Richmond Holiday Traditions: A Must-See, Don’t-Miss Guide

As you can see, there’s a ton to do in Richmond during the holidays. So much, in fact, it can be quite overwhelming. For those of you unsure of where to start, here’s a little sampler of events that are sure to give you an authentic look at our town’s diverse holiday happenings.

As you can see, there’s a ton to do in Richmond during the holidays. So much, in fact, it can be quite overwhelming. For those of you unsure of where to start, here’s a little sampler of events that are sure to give you an authentic look at our town’s diverse holiday happenings.

The Bizarre Bazaar

December 3 through 6, Richmond Raceway Complex
Tickets: $6.50 adults, $1.00 children

If your idea of holiday heaven is a rack of appliqued sweatshirts decorated with puffy glitter paint, then we’re sure you’ve already bought your ticket for this year’s Bizarre Bazaar. More than 500 exhibitors from around the country converge on Richmond each year for this wildly popular sale of homespun crafts and oddball items that only a grandmother could love. (And hey, you gotta buy your grandmother something.)

Or if you’re looking for handmade gifts that aren’t doilies and apple butter, check out these indie arts and crafts fairs around town…

  • Bizarre Market
    November 27 throug December 24
    Chop Suey Books, Carytown
  • Handmade Holiday
    December 12
    Visual Arts Center of Richmond
  • Back Alley Art Show
    December 12
    Between Ellwood and Cary St behind 17 S. Sheppard St.

Tea with Santa

Friday, December 4, 2pm
$38.00 for members, $45.00 for non-members

For those of you with kidlets waiting anxiously for Santa Claus to arrive, this is your chance to “enjoy a variety of seasonal beverages and light snacks while singing along with Santa and the Singing Elf in an intimate setting.” Savor a brief respite from the holiday madness while someone else entertains your bundle of joy (Santa storytime!) and Santa’s helpers serve you cookies and eggnog. Oh, and your kid will make joyful memories that he or she will treasure for years to come. We promise.

Tickets must be purchased in advance right here.

James Center’s Grand Illumination

Friday, December 4, 6pm to 9pm
1200 East Cary Street

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the James Center’s Grand Illumination, Richmond’s traditional kick-off to the holiday season. Be there to count down to the lighting of the downtown office buildings and frolic amongst the twinkling reindeer of East Cary Street. (Plan to leave your office early enough for some happy hour action before the lights go up. Because we expect – nay, demand! – some serious frolicking, including suggestive photos with Rudolph.)

The River District is going all out once again to welcome even the most die-hard suburbanites to downtown, including free horse and carriage rides starting at 13th and E. Cary Streets in Shockoe Slip at 6pm, free glow necklaces for children, $2 canal boat rides at the Turning Basin on the Canal Walk at 6pm, an open house at Main Street Station (1500 E. Main St.) with giant art cards on display from Richmond Public Schools at 5pm, a Holiday Market at the 17th Street Farmers’ Market at 5pm, and the popular Capital Square Tree Lighting and Governor’s Executive Mansion Open House at 5pm.

Lewis Ginter GardenFest of Lights

November 27 through January 11
Nightly 5pm to 10pm (except December 24 & 25)
$10 adults; $9 seniors age 55+; $6 children (ages 3 – 12); free for children under age 3. Discounts for Garden Members.

One of Richmond’s most popular holiday traditions, the GardenFest of lights features more than half a million lights arrayed throughout the garden. This year’s theme, Wings of Wonder, features lights and decorations related to butterflies, dragonflies, bees and other insects. Year after year, Lewis Ginter outdoes itself with over-the-top displays and gorgeous decorations. It’s worth a little walk in the cold, trust us. (It will also make you feel deeply ashamed of that one strand of lights you still have hung on your porch from last July.)

Some highlights: The North Wing of the Conservatory will house the massive 19-foot tall holiday tree decorated in silver and gold ornaments, along with a train display featuring a frozen landscape of crystal-encrusted hand-crafted cars winding through a glistening miniature village of snow- and ice-coverd cottages. The Children’s Garden will include a bonfire with the chance to make s’mores. (S’more fixings available for purchase in the Children’s Garden, along with hot drinks and cookies.)

Find more information here.

Tacky Lights Tour

$0 – $bigtime

As you may or may not be aware, Richmond is famous for its many egregious displays of tacky holiday lights. Seriously — it was on NPR. And Bravo. And about a thousand newspapers. Didn’t your mother send you a clipping?

Plenty of local companies offer private paid tours, including James River Bus Lines and Richmond Limousine. But if you’re not lucky enough to have a rich friend to spring for a private car and a bucket of champagne, you can do like the rest of us and drive around with some friends gawping at as many houses as you can find and trying to convince your brother-in-law that there really was an X-rated display with Santa and three elves at that last house back there. A list of stops to include on your tour is available on the Richmond Wiki, along with an Interactive Map and a complete list of tour providers.

Tired of the same old tacky lights tour? Looking to reduce your carbon footprint while taking in gobs of tasteless splendor? Segway of Richmond offers a daily Christmas Lights Tour, December 1 through 30, 6:30 to 8pm. $50 per person. Call (804) 343-1850 to make reservations.

14th Annual Hamaganza!

Friday, December 11, Poe’s Pub, 9pm
Saturday, December 12, Capital Ale House (downtown), 9pm
Bring a canned or preserved ham, a $10 donation or equivalent foodstuffs for the Central Virginia Foodbank

Dirtwoman, Manoli Loupassi, Richmond Varietease and hams for the hamless — what more can you ask for in a Richmond holiday tradition? The 14th annual Hamaganza Extravaganza promises to deliver a year’s worth of raunch and debauchery for the low, low price of one canned ham. And possibly some bail money, if things get really good.

Featuring burlesque dancers, juggling, trannies, and rock ‘n roll — along with a laundry list of local B-list celebs that includes Melissa Chase, Loupassi, Bill Pantale, CBS 6’s Mark Holmburg and everyone’s favorite 450lb transvestite — Hamaganza will fill you with cheap beer and the warmth of the holidays and leave you with an uncomfortable burning sensation when you pee. Really, it makes you wonder why we don’t do this more often.

(Photo courtesy of John Murden)

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Wren Lanier

Wren Lanier likes making trouble and eating bagels, not necessarily in that order. You can follow her wildly inappropriate comments on Twitter.

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