Looking for Holiday Fun? Here Are the Most Popular Displays and Events Around Columbus

From enormous Christmas displays to historical events and beloved arts performances, Central Ohio families have plenty of seasonal offerings to choose from—many of them free.

Compiled by Brooke Preston
Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

Many of Central Ohio’s most beloved holiday displays and events are back in action this year—with a delightful blend of time-honored traditions and new happenings to keep those chilly nights merry and bright. Always check with venues about special COVID-19 protocols.

So you can easily find something that suits your family’s schedule, the list is organized chronologically in two categories: short-run and one-day events, followed by ongoing events—generally longer-duration offerings that include most theatrical productions, holiday lights and more. Many of the latter run into the new year.

DATED EVENTS

Dec. 2

FREE! Ohio Statehouse Holiday Festival and Tree Lighting, Santa Claus and historical characters will be on hand for this annual celebration. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Ohio Statehouse, 1 Capitol Square, Columbus. ohiostatehouse.org

Dec. 3

FREE! Whitehall Winter Wonderland, Experience holiday cheer from the city’s annual celebration and holiday tree lighting. Activities include an appearance by Santa Claus, a screening of “Frozen,” photo opportunities with characters, train rides, a chance to write a letter to Santa, and holiday arts and crafts. 6-8 p.m. The Kelley Green, 105 Norton Park Drive, Whitehall, whitehall-oh.us

Dec. 3-5

Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops, The Columbus Symphony’s holiday tradition is back with audience-favorite songs and carols, plus a visit from Santa. This year’s show features the Columbus Children’s Choir, Broadway performer Capathia Jenkins and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Stuart Chafetz. 8 p.m. Friday, and 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets start at $25. Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St., Columbus. columbussymphony.com

Dec. 3-5

FREE! Main Street Delaware’s Home for the Holidays Weekend, Bring the family to meet Santa Claus, take a horse-drawn carriage ride, try a scavenger hunt and enjoy the lights and sights of Main Street. The annual Christmas parade will take place Dec. 5. Check website for activity times. Downtown Delaware. mainstreetdelaware.com

Dec. 3-12 (select dates)

“The Nutcracker,” The New Albany Children’s Ballet Theatre will assemble more than 220 youth and professional dancers to bring “The Nutcracker” to life. Tickets start at $28.50. Livestream tickets also are available. See website for times and details. McCoy Center for the Arts, 100 W. Dublin-Granville Road, New Albany. newalbanyballet.com/performances/the-nutcracker

Dec. 4

FREE! Discovery District Holiday Trolley Hop, Take a free trolley ride and stop at cultural institutions and stores in the Discovery District neighborhood in Downtown Columbus. Noon to 4 p.m. Start the hop at Columbus Metropolitan Library’s Main branch, 96 S. Grant Ave., or the Kelton House Museum & Garden, 586 E. Town St. columbusmakesart.com/event/41447-discovery-district-holiday-trolley-hop

Dec. 4

“A Hip-Hop Nutcracker,” CAPA is bringing back this holiday production, which blends contemporary dance with Tchaikovsky’s musical masterpiece. The cast includes a dozen dancers, a DJ, an electric violinist and a short set from hip-hop legend Kurtis Blow, who performs a short set. Tickets start at $30.50. 8 p.m. Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St., Columbus. capa.com

Columbus Symphony Holiday Pops takes the stage Dec. 3-5 at the Ohio Theatre.

