Christmas in Seattle
Seattle Skyline at Night in December
Things to do in Seattle During the Holidays
Seattle might seem like an unlikely choice for a Christmas travel destination since it is neither warm and tropical for those who want to escape winter nor cold and snowy for those who enjoy more traditional holiday winter weather. Maybe I'm prejudiced because I was born and raised in Seattle, but I find the climate perfect. It is cold enough to feel like winter, but seldom snowy so it makes it easy to walk around safely to enjoy all of the festivities. For those who crave snow, the nearby mountains have plenty and they are less than an hour away from the city.
I have many fond childhood memories of Seattle Christmas traditions from over 50 years ago. It pleases me that most continue to this day along with some more recent ones that are fun for people of all ages. There are many free activities that can be mixed in with a splurge on a few expensive once-in-a-lifetime experiences that may be on your bucket list. Listen to local holiday music favorites, watch the Westlake Center Tree Lighting, take a ride on an old-fashioned carousel, see amazing gingerbread houses, find the most brilliant displays of Christmas lights, the best place to visit Santa, watch an internationally renowned ballet company perform the Nutcracker and much more.
As a Seattle old timer, I'm sharing my favorite places to go and things to do that I think makes Seattle a special place for a family Christmas vacation. If you can't visit, consider this page as my Christmas Card from Seattle!
All photos by author, Vicki Green unless otherwise noted
Have you been to Seattle at Christmas time? - Please take part in my poll
Christmas in Seattle?
Have you ever been to Seattle during the holiday season?See results without voting
Local Holiday Music to Get Into the Christmas Spirit
As you take my tour of Christmas in Seattle, get into the mood by listening to a Seattle holiday music favorite "Christmas in the Northwest". Starting in 1985, the Children's Music Fund has produced about a dozen albums using mostly local Pacific Northwest musicians. The proceeds are used to pay the the cost of medical care not covered by insurance for children treated at Seattle Children's Hospital and Medical Center and other children's hospitals in the region.
Christmas in the Northwest
This is the 1994 Best of Christmas in the Northwest selections from previous CDs. Artists include Heart's Ann and Nancy Wilson, the Brothers Four, Reilly and Maloney, Tim Noah, Danny Deardorff, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Brenda White and more.
Christmas in the Northwest CD
Thie "Christmas in the Northwest" CDs feature holiday music by mostly local Pacific Northwest artists. There are actually about a dozen different recordings, but this is the "Best of" that I think is the best. You can listen to clips of each of the cuts to get an idea of the great variety of music.
The Westlake Center Christmas Tree and Macy's Star
The Seattle Macy's Star
The large star on the Seattle Macy's is a tradition that goes back to when the store was the Bon Marche. You will find many old timers around Seattle that still refer to it as "the Bon" even though the store was acquired by the company that owns the Macy's chain in 1989. It was called Bon-Macy's for a few years and then became just "Macy's" in 2005. The lighting of the Macy's Star and the Westlake Tree is held each year on "black friday".
The Westlake Center Tree Lighting 2013 - Christmas Festivities Kick-off at Westlake Center
Each year a Christmas Tree is displayed at Westlake Center and it is lit for the first time the evening after Thanksgiving (also known as Black Friday) as the official beginning of the Seattle Holiday Season.
Westlake Center Tree Lighting, November 2013
Seattle Macy's Christmas Village
Touch the Window to Activate the Trains
A popular holiday tradition for children that has been around since the old days of the Bon Marche, is the Miniature Christmas Village and train. It is still located in the window at the northeast corner of the building that is now Macy's. As a child I loved to touch the specially marked spots on the window to make the the trains go through the snow-covered mountains and into the town.
The Westlake Park Holiday Carousel
Westlake Park Holiday Activities
Right across the street from Westlake Center is Westlake Park, the place to take a ride on an old-fashioned carousel set-up every year just for the holiday season. Cost to ride is a suggested $2 donation to benefit Treehouse a non-profit organization that helps to serve the needs of children in foster care.
What are the Chances of a White Christmas in Seattle?
In the past century Seattle has only had a white Christmas 7 times so the chance of snow in Seattle for Christmas is less than 10%.
Where can the kids visit Santa?
Nordstrom's has Seattle's Best Santa Claus
The best place to visit Santa is at the flagship Nordstrom's at the corner of 6th Avenue and Pine Street. The lines can be long, but this is probably the best Santa experience you and your child will ever have. Mrs. Claus and several elves assist Santa by serving hot apple cider and cookies while you wait. When it is your turn, the photo team is excellent with almost every child feeling comfortable enough to smile for a great photo. After pictures are done, Santa takes his time talking with each child about their Christmas wishes. Most photo packages cost between $20 to $50 and can either be picked up at Nordstrom's or mailed to your home for a modest additional charge.
Santa at Frederick & Nelson in the 1950s
Seattle's Favorite Santa
This is a photo of me with Mrs. Claus taken at Frederick & Nelson's in the 1950s. For over 100 years, children in Seattle visited Santa at Frederick & Nelsons. After Frederick & Nelson went out of business, Nordstrom's moved its flagship store into the building and continued the tradition.
