Bush River Road, Columbia 29210

Join us for a fun and festive four-mile family fun walk amid the sparkling light displays of Holiday Lights on the River!
-No bus transportation will be provided this year
-Mask will be required at registration
-For safety reason, do not bring dogs to the Stroll
All Ages
$5/Per Person, 2 and under free

Holiday Lights on the River at Saluda Shoals Park

Dates: November 24-December 31, 2020

Time: 6-10 p.m.

Location: Saluda Shoals Park, 5605 Bush River Road, Columbia 29210

Saluda Shoals has been hosting the ultimate social distancing holiday event since long before it was cool. The lights at Saluda Shoals is a nightly drive-thru event that features more than two miles of Christmas lights. Pack some fun snacks, put on your coziest Christmas pj’s and take a drive through Saluda Shoals Park.

Because of COVID-19, there will not be any concessions or activities at this year’s Holiday Lights, except on the Wetland Walking Trail.

Note: you do have to pay to get in. It’s $20 for cars, $40 for 12-15 passenger vans, trucks with trailers and limos or $60 for a bus. Bring cash if you want to avoid an additional $1 fee for credit card transactions.


Christmas in Cayce

Dates: December 3, 2020

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Location: Cayce City Hall Complex, 1800 12th Street, Cayce 29033

It doesn’t get more festive than this! The city of Cayce has combined past Christmas events to make one big drive thru celebration, COVID style. Visitors will take a ride through Cayce City Hall and enjoy the magic of thousands of twinkling lights, carolers singing music of the season, and you’ll receive pre-packaged holiday treats. The Cayce Historical Museum’s front porch and grounds will be decorated with trees and crafts from the 18th century to present day. Santa will also be there — on top of Cayce’s first ever fire truck! And Santa’s elves will have treats on hand for the kids.

The event is FREE, and you’re encouraged to bring along canned goods and non-perishable food items to benefit God’s Helping Hands and the Scooter Scott Project.


Movies in the Garden: National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Date: December 4, 2020

Time: 6-8 p.m.

Location: Hampton-Preston Gardens, 1615 Blanding Street, Columbia 29201

Bundle up and get in the holiday spirit with this classic movie! Attendees will be separated in socially distanced pods, and local food trucks will be on hand. It costs $50 for a pod that can hold five people. ($40 for members.)

Note: The movie is PG-13.


Columbia Baroque Concert: Home For The Holidays

Date: December 4, 2020

Time: 7 p.m.

Location: Your computer

Tune into this virtual concert that will feature French solo works for harpsichord and viola da gamba, an Italian lute solo, a Christmas lullaby for voice and lute, and much more. Many local performers will participate.


Columbia Classical Ballet presents The Nutcracker

Date: December 4-6, 2020

Time: 10 a.m. (Fri), 2 p.m. (Sat), 2 p.m. (Sun)

Location: Koger Center for the Arts, 501 Greene Street, Columbia 29201

The Nutcracker Ballet is a worldwide Christmas favorite. Tickets range from $8 to $18.


Snowball Festival

Date: December 5, 2020

Time: 2-6 p.m.

Location: Icehouse Amphitheater, 107 West Main Street, Lexington 29072

Join the Town of Lexington for this year’s Snowball Festival Carnival at the Icehouse Amphitheater! It’s on Saturday, December 5, 2020 and will feature hand painting, balloon artists, rides + more! Due to COVID-19, this year’s event will have free tickets for 1 hour time slots to help allow for the safest experience possible. All attendees 2 years of age and older must have a ticket.

Carolina Lights

Dates: December 5-27, 2020 (Closed Christmas Day)

Time: 6-9 p.m. (Sun-Thu), 6-10 p.m. (Fri-Sat)

Location: SC State Fairgrounds, 1200 Rosewood Drive, Columbia 29201

This year is the 2nd annual drive-thru light show at the state fairgrounds. Carolina Lights will take place at the Lexington Medical Center Fair Park (at the SC State Fairgrounds). You can enter at Gate 6 on George Rogers Boulevard.

Pay at the gate with cash or a credit card (Visa or Mastercard). It is $20 per car, $35 for a mini bus (9-24 passengers) and $70 for vehicles over 25 passengers. 


