Mayor's Tree Lighting Ceremony. You probably already know this, but Santa gets very busy this time of year. But he didn't want to leave his beloved Tucsonans high and dry for this event, so he called in a favor from some of his friends in high places. And we'll have Mayor Johathan Rothschild himself at this tree lighting ceremony. The tree will be displayed from Black Friday up until the new year, and the night will feature youth mariachi group performances and ballet folklorico dancers to get you in an extra festive mood. Bring your family, bring your friends and bring your holiday cheer for a night that's sure to be a tree-t. 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23. Jacome Plaza, 100 N. Stone Ave. Free.
Tohono Chul Holiday Nights. Tucson might not exactly be a snowy winter wonderland, but, at this event, it comes pretty close! Over a million twinkling lights will grace the grounds of Tohono Chul while guests like you grace its paths. Look at the stars (and see if you can catch Santa doing a practice run in his sleigh) through a telescope, sing along to Christmas carols, and sip on some Christmas-in-a-cup, also known as hot chocolate. You can also pick up last minute holiday gifts at the museum gift shop and enjoy live music from local bands while the kids visit Santa. Tohono Chul Park, 7366 Paseo del Norte. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday Nov. 30, and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14 and 15. $12 members, $3 children 12 and under.
Marana Holiday Festival and Christmas Tree Lighting. Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, the fabulous spectacle of a Christmas tree lighting is something that everyone deserves to experience. And Marana's event is particularly impressive, with nine performances by everyone from the the Saguaro Strutters to Pointe of Grace to the Marana High School Symphonic Choir. Plus, Buzz from Country Favorites KIIM 99.5 is the night's emcee. There are tons and tons of vendors this year, both food and non-food, so you can fill up your belly and your big sack of presents for loved ones. And bring some unopened peanut butter for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona's food drive! 3 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. Marana Municipal Complex Roundabout, 11555 W. Civic Center Drive. Marana. Free entry.
69th Annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights. Celebrate many holidays with many lights at one of Tucson's most magical and well-loved events. Experience the neighborhood's gift to the community on a hayride wagon, a trolley limo, a decked-out party bike or on foot. If driving is more your style, attend Drive Through Night on the 26th and, if you celebrate Christmas, beat the day-after-the-holiday blues. The festival is free, but attendees are encouraged to bring a donation to the Community Food Bank. Most needed items: cereal and canned varieties of the following: meat, tomato products, veggies and fruit. 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 8 through Wednesday, Dec. 26. Help beat the 49,631 pounds of food collected at the festival last year! Winterhaven Neighborhood, with entrances on Fort Lowell, Country and Prince roads as well as Tucson Boulevard. Free.
- Courtesy Tucson Botanical Gardens
Luminaria Nights. If you're religious, then you might be touched by Roman Catholic hope that lines of luminarias will guide the spirit of the Christ child to a person's home. If you're not religious, the sight of more than 2,500 candlelit luminarias (plus more than 20 Korean lanterns for good measure) won't be any less beautiful, we promise. With enough live music performances all over the grounds to appeal to anyone's taste in music, some of the city's favorite food trucks and plenty of holiday-appropriate food, this event is a staple for holidays in the Old Pueblo. 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2, 7, 8 and 9. Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N. Alvernon Way. $18 adults, $9 children, $12 member adults, $6 member children. Purchase your tickets prior to Nov. 30 for $1 off admission.
24th Annual Parade of Lights & Festival Downtown. It's hard not to be in the holiday spirit when you spend the day buying gifts for loved ones and visiting local restaurants and museums, only to cap it off with a parade of floats, twinkly light-adorned Baile Folklorico dancers, marching mariachis and parading pups. So if you're still not in the holiday spirit by mid-December, this is just what the doctor ordered. (If you are in the holiday spirit, it is still just what the doctor ordered). Over in Jacome Plaza, there's going to be live entertainment, tons of food and even snow! Magic all around. Saturday, Dec. 15. Parade starts at the intersection of Church Avenue and Alameda Street and winds through downtown. Free. More information on festival location and times will be posted to downtowntucson.org.
Oro Valley Holiday Festival of the Arts and Tree Lighting Celebration. More than 150 artisans! Thirty-plus performances by student and local musicians! Family art activities! A TUBA CHRISTMAS holiday play-along. Even if you're not sure what that last one is (spoiler alert: It's their annual tuba performance), doesn't it sounds like it's going to involve lots of holiday cheer? Artists will be selling work in all mediums, food vendors will be selling food of all sorts and Santa will be around to take pictures with. You can even do some glass blowing with the Sonoran Glass Academy while you're there, if you'd like. And, of course, everyone can enjoy the lighting of the 35-foot holiday tree. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2. Tree lighting activities are 3 to 6 p.m. on Saturday. Oro Valley Market Place, 12155 N. Oracle Road. Free.
Enchanted Snowfall at La Encantada. Twinkling lights and mugs of hot chocolate are good ways to get into the Christmas spirit. But things start to get truly magical when we tweak the laws of nature and make it snow in the Sonoran Desert. Every Friday and Saturday evening starting the day after Thanksgiving, it will snow TWICE—at 6 and 6:45 p.m.—at the La Encantada shopping center, and Blanco Tacos + Tequila will provide Mexican hot chocolate to keep your hands and tummies from getting too chilly in the storm. Live music performers will be there to keep your heart warm as well. Every Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. from Friday, Nov. 23 through Saturday, Dec. 22. La Encantada Shopping Center, 2905 E. Skyline Drive. Free.
