2023 Salem holiday events guide

From drive-through holiday lights displays, “Home Alone” on the big screen and visits with Santa, there’s many options to choose from to celebrate the holidays in Salem. 

Here’s your guide to holiday events in Salem throughout December:

Downtown Holiday Parade

Salem’s downtown holiday parade returns Friday, Dec. 1, at 6:30 p.m. with a longer route, floats and thousands more lights downtown than last year.

The route winds through downtown starting at the intersection of Northeast Waverly Street and State Street and ends with a singalong and tree lighting at the intersection of Northeast Liberty Street and Northeast Court Street.

Read a preview here:

Holiday lights

Drive through over a mile of holiday light displays at the Magic of Lights experience at the Oregon State Fair and Exposition Center. This year, scenes include a Holiday Barbie display, Bigfoot Monster Truck and life-sized dinosaurs, according to Travel Salem’s event page.

The light displays are open Monday to Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday to Sunday from 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Starting Dec. 8, it will be until 10 p.m. daily.

Tickets are priced per car, so carpooling is recommended. Until Dec. 7, tickets at the gate are $30 on weekdays and $35 Friday-Sunday, with a $5 increase from Dec. 8 to Dec. 31. Tickets are available to purchase online for a discount.

Powerland Heritage Park’s free drive through light show returns on Dec. 8, with lights, hot cocoa, Santa and the Grinch.

The event is free, but donations are accepted. It runs from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Dec. 8-10, 15-17 and 22-23. The park is located at 3995 Brooklake Rd. N.E. 

The Willamette Heritage Center’s Magic at the Mill event will return for its 23rd year. Festivities this year include living history and craft demonstrations, museum tours, visits with Santa, children’s activities, model trains, vendors and live performances. 

Magic at the Mill is Dec. 19-23, from 5:30 – 8 p.m. at 1313 Mill St. S.E.

Tickets are available online, and are limited to 1,000 guests a night. It’s $10 for kids ages 4-12, $12 for seniors and $15 for adults. Children 3 and under, and WHC members get in free.

The heritage center is seeking past visitors to share their experience at Magic at the Mill. Email [email protected] with a story to potentially be featured on their social media page. 

Santa was getting a lot of wish list items at Magic at the Mill on Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022 (Laura Tesler/Special to Salem Reporter)

Tree lightings

The city’s holiday tree lighting celebration will kick off at Riverfront Park at 7 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 8., with special guest Santa Claus. The park is located at 200 Water St. N.E.

Willamette University’s annual Star Trees lighting and free holiday concert will start at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 2. Enjoy music, cocoa and smores, and bring toys to donate to the Boys and Girls Club. The concert starts at 7 p.m. in Hudson Hall, 900 State Street. 

Events and parties

A free children’s holiday party with cookies, crafts, gift bags and live music is coming to the Ken Allen AFSCME Labor Center.

It’s the 81st annual party by the center, and special guests include the Norman Sylvester Band, storyteller Donna Erbs and Caesar the No Drama Llama.

The event is Saturday, Dec. 9, from 9 a.m. to noon at 1400 Tandem Ave. N.E.

Deepwood Museum & Gardens is having a free holiday open house on Saturday, Dec. 2 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The home is decorated in the Victorian style with handmade ornaments. Meet Santa in the front parlor and chat with hosts in historical attire throughout the home. 

The museum is located at 1116 Mission St. S.E., by Bush’s Pasture Park.

Care for a breakfast of pasta, candy and maple syrup? Join Buddy the Elf at the YMCA for a free breakfast and photo op on Saturday, Dec. 2. Gluten free options are available.

There will be three breakfast sessions at 9 a.m., 9:45 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. RSVP online to secure a spot, or email Amanda Schimmel with questions at [email protected]. The Withnell Family YMCA is located at 685 Court Street N.E..

A dogwood tree in bloom at Deepwood Museum & Gardens on April 24, 2022 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

Plays and performances

North Salem High School’s holiday play “Junie B. in Jingle Bells Batman Smells,” still has available seats for its 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. shows on Saturday, Dec. 2. The play is based on the Junie B. Jones book by Barbara Park. The theater is located at the school, 765 14th St. N.E. and tickets are available online

British comedy duo James & Jamesy will bring “O Christmas Tea” to the Elsinore Theatre on Dec. 6., with a comedy show that brings comedy and imagination together. 

“We want adults to leave feeling lighter, more playful, and a deeper connection not only with their companions, but also with the entire community that shared the mesmerizing moments in the audience,” Alastair Knowles, who plays Jamesy, said.

The show is Wednesday, Dec. 6, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online and start at $45, with a $10 discount for students.

Willamette University’s Theatre 33 is putting on a series of “Holiday Shorts” by Pacific Northwest Playwrights to celebrate holiday magic. There will be shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 8 through 15. 

Tickets are available online, at $18 for general admission and $15 for seniors and students. 

The American Ballet Academy will perform a children’s Nutcracker at the Elsinore, featuring 250 local students. There will be a Saturday, Dec. 9, show at 7 p.m. and a Sunday, Dec. 10, show at 2:30 p.m. Tickets range from $18-$27, with all profits going to the Marion Polk Food Share.

