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Christmas at Biltmore

ASHEVILLE • NOVEMBER 6-JANUARY 10

Biltmore’s holiday preparations include erecting a 35-foot Christmas tree, stringing miles of garland, and arranging multi-hued poinsettia displays. If you’re not a big decorator, you can enjoy this holiday ambience without dragging a single box out of your attic. If you’re a bit of a crafter, you might consider taking one of Biltmore’s seminars on how to make traditional wreaths and other decor.

Admission $25-75. (800) 411-3812. biltmore.com.

The Polar Express Train Ride

BRYSON CITY • NOVEMBER 13-JANUARY 3

This 1-1/4-hour round-trip train ride on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad departs Bryson City to travel through a winter wonderland to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. Children receive gifts and their own silver bell, just like in the Caldecott Medal-winning story that inspired this attraction. In 2014, more than 70,000 passengers made the round-trip.

Admission $28-76, depending on age and car class. gsmr.com.

The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition

ASHEVILLE • NOVEMBER 18-JANUARY 3

This is one of the most deliciously competitive holiday events in the country, and it’s been featured on Good Morning America, the Travel Channel, and Food Network. Last year’s contest featured 150 entries, which ranged from traditional houses to upright gingerbread pianos.

Free admission. $10 parking. (800) 413-5778. omnihotels.com.

Winter Lights at the North Carolina Arboretum

ASHEVILLE • NOVEMBER 20-JANUARY 2

There are many drive-through light exhibits in the state, but the North Carolina Arboretum uniquely invites you to get out of your car to stroll through this one on foot. The three-acre display is intended to highlight the natural beauty of western North Carolina, and this year it includes animated displays.

6-10 p.m. Admission $13-$18, depending on age and member status. (828) 665-2492. ncarboretum.org.

New Year’s Day Polar Plunge

LAKE LURE • JANUARY 1

This time of year, the water’s so cold at Lake Lure, jumping into it ought to require a permit, but you’ll be “freezin’ for a reason” at the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge. There’s a competition for best costume and proceeds benefit local first responders. When you emerge from the lake, teeth chattering, you might be glad to see some of the event’s beneficiaries in attendance.

Plunge at noon. Plunge fee $20. hickorynutchamber.org.

Christmas at Connemara

FLAT ROCK • NOVEMBER 28 & DECEMBER 19

For two Saturday mornings during the holiday season, the Carl Sandburg Home will be offering music and storytelling, hot cider, cookies, and holiday craft-making demonstrations. While you’re there, you can also tour the house and grounds.

10:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m. Free admission. http://www.nps.gov/carl/index.htm

Olde Fashioned Hendersonville Christmas

HENDERSONVILLE • DECEMBER 4

This annual tradition makes Christmas shopping a communal experience. Enjoy holiday music while browsing small businesses in downtown Hendersonville. Shop owners stay open late, and many offer visitors special treats just for walking through the door.

5-9 p.m. Free admission. downtownhendersonville.org.

Brevard’s Twilight Tour

BREVARD • DECEMBER 5

After Brevard’s hometown parade at 3:00 p.m., locals start lining the streets with luminaries. In candlelight, you’ll find ballet performances, craft stalls, and an elf workshop. If you’d like to sit for a bit, you can even take in an outdoor holiday movie.

3-8 p.m. Free admission. (828) 884-3278. brevardnc.org.

Cherokee Lights & Legends

CHEROKEE • DECEMBER 5, 10-12, 17-19 & 31; JANUARY 1-2

There will be an ice skating rink at this Cherokee Fairgrounds event. Santa will be here, too. But the main attraction is a bonfire where visitors can circle up to hear traditional Cherokee stories about the coldest season.

6-9 p.m. Free admission, with varied pricing for events. visitcherokeenc.com.

Hand to Heart Holiday Crafty

ASHEVILLE • DECEMBER 6

This juried crafts show — which takes place at the Asheville Art Museum — features some of the finest artisans in western North Carolina. Here, you will find jewelry and knits, pottery and prints. Buy your holiday presents here, from the hands that created them, and you’ll have stories to pass on, as well.

1-6 p.m. Free admission. thebigcrafty.com

Chanukah Live

ASHEVILLE • DECEMBER 6

On the first night of Chanukah, held at Crowne Plaza Expo Center, you can witness a grand menorah-lighting ceremony, dance along to live music, and get your fill at the kosher food court and sushi bar. The festival, which attracts hundreds of people from around the region, is Asheville’s largest Chanukah, or Hanukkah, event. Kids can visit Judah the Maccabi’s Dreidel House while adults browse the on-site gift shop.

3-6 p.m. Free admission. chabadasheville.org.

A Swannanoa Solstice

ASHEVILLE • DECEMBER 20

This concert—which celebrates solstice-inspired traditions in the Appalachian Mountains and beyond—is one of the most popular hosted by the Diana Wortham Theatre each year. Award-winning artists perform seasonal music, intermingled with stories and poetry, that highlights the region’s Scots-Irish heritage. This year’s headliners include Grammy Award-winner David Holt and acclaimed flatfoot dancer Phil Jamison.

2 p.m. & 7 p.m. Admission $20-$45, depending on age and student status. dwtheatre.com.

About First Bank

We love calling North Carolina home. It’s why we’ve been here for more than 80 years. With branches from the mountains to the coast and rated as one of the best small business lending banks in the nation, First Bank offers rewarding checking accounts, competitive loan rates, and digital banking tools to help you manage your personal or business finances efficiently and securely. Online or in-person, find out what it means to have a local banker at your service.

Find your local First Bank at localfirstbank.com. Member FDIC.

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Henion is a writer and photographer based in western North Carolina. Her essays and articles have appeared in Washington Post Magazine, Smithsonian, Oxford American, Orion, Preservation, and a variety of other publications. She has garnered a number of accolades for her work, including a Lowell Thomas Award, and her stories have been noted in three editions of The Best American Travel Writing. Her debut book – Phenomenal – was published by Penguin Press in March 2015.