Frango Mints - a Sweet Seattle Holiday Tradition
For many years Frederick and Nelson's was one of the most beloved department stores in Seattle and the Frango Mints they sold were a holiday tradition. Frederick's became absorbed into the Marshall Field company and then it, too went out of business. When Frederick & Nelson closed, the Bon Marche purchased the Frango candy portion of the business and when Macy's bought the Bon Marche, it became the owner of Frangos.
My Favorite Place to go Christmas Shopping
Seattle Pike Place Market Christmas Card
Christmas at the Pike Place Market
Although most major retail chains have a presence in the downtown shopping area, I prefer to walk a few blocks down the street to my favorite place to shop - the Pike Place Market. Each holiday season, I make sure to visit the market at least once to find local products, unique handcrafted gifts and enjoy the holiday ambiance including these decorated pigs pulling Santa's Sleigh. For more information, visit my page about Seattle's Pike Place Market.
Where to See Fantastic Gingerbread Houses?
The Seattle Sheraton Gingerbread Village
For the past 20+ years, the Seattle Sheraton Hotel has hosted a display of fantastic gingerbread houses designed by Seattle architects and created by hotel culinary staff. These amazing works of art are enjoyed by both adults and children. Admission is free, but donations to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation are welcomed. For more photos of more of these masterpieces, visit my page about the Seattle Gingerbread Village.
The Space Needle Decorated for the Holidays
Events at the Seattle Center and Space Needle
Every year the top of the Space Needle is strung with lights that make it appear to have a Christmas Tree sitting on top which can be seen in from many vantage points around the city. Since the Space Needle is located at the Seattle Center, it can be used as a landmark to find more holiday festivites at the Seattle Center Winterfest. There are daily activities including music, ice sculpting demonstrations and an ice skating rink. For more information, here is the Schedule of Winterfest events. For more information and photos of the needle, visit my page about the Space Needle.
The Seattle Christmas Ship Parade
Watch a Flotilla of Boats with Christmas Lights and Decorations
What would Christmas in Seattle be without the Seattle Christmas Ship Festival? Although the festival started modestly on a single weekend over 60 years ago, over the years it has expanded to a month-long celebration. Beginning the weekend after Thanksgiving and continuing until a day or two before Christmas, boats of all sizes form a floating parade and travel in and around the numerous waterways in the Seattle area. Carolers are on board the lead ship and there are stops along way at parks and other locations for performances. People can join in the fun on board the boats or watch from the shore gathered around bonfires. Visit my page about the Seattle Christmas Ship Festival for more photos and information about where you can see the ships.
Where is the Best Seattle Neighborhood Christmas Light Display?
Visit Candy Cane Lane in the Ravenna Neighborhood
Candy Cane Lane is the place to go to see the most fantastic Christmas light display in Seattle. It has been a neighborhood tradition to go all out for Christmas decorations for over 60 years.
Where is Candy Cane Lane?
The name of the street that has become known as "Candy Cane Lane" is actually Northeast Park Road, a loop road connected to Ravenna Blvd at each end.
The Best Nutcracker Ballet
Pacific NW Ballet Nutcracker
A Seattle holiday tradition to add to your bucket list is to attend a performance of Seattle's world renowned Pacific Northwest Ballet's Nutcracker. Pacific Northwest Ballet was founded in 1972 by Francia Russell and Kent Stowell. The Nutcracker was choreographed by Kent Stowell and has been performed since 1983 with the fantastic sets and costumes that were designed in collaboration with children's book author and illustrator, Maurice Sendak. 2014 will be the final performance of Stowell and Sendak's Nutcracker. For more information and tickets, visit Pacific Northwest Ballet's website.
A wide screen DVDr of the 1986 film "Nutcracker: The Motion Picture", featuring the Pacific Northwest Ballet.
Nutcracker - the Movie - Featuring Pacific Northwest Ballet
The 1986 movie "The Nutcracker" features the Pacific Northwest Ballet version that was shown on PBS. If you saw it in Seattle and can't get enough or you aren't able to come to Seattle to see it, you can watch the movie.
Pacific Northwest Ballet Nutcracker
Made in Washington Gift Basket
This is a great assortment of some of the favorite local foods associated with Seattle and Pacific Northwest including: (contents may vary slightly by season)
Rainy Day Roast Coffee
Brown & Haley Candy
Market Spice Tea
Smoked Sockeye Salmon
The Best Gift From Seattle
Seattle has a unique cuisine of locally grown and produced products. A basket full of the local flavors that have made Seattle a foodie's paradise makes a great holiday gift.
Planning a Christmas Holiday Trip to Seattle?
Fortunately for anyone who is planning a Christmas holiday trip to Seattle, it is definitely off-season, so there are lots of hotel bargains available. Most of the Christmas attractions are located in the heart of downtown Seattle which is very compact and walkable. Staying at a hotel near Westlake Center in the downtown core makes it convenient to enjoy the holiday festivities. Compare prices, and read reviews about Seattle hotels on Trip Advisor.
© 2013 Vicki Green
More by this Author
The Washington State Ferry system provides transportation across Puget Sound and to several islands in Washington State. The most traveled route is the voyage from Seattle to Bainbridge Island.
What did people in the 1960s imagine the world would be like in the year 2000? Take a step back in time to the 1962 Seattle World's Fair to see how accurately the future of technology was predicted.
Descend under the streets of Seattle's historic Pioneer Square district and discover the hidden old frontier town of Seattle as it was before the great Seattle fire of 1889.