Photography as noted.
Back in 1983, singer Amy Grant served up something quite different for holiday music lovers at the time: an unimposing little acoustic song called “Tennessee Christmas,” which wistfully recalls the seasonal wonders found in her hometown of Nashville.
The holidays … in Nashville? As it turns out, Music City has long been a place where you can find plenty to do and cherish during the holiday season—and today that’s truer than ever.
Let’s start with the obvious: Nashville’s music venues and events must clearly be a part of your plans here during the holidays.
If you’re a music fan, then you’ve undoubtedly heard of the legendary Ryman Auditorium on Fifth Avenue. First conceived in 1885, it’s the place where bluegrass was born and was the long-time home of the Grand Ole Opry. Known as the “Carnegie of the South,” it has hosted performers from John Philip Sousa to Elvis Presley and from Patsy Cline to B.B. King.
Today, there are a host of things you can do at the Ryman during the holidays, including visiting Santa onstage, enjoying Christmas carols, creating your own ornament, and even recording your own Christmas carol in a real studio. And, of course, there’s live music, with annual Christmas shows held here in its intimate setting.
The Grand Ole Opry itself is also a place to stop by, even if just to experience the awe of its music history. Even the Country Music Hall of Fame gets into the holiday spirit with Deck the Hall, a program that features performances, crafts, and music lessons. For a classical holiday music experience, the Nashville Symphony fits the bill for any tastes. Recent performances have ranged from Kellie Pickler to Handel’s Messiah to Home Alone in Concert.
Speaking of historic buildings, the Nashville area is chock-full of centuries-old homes—and many are dressed up for the holidays and awaiting your visit. Two of the most prominent are right in the heart of the city. The Hermitage, a Greek Revival mansion and museum, was once owned by Andrew Jackson and now features carols and bonfires among its many yuletide activities. In addition, Belmont Mansion, a nineteenth-century Italian-villa-style dwelling, transforms into Victorian holiday splendor during the season.
And what’s the holiday season without a parade? The Nashville Christmas Parade has been a holiday staple since 1927, making it one of the oldest of its kind in the country. The parade itself, which struts down Music Mile, is held on the first Saturday in December, syndicated across the country, and seen by over fourteen million people. Past performers have included LeAnn Rimes, the Oak Ridge Boys, and Dolly Parton, and the parade’s grand marshals have included the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Emmylou Harris, Charlie Daniels, and Wilma Rudolph. Whether you go to the parade, watch it from your hotel room, or catch from the comfort of home, it’s a must-see Nashville holiday experience.
While you’re in town, make sure to take in the many new events that have raised the bar on holiday fun in recent years. You can find an exciting example of this at the Nashville Zoo, which has an itinerary that includes the magical Zoolumination: Chinese Festival of Lights. Introduced in 2019, this event—the largest Chinese lantern festival in the country—features hundreds of lanterns and displays, food, entertainment, and a North Pole Village.
In addition, you can step back in time when you tour the Grassmere Historic Home on the zoo’s grounds. Built in 1810 and listed in the National Register of Historic Homes, Grassmere is decked out in nineteenth-century decor during the holidays and has a Santa’s village for children.
A Cheekwood Christmas
Cheekwood is a fifty-five-acre botanical garden and art museum located just southwest of downtown Nashville on the historic Cheek Estate and Gardens. Even though it was built in 1929 and exudes country charm, Cheekwood’s primary attraction during the holidays is an event that’s less than ten years old.
Holiday LIGHTS at Cheekwood is, as you probably guessed, a lights-filled spectacular. You can stroll through a mile of lights—over a million in all—strewn across the gardens. Combine that with experiences like meeting real reindeer and making s’mores over firepits, all at one of the country’s top botanical gardens, and you’ve got the makings of a special holiday outing.
Go Big at Gaylord
However, if there’s one Nashville attraction you must visit during the holidays, it’s Gaylord Opryland’s A Country Christmas. Set at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center, the event will make you feel like a kid as you romp through its nine acres of indoor garden space.
This place’s motto is “So. Much. Christmas.” And they’re not kidding— there’s endless joy to be had at this Disney-like locale. For example, if you’re a thrill-seeker, you can go ice-tubing or visit the four-acre SoundWaves Water Experience waterpark. For a more tranquil, slower-paced day, options include ice-skating, a Delta Riverboat Christmas Cruise, and a horse-drawn carriage ride. Other popular attractions include the carved-ice exhibit ICE!,which features life-sized ice exhibits of popular movies, and Reindeer Encounters, where you can meet real reindeer and learn some trivia.
Top it off with over twenty restaurants on-site, a forty-eight-foot Christmas tree, a forty-four-foot cascading waterfall, and over three million twinkling lights, and Gaylord Opryland is just the kind of all-in-one place you’ll never want to leave.
Once you do leave it, though, you’ll soon realize that you don’t have to stay within the city limits to experience holiday cheer. For example, historic Franklin, Tennessee (founded in 1799), is located a little over twenty miles south of Nashville. For over thirty-five years, this quaint suburb has held its annual Dickens of a Christmas spectacular, Middle Tennessee’s largest outdoor Christmas festival. During this free weekend event, downtown Franklin is transformed into Victorian England, with old-time music, dancing, and Dickens characters accentuating the city’s renowned Victorian architecture.
If you go for the Dickens, stay for the lights. Franklin’s Festival of Lights is a spectacular mile-long illuminated light show featuring over two hundred displays that the family is sure to love, and it’s just another example of how the Nashville area perfectly marries holiday traditions with modern events.
Speaking of lighting up the holidays, a quick jaunt to Lebanon, Tennessee, may also be worth your time. Located around a half hour due east of Nashville, Lebanon is a popular stop during this time of year because of its festive displays and holiday spirit.
One such place is Chad’s Winter Wonderland, a Nashville-area tradition that’s been held for over twenty-five years and boasts over two million twinkling lights that light up the night sky. Upping the ante even more is the Dancing Lights of Christmas display, which bills itself as the largest drive-thru lights-and-music show in the entire state. Held at the James E. Ward Agriculture Center, this annual show also features two million-plus lights, as well as a Santa’s village and a Christmas train among its offerings. In her classic holiday ode to Nashville, Amy Grant sings that “a tender Tennessee Christmas is the only Christmas for me.” With its combination of nostalgia, jaw-dropping events, and Southern charm, you’ll likely find yourself feeling the exact same way when you make holiday memories in Music City.
For more info, go to visitmusiccity.com
Editor’s Note: Some Nashville holiday events may be impacted by COVID-19.