4 Ways to Ring in the Holidays in Downtown Knoxville

Knoxville, Tennessee was a wonderful place to grow up. My childhood hometown certainly holds its share of Christmas memories. Now, as an adult, each year when I go home for Thanksgiving I look forward to all of the nostalgic ways Knoxville welcomes the holiday season with a lot of tradition and a little bit of sparkle. If you find yourself passing through East Tennessee from Thanksgiving through New Year’s, take advantage of a few of the festive ways Knoxville celebrates the season. Here are four of my favorites:

1. Market Square Ice Rink 

Market Square is one of Knoxville’s most historic districts, and when they lay the ice for the temporary skating rink each November, it finally feels like Christmas. I’m not an avid skater, but I can’t remember a time when the downtown ice rink wasn’t a part of our family Christmases. Even if you opt to not purchase on hour on the ice, you can line up by the rink and watch the experts whiz around while you sip hot chocolate. There’s also an array of charming shops and restaurants to stroll through in the area, while you’re there. Stop in at Tupelo Honey for a delicious brunch or lunch (and homemade biscuits, of course!) and swing by Bliss Home for a unique home good or two. The best part is that after 6 p.m. and on weekends all area parking garages are free.

2. The Tennessee Theatre

The iconic marquee of the beloved Tennessee Theatre lights up Gay Street each night, and the intimate entertainment venue serves as the perfect setting for holiday merriment. Dressed in ornate, elegant splendor, and bathed in regal reds, oranges and golds, the majestic, gothic-inspired interior is one-of-a-kind. This year, holiday concerts from Chris Tomlin, Jennifer Nettles and The Oak Ridge Boys fill the theatre’s calendar. Make the Nutcracker Ballet an annual tradition, or take in a performance of Broadway’s “Elf The Musical.” The Tennessee Theatre is also home to classic movies throughout the year, and It’s A Wonderful Life is a “must” at Christmastime.

3. Lights, Nativities and Tree Toppers

Like most downtowns, Knoxville boasts thousands of twinkling lights at Christmastime. Right off Market Square, stroll through “Regal Celebration of Lights,” sponsored by Regal Cinemas (whose corporate headquarters reside in Knoxville). Take advantage of the exceptional photo opp in front of the massive tree right across from the downtown Regal Cinemas location. If you’re short on time, a brief drive through downtown K-Town will suffice. The show-stopping tree is still visible from Gay Street, and the historic main road also offers a glimpse at Christmas past as a lone star and line of gold tinsel stretch overhead, serving as the remaining Christmas decorations from another decade, a reminder of the iconic street’s former glory. The lovely nativity that sits in front of First Baptist Knoxville is my mom’s favorite annual stop. We pull over and roll down the windows, fighting back the winter’s chill as we listen to a crackly recording of the Christmas story playing from speakers nearby as Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus bathe in soft light. Before leaving downtown, be sure to look up. It’s an unspoken tradition for glowing trees to dot the tops of all the area high-rises.

Gay Street in Knoxville at Christmas
Gay Street’s Holiday Glory Days (photo courtesy of the Knoxville News Sentinel)

4. Fantasy of Trees

Speaking of trees, if you’re in town for Thanksgiving, Fantasy of Trees is one of the most festive ways to celebrate the beginning of the Christmas season. Part festival, part charity event, the annual Fantasy of Trees, held at the Knoxville Convention Center, boasts live entertainment (think ballet classes, local musicians and children’s choirs), food vendors, local artisans, and plenty of rides and activities for the kids. Throughout the large exhibit hall, themed trees fill the expansive space, often decorated and donated by corporations, as well as generous individuals. Event attendees can then bid on the trees. All of the ticket proceeds and money raised from the sale of trees goes to the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. In fact, in the past 30 years, the annual philanthropic event has raised more than $7 million. This year’s Fantasy of Trees runs Nov. 22-26, 2017.

*photo courtesy of Knoxville News Sentinel.

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