Dec. 4

FREE! Short North Holiday Hop, Walk the Short North Arts District, catch holiday performances and visit local businesses and galleries at this annual event, which is the year’s final Gallery Hop. 4-10 p.m. shortnorth.org/events/holiday-hop-2021

Dec. 4

FREE! WinterFest, This Columbus Recreation and Parks Department event returns, featuring national and local musicians, food trucks and beer from local breweries. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Scioto Mile, Downtown Columbus. sciotomile.com/winterfest

Dec. 5

FREE! Village Lights, Stroll the streets of German Village, get a picture with Santa Claus, shop area businesses and stop at the StrietzelMarkt outside the German Village Society, featuring vendors and live music. 5-9 p.m. Streets of German Village. germanvillage.com/event/village-lights-2

Dec 10-23

“A Christmas Story: The Musical,” This musical, which received rave reviews in its Broadway run, arrives just in time for the holidays. The Columbus Children’s Theatre production features all the iconic elements from the movie: Ralphie’s friend, Flick, getting his tongue stuck to the flagpole; his brother, Randy, getting dressed in his snowsuit; the leg lamp; the bunny suit; and more. The production includes songs by Broadway veterans Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. Tickets start at $16.50. Times vary. Lincoln Theatre, 769 E. Long St., Columbus. columbuschildrenstheatre.org

“A Magical Cirque Christmas” comes to the Palace Theatre on Dec. 10.

Dec. 10

“A Magical Cirque Christmas,” Performers and cirque artists from around the world will entertain attendees while accompanied by live holiday music in this family-friendly event. 7:30 p.m. Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad St., Columbus. Tickets start at $39. capa.com

Dec. 10-26

“The Nutcracker,” Central Ohio’s favorite holiday tradition is back, and BalletMet is ready to delight families with its signature production of Tchaikovsky’s vibrant and fantastical ballet. Tickets start at $63.25. Times vary. Ohio Theatre, 39 E. State St. (Downtown), Columbus. balletmet.org

Dec. 18

Santa & the Symphony – Sensory Friendly, The New Albany Symphony Orchestra will stage a sensory-friendly concert geared to guests on the autism spectrum, young families and those with dementia/Alzheimer’s. Tickets are $9. 4-5 p.m., McCoy Center for the Arts, 100 W. Dublin-Granville Road, New Albany. mccoycenter.org

Dec. 19

Holiday Spectacular, The New Albany Symphony Orchestra will join the New Albany Symphony Chorus for a concert full of holiday favorites. Tickets start at $18. 3-5 p.m., McCoy Center for the Arts, 100 W. Dublin-Granville Road, New Albany. newalbanysymphony.com

The Huntington Holiday Train at Columbus Metropolitan Library will be on display through Jan. 8, 2022.

ONGOING EVENTS

Through Dec. 3

Video Message from Santa, The Ohio Herb Center has again teamed up with Santa Claus to send children a personalized video message from St. Nick. Each ticket includes a recorded video that will be sent via email, as well as ingredients for gourmet hot chocolate and a treat from Nothing Bundt Cakes. $25. gahannaconventionvisitorsburea.thundertix.com

Through Dec. 12

“Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins,” This CATCO stage adaptation of the award-winning children’s book by Eric Kimmel follows folk hero Hershel of Ostropol as he saves Hanukkah from a group of goblins. The production, which features music and puppetry, is recommended for ages 6 and older. Tickets start at $15. Studio Two, Riffe Center, 77 S. High St., Columbus. catco.org

Through Dec. 12

FREE! Socially Distanced Santa at Oakland Nursery, Santa is stopping by all Oakland Nursery locations on Saturdays and Sundays. Santa’s reindeer will visit the Columbus location from noon to 3 p.m. Dec. 11. Noon to 3:30 p.m. oaklandnursery.com

Through Dec. 19

Dickens of a Christmas, The Ohio History Connection transports visitors back to the time of Charles Dickens with music, holiday decorations, crafting, cooking demonstrations and a chance to interact with characters from “A Christmas Carol.” 5:30-9 p.m. Saturdays and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $16 for adults, $12 for children ages 4-12, free for ages 3 and younger. Advance purchase is required. Ohio Village, 800 E. 17th Ave., Columbus. ohiohistory.org

Through Dec. 23

Gifts of the Craftsmen, The Ohio Craft Museum’s annual holiday sale features more than 125 artists from across the country. Items include jewelry, pottery, wood cutting boards, puppets, ornaments and more. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Ohio Craft Museum, 1665 W. Fifth Ave., Columbus. ohiocraft.org