Students at Salem’s Premiere Academy of Performing Arts will perform “The Nutcracker” at the Elsinore with 3 p.m. shows on Saturday, Dec. 16, and Sunday, Dec. 17. Tickets start at $18 and are available online.

Salem’s Tippy Toe Dance Studio will perform “The Forest Feast,” which follows woodland critters gathering ingredients for a meal using ballet, contemporary and hip-hop choreography. The show is at the Elsinore at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 14. Tickets range from $18-$24 and area available online.


The Elsinore Theatre is playing the holiday classic film “Home Alone” on Saturday, Dec. 2, with shows at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets are $10, and are available online. Show up early to take a picture with Santa, who will be there in the hour before the movie starts. 

The Elsinore is playing a double feature of stop-motion holiday classics “The Year Without a Santa Claus” and “Jack Frost” by directors Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass.There are options for a 2 p.m. or 7 p.m. showtime on Monday, Dec. 18. Tickets are $10, and include a meeting with Santa who will be there for the hour before the show. 

See the Will Ferrell holiday classic “Elf” on the big screen at the Elsinore on Tuesday, Dec. 19. The show starts at 7 p.m., and includes a visit with Santa and Buddy the Elf, who will be there for the hour before the show. Tickets are $10, and are available online.

Holiday Market

Over 250 vendors will bring handmade and homegrown products to the Oregon State Fair & Exposition Center Dec. 8-10. The event has free admission and free parking, and includes prize baskets, kids activities, a visit with Santa and gingerbread and tree decorating contests. There will also be interactive model train displays.

The market will open from 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Dec. 8, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. on Dec. 9, and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on Dec. 10. It’ll be in the Jackman Long and Columbia Hall buildings, 2330 17th St. N.E.

1940s Christmas Dance

A 1940s themed “Swing Time Christmas” dance will help restoration efforts for the Lacy Lady B-17 plane housed at the Salem Municipal Airport.

The Willamette Valley Big Band will play at the gala, which features a dinner, auction and wine. Costumes of the era are encouraged, and B-17 restorationists will share updates about the plane as they work to return it to the sky.

The dance will be at the B-17 Alliance Museum & Restoration Hangar, 3278 S.E. 25th St. Hangar C. Tickets are available online for $125 each, and include dinner. 

Jingle Bell Relay

A Jingle Bell Relay race looping around Riverfront Park will take place Dec. 8. amidst the holiday light display. The race has two start times at 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., and consists of five 1k loops.

Admission is $5, and teams and individuals can sign up online.

Bar crawl

A holiday bar crawl through downtown Salem includes chances to win prizes and raffle items. Bars include Ritters, Venti’s, Best Goose, Taproot and Pacific Standard.

The crawl starts at 6 p.m. on Dec. 16, with registration and raffle entry at the Travel Salem Visitor Center, 630 Center St. N.E. It will end at 10:30 p.m. at the Holman Hotel, 195 Commercial St. S.E. 

Holiday concerts

Musicians perform at the Salem Tuba Holiday (Courtesy/Salem Symphonic Winds)

Salem Multicultural Institute will host the SamaZama Duo for a koto and cello holiday concert on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., 390 Liberty St. S.E. Reservations are required at $15 per person. Email [email protected] or call 503-581-2004. 

Earlier that day, the Multicultural Institute will have an e-tegami card making class, a holiday card in hand-painted Japanese style. There will be a 11 a.m. and a 1 p.m. session, both taught by Shoka Stonelake for $7 per person. Sign up online.

The annual Salem Tuba Holiday returns to the Elsinore on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, featuring baritones, euphoniums and, of course, tubas led by conductor John Skelton. The players are all ages and will be accompanied by vocalist Jeff Witt. 

The annual concert first began in Salem in the late 1990s and puts professionals and newcomers side by side. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 the day of the show, and are available online.

Funk and soul band Tower of Power, whose hits include “You’re Still A Young Man” and “What is Hip?” are bringing a holiday hits tour to the Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 7. The show starts at 7:30 p.m., and tickets are available online starting at $40.

The Oregon Symphony is putting on a holiday brass performance at the Elsinore Theatre, playing a mix of classic and popular favorites with “power, precision, and prowess.” The show is Sunday, Dec. 3 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $25 to $35 and are available online.

A John Denver Christmas tribute featuring hits like “Rocky Mountain High” and “Take Me Home, Country Roads” will take to the Elsinore stage on Dec. 20. Tickets start at $55 and are available online.

At the carousel

Children ride Salem’s Riverfront Carousel in costume on Saturday, October 31. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

The Hazel Patton Riverfront Carousel, 101 Front St. S.E., will have free visits with Santa through Dec. 23, with photos starting at $5, plus events throughout the month.

There will be a free craft day at the carousel on Sunday, Dec. 3, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Breakfast with Santa will be on Saturday, Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 starting at 8 a.m. Tickets are $35 per person, and free for children under 2. Reserve a spot online.

There will be a holiday pajama party with Santa and friends on Wednesday, Dec. 20 at 8 a.m. Tickets are $35 a person, and include unlimited carousel rides, holiday crafts, snacks and a photo.

Rides on the carousel will be free Christmas Eve, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Community toy drives and donations

Here’s a guide for ways to donate to neighbors this season:

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

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Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.