Experience Olympia & Beyond: A Decidedly Different Christmas Story

The weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are by far my favorite. It’s all about long-standing traditions with family and creating a lifetime of memories. In my house, nothing goes better with that extra piece of Thanksgiving pie than settling in to watch A Christmas Story.

Santa rides in style with Lacey Fire in the annual Lacey Parade of Lights. Photo courtesy: Experience Olympia & Beyond and City of Lacey.

“Christmas [is] on its way. Lovely, glorious, beautiful Christmas around which the entire kid year revolved,” as the narrator so eloquently puts it. This quintessential holiday classic reminds me of everything I love about the holiday season. The twinkling store front displays, fresh cut Christmas trees, festive parades and, of course, the joyful (albeit freighting) visit with Santa. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, Ralphie, the main character and narrator, reflects on the merriment and joy leading up to Christmas in his snowy, quaint midwestern town.

While every town offers ways to celebrate, it’s always fun to load up the family and get out and explore. Thurston County has plenty of decidedly different ways to welcome the holidays. Whether you want to make a day of it or spend a weekend, Experience Olympia & Beyond offers a few suggestions to help you create your own Christmas story (Red Rider BB Gun optional).

Shop for Fresh Cut Christmas Trees

Olympia’s Downtown for the Holidays Jingle Bell Parade always delights with festive floats and smiling faces. Photo credit: Julie Alonso.

Thurston County, home of the bountiful byway, is the perfect place to get your fresh-cut tree and other farm fresh goodies. Sure, you can buy a tree most anywhere, but if you’re looking for an experience, visit Hunter’s Tree Farm, located at 741 Yelm Hwy SE in Olympia. It’s like a trip to Santa’s workshop (or at least his stables), complete with wood burning stove, live reindeer and free hot cocoa and coffee in Mrs. Claus’ kitchen. And on the first three weekends in December, you can even meet the big guy himself.

Another great option for artisan holiday decor, farm fresh foods, trees and evergreen wreaths is Schilter’s Family Farm, located at 141 Nisqually Cutoff Road SE in Olympia. A visit to the nativity scene in the 140 plus year-old barn offers a sense of peace you won’t find elsewhere. And don’t forget to grab some of their delicious homemade fudge to fill a stocking or two.

Downtown for the Holidays

Stop by to see Santa on the first three weekends in December at Schilter’s Family Farm. Photo courtesy: Experience Olympia & Beyond and Schilter’s Family Farm.

If you’re looking for a good old-fashioned hometown experience, ring in the holiday season with Olympia’s Downtown for the Holidays, Sunday, November 25. Best known for the Jingle Bell Parade and the annual tree lighting ceremony held in Sylvester Park, this hallmark event hosts family-friendly festivities all day. Step in out of the cold and back in time as the historic Hotel Olympian is transformed into a scene right out of the North Pole. Get your photo with Santa and Mrs. Claus before swinging by the Washington Center for the Performing Arts to view and vote on the elaborate, delicious smelling gingerbread houses and castles on display. Then come back at 5:00 p.m. in your best circus attire or Victorian apparel and take part in the Greatest Showman Sing-Along. Get a detailed list of the festivities by visiting the Olympia Downtown Alliance website.

No trip downtown, especially during the holidays, is complete without window shopping. Grab a hot beverage and meander the cozy blocks of downtown Olympia’s shopping scene. Watch as store fronts come alive for Twinkle Fest and pick up a unique gift for friends or family. This annual holiday decorating contest runs all season offering patrons an opportunity to vote for their favorite and win prizes.

Oly on Ice

Ring in the New Year family-style with the Hands on Children’s Museum’s Noon Years Eve Party in Olympia.
Photo courtesy: Experience Olympia & Beyond and Hands on Children’s Museum.

Olympia is celebrating the opening of the area’s first outdoor ice rink – Oly on Ice, located at the new Isthmus Park. Nothing says winter merriment quite like ice skating with family. The fully equipped rink will open every day (except Thanksgiving) beginning November 16 and January 6, with the grand opening celebration on Sunday, November 25 during Olympia’s Downtown for the Holidays. For a decidedly different experience, meet your favorite Nutcracker characters or dress-up like a super hero during the themed skate nights, every Thursday following Thanksgiving from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. 

Look at the Lights

For a different take on traditional light displays and parades, there are two unique options in Thurston County – one by land, the other by sea. On Saturday, December 1, head over to Olympia’s Port Plaza to watch the annual Parade of Lighted Ships. Santa and cheerful carolers welcome the fleet of floating merriment at 6:00 p.m. For an experience out of the elements, make reservations at one of the area’s portside restaurants. On December 3, bundle up and head over to Sleater-Kinney and 7th Ave SE in Lacey for the Lacey Parade of Lights at 6:30 p.m. This homegrown event features vehicles of all shapes and sizes decked out in thousands of twinkling lights. Then stay around for the annual tree lighting in Huntamer Park.

Everyone will find delight as ships twinkle in the night for Olympia’s annual Lighted Boat Parade. Photo courtesy: Experience Olympia & Beyond and Yacht Club.

For those that love fire trucks and caroling, swing into the Tumwater Christmas Tree Lighting Festival on December 8 from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. Local choirs fill the Tumwater Fire Station with holiday cheer, while the community takes part in free crafts and games as they await Santa’s arrival on the antique fire truck.

And if you’re looking for a family-friendly way to celebrate the end of 2018, round out the holidays at the Noon Year’s Eve Party at Olympia’s Hands on Children’s Museum. This fun spin on New York City’s celebration is for the kid in all of us. Meet storybook characters, do crafts and experience the ball drop every hour (without missing out on any beauty sleep)!

There are more than enough reasons to spend your holidays in and around Thurston County. Spend a day or weekend creating your own decidedly different Christmas story. For help planning your stay, visit the Experience Olympia & Beyond website or give them a call at 360-704-7544.


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