Through Jan. 2

Butch Bando’s Fantasy of Lights, This popular annual event, formerly the Alum Creek Fantasy of Lights, has been operating since 1999. The drive-thru display offers numerous holiday scenes. $20 to $30 per car; $80 season pass. Online ticketing is available. 5:30-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 5:30-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. An adjacent Santa House at Cross Creek Camping Resort offers free Santa visits and photos for a fee. Alum Creek State Park Campgrounds, 3311 S. Old State Road, Delaware. butchbandosfantasyoflights.com

Through Jan. 2

FREE! Holiday Lights at Columbus Commons, Take in the spectacle of more than 400,000 festive lights at John F. Wolfe Columbus Commons, a display that’s celebrating its 11th year. Stop by on Festive Fridays (Dec. 3, 10 and 17) for live music, free hot chocolate and carousel rides. Dusk to 11 p.m. daily. 160 S. High St., Columbus. columbuscommons.org.

Through Jan. 2

FREE! Lazarus Building Holiday Display, Take a stroll and enjoy the holiday displays in the windows of the former Lazarus department store. 50 W. Town St. (Downtown), Columbus.

Through Jan. 2

Wildlights at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, The 33rd edition of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium’s family tradition includes millions of LED lights, socially distanced visits and photos with Santa Claus (through Dec. 23), camel rides, holiday train and carousel rides, animated light shows and more. 5-9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, 5-10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Display and some activities are included with standard admission. Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, 4850 Powell Road, Powell. columbuszoo.org

Through Jan. 3

FREE! Holiday Lights on the Scioto Mile, More than 250,000 lights will illuminate the Scioto Mile from Bicentennial Park to Broad Street. The display is presented by the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department. Dusk to dawn nightly. Bicentennial Park, 233 Civic Center Drive, Columbus. sciotomile.com

Through Jan. 3

FREE! State Auto’s Christmas Corner, The Columbus-based insurance company has featured a life-size, lighted nativity at its headquarters since 1931. A ceremonial lighting featuring the Columbus Children’s Choir will take place at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 1, with additional weekend musical performances to be announced. Hours are 6-8 a.m. and 5-11:30 p.m. daily, until 12:30 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays; 3 p.m. Christmas Eve until 8 a.m. Christmas Day. State Auto Insurance Companies, 518 E. Broad St., Columbus. stateauto.com/christmas

Through Jan. 8

FREE! Huntington Holiday Train, Columbus Metropolitan Library hosts the 29th installment of the Huntington Holiday Train, a beloved seasonal favorite for many families. Main Library, 96 S. Grant Ave., Columbus. The train can be viewed during library hours. columbuslibrary.org

Through Jan. 9

Conservatory Aglow and Holiday Blooms, Highlights of the annual Conservatory Aglow nighttime event include outdoor lighted displays and shows, trees of glass-blown ornaments and a life-size gingerbread house. A variety of entertainers will perform on select evenings, and the Paul Busse Garden Railway will be adorned with lights. Santa and two live reindeer will visit Dec. 18 and 19. Special engagement rates apply. The event runs 5-9 p.m. Holiday Blooms features seasonal décor, visitor-favorite poinsettia trees and themed vignettes. It is included with admission and takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, 1777 E. Broad St., Columbus. fpconservatory.org

Through Early January

FREE! Easton Holiday Lights, Shoppers and Town Square passersby can view oversized trees and displays decked with more than 2 million holiday lights, including the 50-foot holiday tree’s light show, synced to music every five minutes. Horse-drawn carriage rides, visits with Santa and more will happen on select evenings throughout the season; check the website for details. While the tree and holiday décor will come down in January, many of the lights will remain through daylight saving time in March to extend the cheer, according to Easton’s chief executive, Jennifer Peterson. Easton, 160 Easton Town Center, Columbus. eastontowncenter.com

This is an expanded list of events from the Winter 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.