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Rainstorms or not, Portland, Oregon is filled with holiday spirit. Since the Pacific Northwest is known for having some damp, grey weather this time of year, the sparkle of lights and decorations is more than welcome. Here are some great places to enjoy holiday events and decorations during the 2020 season and 5 of my favorite wow spots to experience Christmas in Portland.
1—Christmas in Portland at Pioneer Courthouse Square and Downtown
After Thanksgiving, the holiday season in Portland is traditionally kicked off with the lighting of a 75-foot Douglas fir tree. Surrounding the square are shops and stores such as Nordstrom, Macy’s and the Pioneer Place Mall. All usually decorate for the season and entice shoppers inside for a bit of tax-free shopping.
There are usually performances by school children and dance groups throughout the season. One spectacular event has been The Annual Tuba Christmas Concert bringing the square to life with the sound of 300 tubas performing a medley of seasonal songs in unison. (Free)
Note: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, these events are not yet confirmed. The Travel Portland website recommends checking back later in November for a current event list.
2—Christmas in Portland on the Rivers with the Christmas Ships
Each December, the Christmas Ships parade up and down the Columbia and Willamette Rivers for 15 nights. Well over 50 lighted sailboats and yachts draw viewers to the riverbanks and bridges of Portland and nearby river towns. The 2020 Christmas Ships Parade season begins on December 4, 2020, and runs through December 22, 2020. There are seven nights this year where the Christmas Ships have a combined fleet (more boats in one location). On the other eight nights, each fleet parades on its respective river. Be sure and check the Facebook page because water levels, debris in the rivers, and weather can affect the sailings.
The ships, all skippered by volunteers, ply the waters while families wait patiently in the dark and applause breaks out when the Christmas Ships round a bend or float under a bridge to come into sight. Light displays move, music plays, and the ships bring holiday magic to the rivers.
This year the Christmas Ships will host “Meet & Greet” events at the public dock near Tom McCall Waterfront Park (Riverplace area). See the boats up close and even meet Santa! The 2020 Meet & Greet, where you can see the ships up close and meet the skippers, is on the weekend of December 19–20 at the Public Dock near RiverPlace Marina, 315 SW Montgomery Street in Portland. The Meet & Greet starts at 8 p.m. on Saturday, December 19, and 2 p.m. on Sunday, December 20.
Schedule, details, and weather information impacting the sailings can be found on the Christmas Ships website. (Free)
3—Winter Wonderland Lights at Portland International Raceway
Baby, it’s cold outside! A great way to keep warm and enjoy the holiday lights is to head for Portland International Raceway (PIR) just south of the I-5 Bridge into Washington State. The lighting display is recognized throughout the Pacific Northwest as the “Largest Holiday Light Show West of the Mississippi.”
You can drive on the racetrack to view the huge displays beginning November 27th, 2020 – January 2, 2021. Be sure and check the PIR website or Facebook page for closures in case of severe weather and for the exact hours and days of operation. (Entrance fee)
4—Christmas in Portland: A Very Portland Christmas at Pittock Mansion
Pittock Mansion, high in the west hills overlooking Portland, was home to Portland pioneers Henry and Georgiana Pittock in the early 1900s. The elegant mansion was restored by the City of Portland in the 1960s.
Traditionally, each holiday season, volunteers transform the museum into a winter wonderland with decorated trees, elegant table settings, themed rooms, and a look into the family life of days gone by.
Note: Please check the Pittock Mansion website to see if this year's Christmas event will be taking place.
5—Christmas in Portland Festival of Lights at the Grotto
In Northeast Portland, you’ll find a peaceful 62-acre conference center with gardens, a grotto, and a marvelous view of the city from the upper-level chapel.
Due to concerns about Covid-19, the Grotto is not hosting their usual evening lighting and choral event in 2020. The Grotto will be open during usual daytime hours to walk the paths, reflect, and celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. All activities on the lower level are free to everyone, the Grotto's gift to the community. If you purchase admission to the scenic Upper Gardens you will enjoy some special seasonal decorations.
When You Go to Portland for Christmas
Travel Portland lists many more holiday events. Remember to wear layers and bring waterproof gear. Portland can be dry and sunny in December or cold and icy but no matter what the weather, Christmas in Portland will be a time to make memories. Find more ideas for your visit to Portland in these Portland articles by Wander authors.