Winter in the Smoky Mountains offers a lot of fun and celebration. The neighboring towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville declare a four-month period of November through February to be their winter festival time, calling it Winterfest in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, and Winter Magic in Gatlinburg.
Starting the day before Veteran’s Day in November, the three towns kick off their winter festival time over three successive days. Sevierville goes first with its Winterfest celebrations that include live music and hay rides. Pigeon Forge leads the next day with its annual parade honoring veterans, and Gatlinburg the following day launches its Winter Magic time with a huge Chili cook-off on Parkway.
But the highlights of all three events are the turning on of the city lights. Literally millions of Christmas lights are strung across the towns, along the highway, adorning buildings, and clustered at suitable points in animated displays.
With a profusion of themes among all the different displays, you’ll see snowflakes, liberty bells, holiday greetings, clock towers, veteran tributes, numerous cartoon characters and animals, and European villages designed in bright lights. Christmas scenes, and much razzle-dazzle, abound.
Dollywood joins in the fun of course around this time with its own millions of lights and winter calendar of events, shows and celebrations. In Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, the famous trolleys offer evening tours of the lights in each town.
Winterfest and Winter Magic begin the holiday season with Thanksgiving, along with a number of events at this time, including the annual Thanksgiving and Christmas Craft Shows in Gatlinburg. These are two week-long shows back to back, the first one in the last week of November with seasonally themed items, followed immediately by the second show in the first week of December, with the crafters’ finest creations perfect as gifts for Christmas.
After this it’s pretty clear that Christmas is coming. In early December Gatlinburg holds its huge Fantasy of Lights Christmas Parade, while Dollywood offers its own Parade of Lights every evening.
There are two huge animated light displays in the area that are unforgettable. Dollywood offers its Carol of the Trees nightly during its Christmas Festival period, a village area lit with lights synchronized to Christmas music – a magical experience.
Shadrack’s Christmas Winterland in Sevierville meanwhile offers an unsurpassed and technically acclaimed drive-through experience, with an entire area alight with synchronized lights that you can drive through in the comfort of your car, picking up the music through your radio.
In Gatlinburg from Thanksgiving until Christmas on Friday and Saturday evenings, Parkway features strolling carolers, storytellers and various characters, with Gatlinburg’s Tunes & Tales program. The popular summer fixture takes on a Christmas theme with period dress in the Dickens style, and of course Christmas carols. Many different performers take part in this free and pleasing event.
Christmas shows and events abound through December, while Gatlinburg’s local ski area, Ober Gatlinburg opens its slopes for the winter skiing – usually kicking the season off early with Snow Tubing at Thanksgiving. New Year’s Eve offers advanced pyrotechnic displays in Gatlinburg at the Space Needle, and the Island in Pigeon Forge also offers its own displays.
As winter deepens into January, several ice-based events will occur, including ice-carving at the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, and ice skating at Ober Gatlinburg. Other winter events will include the Wilderness Wildlife Week at the end of January, bringing thousands of visitors to Pigeon Forge and Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the diverse nature celebrations and presentations that entrance and educate young and old alike.
February signals a shift in things as Pigeon Forge holds its annual Saddle Up event, a festival of cowboy and cowgirl singing, cooking and storytelling. Meanwhile in mid-month, Valentine’s Day dawns, with its own compelling magic, and many people will propose marriage here in the hugely romantic Smoky Mountains. Gatlinburg is the third most popular place in the world to get married.
With love in air, and marriage on people’s minds, suddenly it starts to feel as if the season might be changing soon, with spring right around the corner. But that’s another story.