December means that Christmas is a’comin’, and the Gatlinburg area of the Smokies is dressed in millions of lights and decorations, with music, song and laughter. Snow and snow sports are on the mountain, parades and fireworks are in the cards, and festivity is in the air.
Friday, December 1, 2023, means it’s time for the 48th Annual Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade in Gatlinburg. As always, the parade starts from Baskins Creek Bypass (on East Parkway) and makes its way down Parkway to Traffic Light #10, arriving about an hour and a half later. The Tree Lighting Ceremony by city officials happens a few minutes before kick off, and at 7:30 pm the parade gets underway.
The procession features multiple lighted floats from community enterprises, marching bands to add some rhythm to the stride, giant cartoon balloons, entertainers, celebrities, soldiers, dancers, horse riders, and all kinds of characters with a pitch to please the crowds of spectators.
Up to 100,000 people have watched this parade in Decembers gone by, and we never know how many tens of thousands will show for the event. This means, come early to Parkway and stake out a good spot to put down your seating arrangements and spread your blanket. The hunt is on for the best spot to watch the parade from, and Parkway establishments as always will offer their prime viewing locations, undoubtedly mixed with great fun.
On December 2, Sevierville gets its turn for a Christmas Parade – in 2023 for the 61st year running – and it starts at 11 am. The following day, on Sunday,December 3, Townsend has its own Christmas Parade at 2:30 pm.
Back in Gatlinburg, winter brings the Tunes and Tales players to the streets and this continues on Friday and Saturday evenings along Parkway through December 16.
Two notable events through December include Yama-Con on December 8-10 at the LeConte Center in Pigeon Forge, the annual Anime 3-day convention featuring costume and imagination. More costume on an entirely different note happens on the Sunday, December 10, as thousands of runners congregate in Santa garb and race in the Santa Hustle Smokies 5K in Townsend, over on the Quiet Side of the Smokies.
Throughout the month of December, Winterfest festivities abound on the street and on the mountain, with photo ops occurring in multiple venues to meet with Santa, Christmas specials and deals everywhere, and seasonal attractions up on the mountains above Gatlinburg, at Anakeesta, SkyPark and Ober Mountain. Snow Tubing up at Ober is in full swing through this month, and the ski slopes will open too.
Specials on cabins occur during December, in the “shoulder” times between the big weekends, so watch for those at our Specials page. And if you’re wondering what’s open on Christmas Day, Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland most definitely is, for the whole family to drive through the immersive light show in the warm car.
New Year’s Eve
And after the Christmas meals have digested and the crew has rested up a little, get ready for December 31 – and New Year’s Eve, which the Smokies celebrate big.
In Gatlinburg for the 36th year at the Space Needle, a happy crowd spends time milling around at the base for a few hours until the countdown begins toward midnight, and the Ball Drop and Fireworks Show – a pyrotechnic display called the Best in the South, and for stunningly good reason. Free to show up and enjoy – live music begins at 10 pm..
If you’re in Pigeon Forge, set the evening aside for the celebrations at The Island, with festivity during the day and a free concert in the evening – all leading up to the big fireworks show at midnight.