Beloved holiday traditions return to Seattle area after COVID hiatus

The pandemic isn’t over yet, but a sign that things are back to normal is that some of the Seattle area’s most popular vacation traditions are back in person this year.

After a virtual broadcast in 2020, the tree lighting of the Westlake Center will take place again in front of an audience this Saturday evening.

“People can go and see the tree lighting going on [Nov.] 27. “said Kelly Hatfield, Visit Seattle’s PR manager. “This is something we really missed last year and it’s coming back.”

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When you’re ready to walk up the hill on Pine Street in front of the Westlake tree lights, you can see Pike Place Market lighting its brightly colored lights for Magic in the Market on Saturday at 5pm.

The personal break is over for the Nutcracker at McCaw Hall, who will once again greet live audiences, and Winterfest at the Seattle Center, which features ice sculptures, a winter train and village, performances, and more.

Brave the cold to hear Christmas carols, see twinkling lights, and watch the Argosy Christmas Ship sail up and down the Puget Sound. It will stop at parks along the Seattle waterfront and Lake Washington each night.

Wild Lanterns is back at Woodland Park Zoo, but with a few surprises.

“This year is different,” said Hatfield. “So if you were there last year, it’s the same really cool, large-scale animals and natural landscape lanterns, but they’re not exactly the same as last year.”

New for Seattle are festive light sculptures in Westlake Park and an augmented reality experience in downtown Seattle – a kind of Yuletide Pokémon Go.

Hatfield said the seasonal splendor should help brighten the dark winter days 20 months after the pandemic began.

“I hope everyone has that joy and spirit this year,” she said. “We all need it.”

Visit for the latest information, including COVID restrictions on various events.

For those on the eastside of King County, the holiday season will also feel a little more like “the old days” of 2019. Some of the most iconic seasonal events in downtown Bellevue are returning.

“It’s a great opportunity for families, it makes for a wonderful night out,” said Patrick Bannon, president of the Bellevue Downtown Association. “You can go to Snowflake Lane and ice skate and then go to Garden D’Lights and you can get a little bit of everything.”

After a modified 2020 year, the nightly Snowflake Lane parade is back in its original form, with a light show, falling “snow” and elves and nutcrackers dancing to favorite songs.

Another comeback this year after a purely virtual 2020 is the dazzling Garden d’Lights exhibition in the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

“Volunteers make lighted animals and other ornaments in the gardens,” said Bannon. “There’s a surprise around every corner, so there are literally hundreds of thousands of lights.”

The Nutcracker and other festive shows will be back in the Meydenbauer Center and Bellevue’s Downtown Park will host the Bellevue Downtown Ice Rink for the first time since 2019.

“It’s open on Thanksgiving and Boxing Day, so it’s a great opportunity when the family needs to get out or when you want to get some exercise – burn off calories or add some extra stress during the holiday season,” said Bannon.

Newbie Skating? No problem – the lessons are free.

While the holiday events are back to their original form, there will still be some changes due to the pandemic. Tickets for the ice rink and garden must be purchased in advance as capacity is limited. Masks are required for some events. And for all hall demonstrations, like the Meydenbauer shows, vaccinations or tests are required according to King County’s regulations.

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