Discover Charleston

9 Lowcountry Holiday Traditions

If you’re in Charleston during the holiday season, you’re in luck. With thousands of sparkling lights, singing carolers, inviting fireplaces and steaming cups of cocoa, the historic streets of Charleston are the perfect place to enjoy the festivities. Join in on the fun with one of our top nine favorite Lowcountry traditions.

Check everyone off your list at the annual
Charleston’s Holiday Market (Nov. 11-13). This gift-shopping expo includes aisle after aisle of merchandise from specialty shops, local boutiques, artists, toy stores, jewelers and more. Score some great gifts or some new holiday décor to deck your halls. Don’t forget to bring your camera to take pictures of the little ones with Santa! Charleston Area Convention Center, 5001 Coliseum Drive, North Charleston.

Grab the family and head to James Island County Park for the 22nd annual
Holiday Festival of Lights (Nov. 11-Jan. 1). After the three-mile drive through millions of twinkling bulbs, journey through more than 600 light displays on the Enchanted Walking Trails, take a tour on the festival train or a whirl on the old-fashioned carousel. Kids will love roasting marshmallows, sipping hot chocolate and visiting Santa’s Village and Winter Wonderland for a visit with Santa. $12 per vehicle. 871 Riverland Drive; 843.795.7275.

Help the Lowcountry usher in the holiday season at the
Charleston Christmas Tree Lighting (Dec. 3). Join Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. and Santa Claus as they light the 60-foot Tree of Lights, the official City of Charleston Christmas Tree, in Marion Square. Music and entertainment begin at 4:30 pm, and the lighting ceremony begins at 6. Corner of King and Calhoun streets. 843.724.7309

Get on board with a Lowcountry holiday tradition that provides a magnificent waterfront view during the annual
Parade of Boats (Dec. 3). Lighted and decorated festive boats will parade from the Cooper River, through the Charleston Harbor and into the Ashley River, culminating in a brilliant fireworks display over the harbor. Official viewing sites are Waterfront Park, the USS Yorktown and the Battery Area. Parade begins along Mount Pleasant at 5 pm; viewing from the peninsula begins at 6:30 pm; and fireworks begin at approximately 6:45 pm. 843.724.7305

If you like your parades more on solid ground, don’t miss the
Charleston Christmas Parade downtown Dec. 4. This holiday tradition includes bands, floats, marchers and performers who parade through downtown beginning at the intersection of Calhoun and Meeting Streets. The processional will continue down King Street before disbanding at Lockwood Boulevard. 2-5 pm. 843.720.1981.

Enjoy a historical Christmas at the Edmondston-Alston House during
Christmas 1860 by Candlelight (Dec. 3 and 9). Relive the last Charleston Christmas before the Civil War through this candlelight tour of the historic house and stories told by living historians dressed in period clothing. In the courtyard, enjoy hot cider and Christmas carols sung by Lowcountry singers specializing in African-American spirituals and Gullah songs. Tickets $17.50. 21 E. Battery, 843.722.7171 or

Join the College of Charleston’s Jewish studies program and other community programs in celebrating the beginning of Hanukkah during
Chanukah in the Square (Dec. 20). The event will include the traditional lighting of the candles by a local Holocaust survivor, live music, hot latkes, doughnuts, a jump castle and more. Corner of King and Calhoun streets, 4-6 pm; 843.953.5682.

Ring in 2012 during
Happy New Year, Charleston! (Dec. 31). This community celebration offers a nonalcholoic and family-oriented alternative program to celebrate the New Year in the Lowcountry. This city-wide, admission-free program has something for everyone: comedy, African dancing, many forms of music, including classical and jazz, children’s activities and much more. The fun starts in Marion Square and surrounding locations at 4 pm and runs until 10:30 pm. Corner of King and Calhoun streets. 843.724.7305

Start the New Year off with a chilly dip during Charleston’s biggest New Year’s Day tradition, the annual
Dunleavy’s Pub Polar Bear Plunge (Jan. 1). Thousands brave the cold waters on Sullivan’s Island each year as they make the dash from beach to ocean in swimsuits, coats or full costumes. While the icy plunge is free, donations to the Special Olympics of South Carolina will be accepted. Sullivan’s Island, 2 pm. 843.795.5316.