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7 Washington Holiday Traditions to Add to Your Winter Calendar

7 Washington Holiday Traditions to Add to Your Winter Calendar

Posted at Fri, Dec 15, 2023 11:00 AM

Add These 7 Washington Holiday Traditions to Your Winter Calendar

Traditions. Not to go all Tevye on you, but they’re kind of a big deal. 

That’s especially true during the holidays — the time of year when families come together to eat good food, exchange gifts and (mostly) avoid squabbling in the name of December goodwill.

A lot of those traditions happen under your roof. Decorating the tree. Watching “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Baking cookies shaped like bells and angels.

Add to your home-y habits by visiting our list of annual holiday events and Yuletide spots in Washington. You’ll have to hop into the car to get to some of them, but the wintertime spirit is well worth the mileage.

After all, we at Mullinax Ford of Olympia might dare to say the time spent with family on the way to these Yuletide spots is as much a holiday tradition as the memories you’ll make upon arrival. (And if you pass by our dealership on your travels, be sure to stop by and visit our elves — sorry, friendly sales representatives.)

Blast some carols through the car speakers and find your family’s new favorite holiday tradition. There’s no time like the “present.”

Audubon Christmas Bird Count

We hope you’re holding onto your binoculars, because this Christmastime opportunity will shake you in your winter boots.

From mid-December to early January, bird lovers of all ages and birding experience levels across the country can try their hand as counters in the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count.

In true season-of-giving spirit, participation is both easy and free. Just take a look at the site map to find bird-counting circles in your area — there are several in Washington, including in Seattle, Spokane and Kennewick. Then, reach out to your circle’s “compiler,” an expert birder who will train you in how to collect data and schedule you for a bird-watching day.

On your scheduled day, you’ll head out to your circle with binoculars and boots to wind a specific route through a 15-mile radius, counting all the birds you see or hear. 

And the partridge on top of the Audubon pear tree? The data you collect could be used in wildlife publications and even government reports. We’ll flap to that.

Luminaria at the Yakima Area Arboretum

What if we told you that you can get in your twinkle-light fix, your holiday shopping and your step count for the day — all in one trip?

For over 30 years, the Yakima Area Arboretum has welcomed Washington families to walk through a candlelit, mile-long trail lined with luminarias and festive decor. Luminaria is completely free – just register online for your preferred date — in 2023, either December 8 or 9 — to experience all the tree-tastic magic Yakima Valley has to offer.

Kids will love decorating their own luminaria inside Jewett Interpretive Center, and visitors of all ages will love strolling through the winter wonderland — because let’s face it, you’re never too old for twinkle lights. 

When you’re done strolling and luminaria-crafting, stop by the Arboretum’s Tree House Gift Shop to pick up unique presents to go underneath your loved ones’ own trees.

Oly on Ice

When the giant white tent pops up in Isthmus Park, Olympia natives know the holiday season is here.

Oly on Ice, Olympia’s pop-up ice skating rink, offers frosty holiday memories to skaters of all ages and skill levels from mid-November to mid-January. Snag a general admission ticket before Christmas week or after New Year’s for a slightly lower day price, or buy a season pass to keep the good vibes going all winter long.

Check out the rink website for its sensory-friendly skate mornings, when staff create a calm environment through low lighting and no music — so holiday joy can be accessible for everyone.

The rink also offers family-friendly special events throughout the season, including live choir performances from The Slaybells and the Rose Garden Performers.

Spokane New Years Eve Fireworks

You’ll forget all about New York City and The Ball when you score a seat at Riverfront Park for Spokane’s free annual New Year’s Eve firework show.

Bring your family, friends, picnic blankets and folding chairs to watch the community-favorite dazzling display unfold over the Spokane River.

Before or after the 9 pm firework show, walk over to enjoy extended late-night ice skating hours at Numerica Skate Ribbon, where a DJ performs live music events as you skate into the new year. The Numerica SkyRide, Sky Ribbon Café and Looff Carrousel will also offer late hours to accommodate your New Year's festivities.

Or, you know, just stick to relaxing on the picnic blanket. We wouldn’t blame you.

Mason County Illuminated Christmas Tree Maze

Mason County and Shelton pride themselves on their evergreen roots, with a history of Christmas-tree logging stretching back about a century.

In 2019, Shelton’s Chamber of Commerce took its pine-scented tradition to new heights when it took on (and secured) the Guinness World Record for “Most Lit Trees in One Location.” Almost 800 trees were donated and arranged in an illuminated Christmas tree maze.

Now, Mason County’s annual Christmastown event features a re-creation of the great, record-winning tradition and you can wander the maze yourself with your holiday-happy friends and loved ones.

Aside from the main maze attraction, Christmastown offers events throughout the season, from a Christmastown market to cocoa wagon rides to wreath-making workshops.

Chanukah at the Kraken

Chabad Centers of North and Northwest Seattle are coming together with other Washingtonian Jewish groups to bring Chanukah traditions to Seattle in style.

Chanukah at the Kraken takes place at the Kraken Community Iceplex, where the entire rink is reserved for attendees to watch a grand-menorah lighting, skate to Chanukah music, eat Chanukah treats and spend time with the company of the community.

Tickets are available online.

Turns out ice menorahs compliment hot latkes even better than applesauce.

Seattle Christmas Boat Parade

Sugar-plum-spice up your holidays by getting in your holiday parade fix, aquatic-style. 

Seattle’s annual Christmas Boat Parade makes a full loop around Lake Union, from Fremont Tug Boats to Morrison’s Fuel Dock. Grab a spot along the lake to watch a festive group of decked-out decks parade through the waterways in a Pacific Northwest staple event.

In a happy holiday happening, the event is also a toy drive and charity for Seattle Children’s Hospital. Registered boats are encouraged to join the drive, so seafaring Santas can give back to the community while cruising.

If you have seaworthy aspirations yourself, you don’t have to watch from the shorelines. Just fill out the free sign-up sheet to cast your oar in the holiday tradition. Registration is open until the evening of the parade itself – check the website for dates.

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