The Best Holiday Events in Portland That Survived the Pandemic

Rose Bak

You can be COVID-safe and still enjoy some of your Christmas favorites.

Photo by Salomie Lemos on Unsplash

Looking for some unique but safe holiday fun in Portland this year?

Pandemic related closures have resulted in a moratorium on many of our traditional Northwest holiday events this year. But don’t despair -- you can still find some great social distanced COVID-safe activities to get yourself into the Christmas spirit.

Here is your guide to some of the fun December activities that are still going on and can be enjoyed safely.

Holiday Light Shows:

Unfortunately Peacock Lane has been canceled and both the Grotto and Pittock Mansion shows are closed, but there are still some light shows you can check out:

· Zoo Lights: The Oregon Zoo has re-tooled this annual celebration to make it a drive-through event. You can see the 1.5 million lights from the comfort of your car, and even pre-order your favorite snacks to enjoy as you cruise past the sites. Zoo Lights is open nightly until January 10th (except for December 25th)> For more information check out the Zoo Lights webpage.

· Portland International Raceway’s Winter Wonderland has eliminated options for walking or biking, but you can still drive on the racetrack to see the 12 Days of Christmas. Don’t miss this one, it’s billed as the largest winter light show in the Northwest. Visitors will be welcomed through January 2nd. Click here for ticket information.

· Lots of homeowners are getting into the spirit this year. More time at home means more time to decorate. The neighborhood focused social media site Next Door has even created a map of where you can check out the best light displays. Use their Holiday Cheer map to plan your family outing and if the Christmas spirit moves you, add your own home to the map.

· The Christmas ships are still cruising, at least through December 22nd. With routes on both the Columbia and the Willamette, you can safely watch the parade of ships from several vantage points. Find your closest location here.

Performing Arts:

Many people enjoy live holiday-themed performances. Generations of families have gone to see the Nutcracker or the Singing Christmas tree but there’s no reason to be disappointed this year. Several shows are broadcasting on television or via Livestream.

Sure, we are all sick of watching screens after so many months, but you can support the arts and still maintain some of your holiday traditions by hosting a home viewing party with your household members. Dress up in your favorite Christmas sweater, bake some cookies, and pour yourself some eggnog while you enjoy these options:

· The Oregon Ballet Theater is hosting the “Nutcracker Romp”. Although this isn’t a full performance of the beloved holiday event, you can still watch the Sugarplum Fairies dance in OBT’s highlights of past shows while enjoying snacks from Elephants Deli. The event is happening on December 19th, so sign up today.

· Portland’s Singing Christmas Tree is streaming this year and available through January 1st. Like the Nutcracker, this performance is a compilation of past shows, interviews and a presentation on the history of the show. Get your access here.

· If Baroque is your jam, check out Portland Baroque Orchestra’s “Pocket Messiah” performance December 20th. Tickets give you access to an exclusive Youtube broadcast.

· The Portland Youth Philharmonic is livestreaming their annual “Concert at Christmas” on December 26th. This virtual event is offered on a sliding scale, so you can pay what you can. You can find tickets at the Portland 5 website.

· You can get your Ebineezer Scrooge fix with Portland Center Stage’s offering a Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”. Available on demand through January 3rd, this is a specially staged performance specifically for the home audience. For more information click here.

· Black Portland is offering a home dance party in collaboration with Open Signal. This fun event will bring DJs and dance music to your living room on December 19th. Put on your dancing shoes and enjoy the music.

For the kids:

The lack of holiday events can be especially disappointing for the kids. Consider some of these COVID-safe alternatives to spread some holiday cheer to the little people in your life:

· Oaks Park is offering the Cinnamon Bear Sing-a-long show throughout December. After 80 years of performances, the folks at Oak Park have redesigned the performance so that kids and families can enjoy the show from their vehicles. Snacks and sourvenirs are also available. Ticket and show times are available on the Oaks Park webpage.

· Santa is requiring both masks and reservations this year. Major area malls including Lloyd Center, Washington Square, Pioneer Square and Clackamas Town Center are offering safe options for visits with Santa, including both socially distanced and virtual options.

· For all the Harry Potter fans out there, PDXpelliarmus is offering a Virtual Yule Ball. The multi-day event includes storytime, music, a Triwizard tournament, raffle and more. Get your tickets here.

Holiday Bazaars and Last Minute Shopping:

Most of the in-person bazaars had to be canceled this year, but there are a mixture of online and socially distanced options available for you to find unique gifts and support your local artists.

· The Portland Bazaar is completely online this year. You can check out their webpage to find gift boxes, jewelery, local art and more.

· The Portland Mercado offers a weekly Winter Mercado on Saturdays afternoon. Indoor spaces are closed but there’s plenty of room outside to enjoy some of the best local food carts and pick up some unique gifts.

· The Montavilla Farmer’s Market is offering a Holiday Market on December 20th. Booths are spaced out for extra social distancing and only a limited number of shoppers – with masks – will be admitted.

· Support local Portland small businesses by checking out Winterland. This traveling event features winter themed art pieces done by the BIPOC community and creates opportunities to check out local businesses where you can stock up on your Christmas presents.

The Great Outdoors:

There won’t be carolers or lights, but spending some time in the great outdoors can be its own celebration. Oregon is blessed to have a variety of great places to hike and commune with nature. Bundle up the family, put on your hiking shoes and get outdoors by taking a day trip to the Columbia Gorge, the Oregon Coast, or one of the Mt. Hood ski areas. If you want to stay closer to home, go take a walk in Forest Park, Mt. Tabor or Powell Butte.


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Rose Bak is a freelance writer who lives in Portland, Oregon with her family and special needs dogs. She writes on a variety of topics including local news, homelessness, poverty, relationships, yoga, and aging. She is also a published author of romantic fiction. For more of Rose's work, visit her website at or follow her on social media @AuthorRoseBak.

Portland, OR

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