Crispness in the air. Angelic voices singing carols. Snow blanketing the upper peaks. Simply put, Christmas in the Sierra Nevada is a very special time. And for those wanting something unique to do, here’s a few ye ole traditions happening across the High Sierra.
Open Houses Of Calaveras – Like Being In A Normal Rockwell Painting
Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow. Spending a weekend in Calaveras County from Thanksgiving through New Years, you’ll feel as though you’re in Nat King Cole’s song. From enjoying hygge to sipping on a glass o’ red during a wine stroll through historic gold rush era towns, each of Calaveras County’s charming small-towns provides a unique experience that you need to see in person. For the full run-down of events and activities, check out the Holiday Magic page.
Candy Cane Lane Parade – Oldest In The Central Valley
You know it’s the Monday after Thanksgiving when hundreds claim their “spot” on Main Street in Visalia for the Candy Cane Lane Parade. In its 75th year, this is no longer just a parade, but rather a true tradition for generations. With a cup of hot cocoa and possibly a warm jacket, kids as well as adults usher in the holiday spirit at the longest running nighttime Christmas parade in the Central Valley.
Downtown Sonora Christmas Parade – A Glimpse Into Parades Of Yore
Have you ever wondered what Christmas holiday events were like 100 years ago? Well, you don’t have to guess anymore. This charming small-town holiday event is known as the downtown Sonora Christmas Parade. It’s filled with bright lights, floats, antique cars, and sounds of the holidays from marching bands. You’ll definitely get the feeling of what it was like a century ago. In its 36th year, it’s always the Friday after Thanksgiving and starts promptly at 5:30 pm rain or shine.
Tree Lighting & Street Of Lights – Bishop’s Time Honored Tradition
The first Saturday of December in Bishop is one that should be on everyone’s calendars, just like their Mule Days. The annual get together of visitors and residents alike begins with a Christmas Parade full of lighted floats marching down Main Street up to the City Park for the Christmas Tree lighting ceremony. From there, it’s off to the Street of Lights party. Within the downtown area, you’ll find warming fires, carolers, live music, Mr & Mrs. Claus, and merchants staying open until 8pm offering tasty treats like hot cocoa and soup. If you have kiddos another great event to consider during the holidays is Railroad Express event at Laws Museum on 12/14. Families will enjoy train rides, crafts, refreshments, wagon rides and of course a visit with Santa.
Bracebridge Dinner – A Century Of History
Originally dreamt of by the famed photographer Ansel Adams himself, this event isn’t just a simple dinner. Rather, it’s an opportunity to see how Christmas was enjoyed in the 1820s. Inspired by Washington Irving’s 1820 tale, The Sketch Book, it has over 100 cast members that portray the Squire and his family. This highly entertaining three hour-long multi-course dining experience is only available during the month of December. Top it off with a weekend of Christmas traditions around Yosemite by enjoying the Merry Mountain Christmas Parade and tree lighting. The evening begins with a parade down historic Highway 140 in Mariposa and finishes off with a tree lighting ceremony at Mariposa’s historic courthouse. Looking for activities to help fill your time between holiday gatherings? Check out Mariposa county’s full run-down of holiday shenanigans from turkey day to New Year’s they got you covered.
Night Of Lights – Mammoth’s Wintry Celebration
Across the Sierra Nevada to the east side of the mountain range is a long-standing tradition in Mammoth Lakes to usher in the wintry season. Celebrating the magic of snow and the holidays, the Night of Lights offers a spectacular display like no other mountain. The event features a stunning fireworks show, a torchlight parade, live music, and much more all against the backdrop of Mammoth Mountain itself.
Northern Lights – A Tradition Returns To The Shores Of Tahoe
Just like the Aurora Borealis up north, the Northern Lights festivities on the shores of Lake Tahoe are your reward for embracing the chilliest weather of the season. Just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean the amount of festivities are slowing down. In fact, starting in November, there will be a full month of events such as the Tahoe Film Fest, Pray for Snow Party, Santa Crawl, Diamond Peak’s kick off celebration, and much more. Come experience the return of the popular 1990’s Incline Village and Crystal Bay event that’s now even bigger and better! Not enough? Well head to Tahoe North’s winter page to find your winter wow!
From the foothills to the highest peaks, this is your chance to explore the many fun Christmas traditions going on throughout the High Sierra.
Author: Alex Silgalis
Alex Silgalis is an outdoors travel writer who enjoys snowboarding, mountain biking, or having a cold one from a local mountain brewery. See more of Alex’s work at https://localfreshies.com
Stay Up to Date
Join our mailing list for updates on hidden gems, events, and more from California's High Sierra.