10 of the Best Free Christmas Events in Orlando
10 of the Best Free Christmas Events in Orlando
“I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time … as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time, the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.” – Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Visitors to Orlando during the Christmas season almost invariably tend to gravitate exclusively to the amazing (and overwhelmingly crowded!) holiday celebrations at the world-famous theme parks such as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World Resort, Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular at Universal Orlando Resort and the Christmas Celebration at SeaWorld Orlando. However, if you prefer your Orlando Christmas celebrations with fewer crowds and (like me) you'd love to surf the yuletide without dorwning in debt, make sure to put a pin in some of these free things to do in Orlando, Florida, for families. Without further ado, here are 10 of the best free Christmas events in Orlando annually:
1 | Orlando Citrus Bowl Parade | Held annually during the last week in December (Saturday, December 29 to be exact for 2018), the Orlando Citrus Bowl Parade draws more than 50,000 spectators and participants. One of the largest sports affiliated parades in the United States, the Orlando Citrus Bowl Parade serves to mark two annual Central Florida college football games: Camping World Bowl (West Virginia vs. Syracuse) and Citrus Bowl (Kentucky vs. Penn State). Highlights of the Orlando Citrus Bowl Parade include high school and college marching bands, specialty performance groups, Disney cartoon characters, giant helium balloons and huge citrus floats decorated with oranges, grapefruits, lemons and tangerines. The Parade, which will be supporting Give Kids the World Village nonprofit resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families, will feature appearances by local and national celebrities, including baseball legend Johnny Damon (Grand Marshal), singer-songwriters Alyssa Raghu (American Idol) and Sisaundra Lewis (The Voice), country music artists Jo Dee Messina and Charly Reynolds, Miss America 2019 Nia Franklin, actor Michael Campion (Fuller House), contemporary Christian music artist MARi and neo-traditional country singer Ty Herndon. Although the Orlando Citrus Bowl Parade grandstand and broadcast area is located on Rosalind Avenue adjacent to Lake Eola, curbside seating is available all along the streets of downtown Orlando.
2 | City of Orlando Tree Lighting Celebration | One of the highlights of the Orlando holiday season is a chance to view the 72-foot Christmas tree at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando. Although the free tree-lighting ceremony takes place annually in late November with live music and performances, along with an appearance by The Daily City’s Food Truck Bazaar, the Christmas tree itself is available to view anytime throughout the holiday season (see No. 6). Give this stroll around the lake a go, and you'll agree that this scene really does make the season bright!
3 | Holiday Concert at Lake Eola | The immensely popular Holiday Concert at Lake Eola Park takes place in early December and features the talents of the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra performing holiday-inspired classics. Although the performance is free to the public, attendees are encouraged to bring a new, unwrapped toy to support the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program. The Holiday Concert at Lake Eola is also broadcast live by WKMG Local 6. Formed more than 62 years ago, the Florida Symphony Youth Orchestra serves nearly 300 students and consists of seven ensembles: three symphonic orchestras, one string-trained orchestra, two jazz orchestras and a chamber orchestra.
4 | Now Snowing in Celebration | Billed as “Florida’s original and premier ‘snowing’ event,” Now Snowing in Celebration runs nightly until December 31 and features one of Central Florida’s only synthetic ice rinks, live performances, strolling carolers, horse-drawn carriage rides, photos with Santa Claus, train rides and nightly snowfalls at 6 PM, 7 PM, 8 PM and 9 PM. Note that only the nightly snowfall is free, while there are charges for the other activities connected with the event. A true winter wonderland spectacular, Now Snowing in Celebration takes place at the master planned community originally founded by the Walt Disney Company located off Highway 192 just east of Walt Disney World Resort.
