A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2022 and updated in 2023. [gallery link="none" columns="1" size="full" ids="161608,161607,161611"]   The Big Day Highlands The energy that builds along Main Street in

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2022 and updated in 2023. [gallery link="none" columns="1" size="full" ids="161608,161607,161611"]   The Big Day Highlands The energy that builds along Main Street in

Photo Essay/

5 Festive North Carolina Christmas Parades

Editor’s Note: This story was published in 2022 and updated in 2023.


The Big Day

The energy that builds along Main Street in Highlands before the annual Olde Mountain Christmas Parade reflects the excitement and anticipation that have been growing since Thanksgiving — maybe even longer. The Christmas season is finally here, and to kick it off, local civic groups, nonprofits, churches, businesses, and other organizations queue up to spread joy to the spectators lined up along downtown sidewalks. The Mountain Garden Club dancers, who have been performing at the parade for more than 20 years, are always a big hit with their choreographed performance and matching costumes, which are all kept secret until the day of the parade.

“Little Brother” Hudson, 12, was among the 18 or so kids with Big Brothers Big Sisters who walked alongside eight llamas in the Highlands and Cashiers Christmas parades last year. photograph by Tom Moors

Littles & Llamas

Llamas strolling down Main Street in Highlands are an unfamiliar sight for most of the spectators at the Olde Mountain Christmas Parade. But a handful of kids with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina — an organization that pairs mentors with children facing adversity — have encountered these furry creatures before. BBBS WNC hosts annual hikes with llamas for the kids, and several years ago, organizers decided to share that experience at the Christmas parade in Cashiers. In 2021, they added Highlands to their schedule, joining the Olde Mountain Christmas Parade in the morning and the Cashiers Christmas parade in the afternoon. “Bigs,” “Littles,” and Littles’ families are encouraged to participate, and seeing the interactions between the kids and the llamas brings a smile to everyone’s faces.

December 2, 2023

In addition to supporting Golden Bulls athletics and playing in Fayetteville’s annual Christmas parade, the Magnificent Marching Machine has competed nationally and won hundreds of trophies. photograph by Andrew Craft

Bring on the Band

As E.E. Smith High School’s award-winning “Magnificent Marching Machine” makes its way down Person and Hay streets, the band’s lively Christmas tunes and members’ enthusiastic dance moves bring a contagious energy to Fayetteville’s Rotary Christmas Parade. Band director and E.E. Smith alum Roosevelt Pratt has led the high-stepping marching band for more than 25 years, during which time at least 25 students have gone on to lead bands as drum majors at historically Black colleges and universities across the Southeast.

Even the Grinch — sporting a shirt from Team Ghost youth baseball — gets into the holiday spirit during the Fayetteville Rotary Christmas Parade. Meanwhile, Santa and Mrs. Claus wrap up the parade in style on the back of a Ford Mustang. photograph by Andrew Craft

Giving Back

When the Fayetteville Rotary Club — established in 1920 — realized in 1999 that the city ought to have its own Christmas parade, members joined forces with the West Fayetteville and LaFayette Rotary clubs to make it happen. Now, the parade is one of their major community-service projects each year. The first event had about 50 entries, and over the next 20 years, that number grew to nearly 120 pre-pandemic, including businesses and organizations that participate in the homemade float competition, performers from local schools, and characters like the Grinch and Santa and Mrs. Claus.

December 9, 2023

Santa Wally Plummer and his elf Sydney Simmons (right) follow a cheerful cast of characters, including (left) Winter Brommet with snowman Olaf; and Stokesdale recreation league cheerleaders. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

A Growing Tradition

Long before the sirens sound to signal the start of Stokesdale’s annual Christmas parade, people flock downtown to claim their spots and jostle for the best view of the dancers, marching bands, floats, horses, and vehicles big and small that will soon make their way down the streets. The decades-long community tradition highlights the agricultural heritage of this Guilford County town, as well as its growing population. Over the years, the parade has seen an increase in the number of youth organizations participating. Last year’s parade attracted about 3,000 spectators and 70 entries, including some fan favorites that return year after year — the Shriners, who toss out candy from their go-karts, and, of course, Santa.

December 9, 2023

Spectators see plenty of faces they recognize at the Gastonia Christmas parade, including Bam Hunter, mascot for the Gastonia Honey Hunters baseball team, and the Carolinas Peaks to Piedmont Girl Scout troop. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

Familiar Faces

Local performers, business owners, and members of organizations who parade down Main Avenue in Gastonia each December are the hallmark of small-town parades, and in this foothills city, the event is a tradition that goes back more than 65 years. On the first Sunday of December every year, the Gaston County Jaycees and Keep Gastonia Beautiful host Christmas in the City, a holiday celebration that includes a parade, marketplace, and tree-lighting ceremony.

Santa Rick Franklin rides into town on a vintage firetruck before making his way to Gastonia’s tree-lighting ceremony. photograph by Jerry Wolford & Scott Muthersbaugh

Santa Claus is Coming

When the parade comes to an end, the celebration doesn’t stop — it simply moves locations. In years past, spectators gathered at the Rotary Pavilion downtown to watch a holiday concert by local school and performing arts groups, and eagerly await the arrival of Santa for the tree-lighting ceremony. This year, to accommodate the ever-growing crowds, the parade will end at Gastonia’s new baseball stadium, where the marketplace will be set up with craft and food vendors, free hot chocolate, snow globe photos, a trackless train, and juggling elves.

December 3, 2023

As the sun sets over Bogue Sound, boaters set off from the west end of the Morehead City harbor and make their way toward Beaufort via Bulkhead Channel and Taylor’s Creek. photograph by Charles Harris

Lights on the Sound
Morehead City & Beaufort

Strings of lights in red, green, and gold wrap around masts and railings. They dangle off the sides of yachts and kayaks, fishing boats and skiffs. Boaters in Santa hats wave to spectators lining the waterfront as they cruise from Morehead City toward Beaufort. The annual Crystal Coast Holiday Flotilla is a special way to see holiday lights on the waterfronts of Morehead City and Beaufort, where they reflect beautifully on the water and stand in stark contrast to the night sky.

The most creatively and elaborately decorated boats are awarded with prizes: Tim Payne’s boat took second place — and she said yes! photograph by Charles Harris

Ho Ho Ahoy!
Morehead City & Beaufort

Now in its 30th year, the Crystal Coast Holiday Flotilla has become a beloved tradition that gives back to the community in more ways than one — in addition to spreading holiday cheer, it raises funds for the Friends of the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Over the years, the event has contributed more than $55,000 to the organization’s Junior Sailing Program.

From the deck at Jack’s on the Waterfront restaurant and bar, spectators wave to the cheerfully lit boats passing by. photograph by Charles Harris

Decked Out
Morehead City & Beaufort

All along the waterfront in Morehead City and Beaufort, spectators gather to watch the flotilla on restaurant decks and patios — Jack’s on the Waterfront and Sanitary Fish Market; Moonrakers and Dock House. New to the event last year was a “Deck the Dock” contest, which awarded a “Best Decorated Dock” banner — to Ann and Junie Smith — to be displayed starting the night of the flotilla. After the event ends at the Beaufort Hotel, boats, too, are awarded for excellence and creativity — recognition for putting on a spectacular show.

December 2, 2023

This story was published on Dec 02, 2022

Katie King

Katie King is a managing editor at Our State.