Storytime with Santa

Dates: December 5, 12 & 19, 2020

Time: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Location: South Carolina State Museum, 301 Gervais Street, Columbia 29201

The man himself is coming in from the North Pole to the South Carolina State Museum! Santa will read a special story to guests. Plus, you can watch Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer in 4D.

Santa’s story time is included with admission. Planetarium and 4D shows are extra. General admission is $8.95 for ages 13-61, $7.95 for ages 62+ and $6.95 for ages 3-12.


Town of Lexington Christmas Parade

Date: December 3, 2020

Time: 3-6 p.m.

Location: Town of Lexington, 111 Maiden Lane, Lexington 29072

Join the Town of Lexington and the Lexington Jaycees for the annual Christmas Parade down Main Street! Get in the Christmas Spirit by watching an array of parade floats make their way through downtown!


Jingle Bell Run

Date: December 11-13, 2020

Location: Your neighborhood

Strap on your running shoes and go for a 5K run around your neighborhood for a good cause. The 2020 Jingle Bell Run is going all virtual this year to benefit the Arthritis Foundation. Be sure and register to receive a Jingle Bell Run t-shirt, medal, and sticker.


Historic Holidays

Date: December 12, 2020

Time: 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Location: Hampton-Preston Mansion and Gardens, 1615 Blanding Street, Columbia 29201

Take a step back in time and tour historic houses. You’ll also see how families celebrated Christmas in the 18th and 19th centuries. Children will be able to make holiday crafts. This event is geared toward children and requires timed ticket entries to help with social distancing. $15 for youth, $7 for adults. (Save two dollars a ticket if you’re already an Historic Columbia member.)


Columbia City Ballet presents The Nutcracker

Date: December 12-20, 2020

Time: 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Sat), 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (Sun)

Location: Koger Center for the Arts, 501 Greene Street, Columbia 29201

Nutcracker, Columbia’s holiday family tradition, has the distinction of being the Koger Center’s first Nutcracker production and longest consecutively running arts event. With eight snow-filled performances, including four matiness, Nutcracker is designed to accommodate the entire family’s holiday schedule.


A Charles Dickens Christmas

Date: December 13, 2020

Time: 3-4 p.m.

Location: Your computer

Richland County Library continues to think outside of the box with their virtual events! Tune in to Richland Library’s Facebook page to enjoy watching British actor Howard Burnham present his popular Dickens’ A Christmas Carol show. He has performed this show nationwide for more than twenty years! Enjoy it from the comfort of your own home.


Live Outdoor Nativity

Date: December 19 & 20, 2020

Time: 7 p.m.

Location: Living Springs Lutheran Church, 4224 Hard Scrabble Road, Columbia 29229

Live animals, Biblical costumes, and music all help Living Springs Lutheran Church tell the story of the first Christmas. This 35 minute long presentation will take place outside, so bring a lawn chair or blanket. After the story concludes, you’ll be able to interact with the animals and characters. Hot drinks will be provided.


Famously Hot New Year

Date: December 31, 2020

Time: 10:30 p.m. – 12:15 a.m.

Location: Your living room

Columbia’s hottest New Year celebration is going virtual this year. Tune into local TV channels and countdown the top 10 most unique activities in the Midlands — from the comfort of your own home. You can also join online parties through the Famously Hot New Year website. Broadcast details haven’t been announced yet.

Bonus: in December, you can get free party packs complete with party favors and special offers from Richland County businesses!

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Kate is a self proclaimed news geek who has worked in radio, on the air and behind the scenes, for the last 17 years. She and her husband moved to Columbia in 2011 with the intent of staying just five years...but they never ended up leaving. Originally from upstate NY, Kate has also lived in Chattanooga and Los Angeles. (Notice the theme? She moved away from the snow and never wants to deal with it again.) Kate stays home with her three children and homeschools the oldest two. Her work from home gig includes editing audio for a radio program that airs worldwide. She is active in her church, is passionate about orphan care and will never turn down chocolate. When stressed, you can find her baking or crafting while singing along to the Hamilton soundtrack.

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