5 | Holiday Movies at Lake Eola Park | Grab a blanket and head to downtown Orlando on select evenings to get your Christmas movie fix with a free screening of such holiday classics as Elf (2003) starring Will Ferrell and screening on December 9, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000) starring Jim Carrey and screening on December 16 and A Christmas Story (1983) starring Peter Billingsley and screening on December 23. All holiday movies will begin promptly at 7 PM.
6 | Eola Wonderland Christmas Tree Show | Even if you happened to miss the City of Orlando Tree Lighting Celebration (see No. 2), you can view the free Eola Wonderland Christmas Tree show near the Walt Disney Amphitheater at Lake Eola Park in downtown Orlando and watch the 72-foot Christmas tree come alive with a spectacular light and music extravaganza nightly at 5:45 PM, 6:45 PM, 7:45 PM, 8:45 PM and 9:45 PM. Don’t miss it!
7 | Holidays at Disney Springs | Few places in Central Florida are more festive than the 120-acre Disney Springs shopping, dining and entertainment complex at Walt Disney World Resort – and best of all there is no charge to wander around and join in all the holiday cheer! Highlights include “a sleigh full of festive experiences” such as live entertainment, seasonal treats, falling snow, brightly decorated Christmas trees, Santa’s Chalet and more. By the way, Disney Springs first opened in 1975 as the Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village and was known for many years as Downtown Disney before morphing into its present form with four distinctive areas: The Landing, Marketplace, West Side and Town Center.
8 | Light Up Mount Dora | Each holiday season, the charming town of Mount Dora, which lies just northwest of Orlando, is illuminated with two million sparkling Christmas lights! Known as the “Festival City,” Mount Dora lives up to its name with a myriad of holiday-related events (some free and some not), including Light Up Mount Dora, Mount Dora Christmas Walk, Mount Dora Christmas Parade, Christmas Lighted Boat Parade and Christmas Tour of Homes. If you can’t make any of these specific holiday events, simply head up to Mount Dora on any night in December and marvel at the holiday lights. It’s well worth your time and will surely be one of the highlights of your holiday season!
9 | Fort Christmas Cracker Christmas | A Central Florida holiday tradition since 1979, the free Fort Christmas Cracker Christmas takes place during the first weekend in December at the Fort Christmas Historical Park in Christmas, Florida. Highlights include pioneer demonstrations, craft fair, Civil War artifact displays and Southern-style cuisine. Don’t miss the opportunity to get an official Christmas, Florida, postmark on your Christmas cards! By the way, Christmas served as the birthplace of noted American sculptor James Hughlette “Tex” Wheeler (1901-54), best known for his famous sculpture of the racehorse Seabiscuit, which can be found at Santa Anita racetrack in California. Christmas is also home to Jungle Adventures animal park, home to the “World’s Largest Gator!”
10 | Light Up UCF Holiday Film Festival | One of the most highly anticipated Orlando holiday events each year, Light Up UCF features a free Holiday Film Festival where guests can enjoy classic holiday films screened outdoors on a huge two-story movie screen. The 2018 holiday film lineup includes Home Alone (December 7), Home Alone 2 (December 8), A Christmas Story (December 14), The Polar Express (December 15), Disney’s A Christmas Carol (December 21), Elf (December 22), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (December 28) and Frozen (December 29). But the film festival is really only the beginning of festivities as you explore what it's like to live a 'Wonderful Campus Life' on the decked out campus-turned-techno-light-show of UCF's impressive holiday event.
Jump into the middle of the merriment with a college campus Christmas-illuminated attraction that's both fun and family-friendly! Billed as “Central Florida’s Ultimate Winder Wonderland,” Light Up UCF also boasts ice skating, live entertainment, holiday light show, amusement rides and more (separate fees charged for certain activities).
The city beautiful is certainly no stranger to holiday fare, whether it's at the house of mouse, or tucked away in the rustic, rural townships that dot the outskirts of Orlando proper like ornaments on a tree. No matter what you're looking for, there's no shortage of Christmas spirit in the area, so whatever event you head out for this month, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday Season!
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