Hilton El Conquistador Gingerbread House. Last year's gingerbread house at the Hilton was a behemoth involving more than 100 pounds of flour, 350 pounds of powdered sugar and 320 candy canes. We suspect this year's will be the biggest gingerbread house to hit town since that one. It'll stick around in the lobby through December, but at the grand reveal, you can get photos with Santa, watch Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas, and do some complimentary cookie and ornament decorating. Ginger-head on over! 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6. Hilton Tucson El Conquistador, 10000 N. Oracle Road. Free.
Messiah Symphony. If you think you don't know Handel's Messiah, you're probably at least partially wrong. Because that's where the incredibly famous Hallelujah chorus came from. And hearing this pulse-pounding masterpiece in Arizona's most outstanding acoustical venue is something everyone should experience at least once. Bruce Chamberlain conducts, Kathryn Mueller is soprano, Sarah Barber is alto, Richard Trey Smagur is tenor and Troy Cook is baritone. Last year's performance sold out, so grab your tickets while you can! 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 16 at Catalina Foothills High School, 4300 E. Sunrise Dr. $22 to$55.
- Courtesy Cirque Holiday
A Cirque Holiday with Troupe Vertigo. You've wrapped yourself in your favorite holiday scarf. You've wrapped your arms around your loved ones. You've wrapped the presents under the Christmas tree. Now, you can watch contortionists, aerial artists and cirque acrobats wrap their legs around their shoulders, and stuff. This TSO show features the entire Tucson Symphony Orchestra playing classic Christmas music conducted by Stuart Chafetz, while a team of cirque artists does generally mind-blowing stuff with their bodies. 4 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 22, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 23. Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. $15 to $76.
Lights of the World. This holiday season, treat yourself to something that you may not have realized you wanted, but that you almost definitely do: This enormous light festival, with all of the wonder and glory and magic of Disneyland's "It's a Small World," without the grating music. There's going to be carnival rides, acrobatic performances and more than six million lights. And the lights are covering 45 big, beautiful light displays, including a dragon, a whole zoo full of animals, a Christmas tree, the Eiffel tower and several palaces. Shows and rides are all free with general admission, and you can buy food, carnival games and arts-and-craft opportunities as well. Showing every day except Monday from 5 to 10 p.m., now through Wednesday, Jan. 2. Kino Sports Complex, 2500 E. Ajo Way. $24.99, or $19.99 for seniors/military, plus a $6 parking fee.
Tubac's Luminaria Nights. If you're itching for a small dose of travel this holiday season, a quick trip to Tubac might be exactly what you need. And their luminaria nights—during which the streets are lined with the lovely lights and the stores are open until 9 p.m. (hello, holiday shopping)—are the ideally festive occasion. At sunset, enjoy live music, homemade food and a chance to hang out with Santa Claus himself. There's no place like home for the holidays, but there's really no place like Tubac either. 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 7 and Saturday, Dec. 8. Tubac Village, 1 Tubac Road.
The Highlands Arts & Crafts Fair. This is an event so filled with holiday wonder it would due well in both our Holiday Calendar and our Holiday Shopping Guide. Dove Mountain provides great scenery for this fair filled with dozens of local artisans selling handmade art, jewelry, and other holiday trinkets. Plus, the Highlands Bar & Grille will be open for lunch, so you can shop 'til you drop, eat, then shop some more. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 1. 4949 W. Heritage Club Blvd.
El Nacimiento. In the heart of the Sonoran Desert lies Tucson. In the heart of Tucson lies the Tucson Museum of Art. In the heart of the Tucson Museum of Art lies La Casa Cordova, the oldest adobe home in downtown Tucson and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In the heart of La Casa Cordova lies El Nacimiento, the largest and longest-running nativity scene in the Southwest. Artist Maria Luisa Tena put it up the 70s! It's easy to spend hours checking out all of the nooks and crannies of the 800-piece set, which has the grandeur and feel of a Christmas tree. Tucson Museum of Art, 140 N. Main Ave. $12 adults, $10 seniors, $7 college students and free for kids 12 and under, veterans and museum members.
Zoo Lights 2018. A day at the zoo already feels as special as Christmas. But these days at the zoo have pictures with Santa and (on the weekends) falling snow! Check out the lighted animal displays throughout the grounds, thousands of twinkly lights, and s'mores and hot chocolate (with or without spirits). Friday Dec. 14 and Saturday, Dec. 15 are the Zoo Lights Holiday Zootique, so on these two days you get all of the above, plus a chance to finish—or maybe start—your holiday shopping. 6 to 8 p.m. from Wednesday, Dec. 5 through Sunday, Dec. 30. (Dec. 5 is a members-only day). Reid Park Zoo, 3400 Zoo Court. $10 adults, $6 kids 2 to 14, free for kids 1 and under. $2 off for members.
Need a Nutcracker fix? Don't worry. Tucson has options.
A Southwest Nutcracker, featuring the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, re-envisions the ballet as taking place in Tucson in the 1880s, for an experience full of coyotes, rattlesnakes, and plenty of homestyle holiday cheer. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 15 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 16. Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. $32 to $38, with group discounts available.
Ballet Tucson is the only professional ballet in town, so they certainly aren't skimping on quality at any of their shows, especially not this snowflake-filled, dancing candy fest of a holiday hit. 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7, 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 8 and 1 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 9. Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave. $30 to $58, with group/senior/student/military discounts available.
The Great Russian Nutcracker has been a tradition in North America for 25 years now, after Stanislav Vlasov directed and choreographed a six-week tour of the show. The dozens of dancers in the show will leave you in awe, and the second act's "Dove of Peace," or two dancers depicting a soaring white bird with a 20-foot wingspan, isn't to be missed. 3 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 21. Centennial Hall, 1020 E. University Blvd. $33 to $73+.