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Holiday lights in Greater Raleigh NCBy Kristy Stevenson

During the holiday season, the Raleigh area is aglow with displays of Christmas lights, blow-ups and other seasonal presentations. Here are some of the best places for December pageantry:

Happyland Christmas Lights
5505 Huntingwood Dr., Raleigh. These lights twinkle in memory of Rick Moore (1986-2004), who in his short life always wanted “more lights.” Drive by Mon.-Thurs., 6:30-10pm; Fri.-Sun., 6-10:30pm. On Christmas Eve the lights will run sundown-10:30pm with the manger lit throughout the night. Free.

Piper Lights
5725 Fixit Shop Rd., Wake Forest. Drive through a display that connects yards and crosses a pond (creating beautiful reflections). Ride the train and visit the candy store for hot chocolate, popcorn and old-fashioned candy treats. You might even see Santa! Sun.-Thurs., 6-9pm; Fri.-Sat., 6-10:30pm. Admission is free; donations accepted.

Wendell Wonderland’s Lake Myra Christmas Lights
10 S. Cyress St., Wendell. The Town of Wendell has a spectacular light show set to music. This year’s display features 400,000 lights computer synchronized to “dance” in time to the music. The display is created by the Williams family of Wendell, who painstaking design and assemble the glowing event each year. Visitors neither walk nor ride through the exhibit–it’s more like going to the movies. You’ll park (or stand) and watch the show from the viewing area in front of the display. Each show is 30-90 minutes in length. Sun.-Thurs., 6-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 6-11pm. Admission is free; donations accepted.

Magical Winter Lights Show
Park West Village; Intersections of Chapel Hill Rd., Cary Pkwy., and Morrisville Pkwy., Morrisville. PaintScaping brings the walls of the Park West 14 Cinemas to life with 3D projection mapping and animation set to holiday music. Nightly, 6-8pm. Story time with Santa is 5:30-8:30pm, Fri.-Sun.. Plus, falling snow, train rides every night and carolers on the weekend. Free.

Neighborhoods
Some neighborhoods are known for their cumulative effort and fantastic holiday spirit–Raleigh subdivisions like Bedford, Black Horse Run and Stonehenge; the historic district of Wake Forest; and Planter’s Walk in Knightdale, for example. Check out this map of many the hot spots in the area created by Wake Forest Commissioner Jim Thompson and shared via social media.

Holiday Lights in Greater Raleigh NCWhat are some of your area favorites?

Follow Kristy on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or visit her website here: Kristy Stevenson Creative.

IRONMAN 70.3 Raleigh2014 marked another banner year for sports tourism in Greater Raleigh. People traveled from all over the world to participate and spectate at many of the terrific sporting events held in the Raleigh area, including Rock ‘n’ Roll Raleigh Marathon & 1/2 Marathon, IRONMAN 70.3 Raleigh, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, the USA Baseball-Irish Classic, NCAA Men’s College Cup, CASL visitRaleigh.com National Soccer Series, the SAS Championship and many, many more.

Here’s what the year in sports tourism looked like through our lens. Click any photo to scroll through all images at a larger size. All photos taken by staff at the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance. Follow GRSA on Twitter and Instagram to stay in the know.

things to do in Raleigh with kids, Color Me Mine Cary paint ceramics. By Leigh Hines

There’s a new spot in Cary’s Waverly Place that will allow you to put your own dazzle on your holiday gifts this year. Color Me Mine in Cary is a walk-in, paint-it-yourself ceramics studio for painters of all ages.

My children and I stopped in one afternoon and they both wanted to paint.

The setup is easy. You choose from an assortment of ceramics in categories marked on the wall. My daughter chose a rainbow bank from the kid’s section, whereas my son chose a reindeer plate from the seasonal section.

Kids and adults can paint ceramics at Color Me Mine in CaryYou choose about six colors, depending on what you are painting, and then you can get as creative as you want with your design.

From rainbows to ornaments, Color Me Mine offers a lot to paintFor younger children, you may want to start with smaller items because each piece really needs about three coats of paint.

Once you have finished your ceramic, you turn it in, and Color Me Mine will glaze it, fire it and call you when it’s ready. This process usually takes less than a week.

Color Me Mine is fun for kids in Greater Raleigh, Art and Painting You pick it up and you have a gift for yourself that shows your creativity or a gift for a loved one with a lot of handmade love in it.

Kids can be creative at Color Me Mine Color Me Mine has a monthly calendar filled with many activities, including Music Night, Kid’s Night Out, Ladies Night and couple date nights. If you are an inexperienced artist, Color Me Mine has stencils and rubber stamps and a design computer with thousands of designs that you can transfer on to your pieces and paint by numbers! Staff will always be there to help you.

Fun for all ages at Color Me Mine in Waverly PlaceThere is a painting fee, plus the cost of the ceramic. Special nights usually give a discount on the painting fee, which is usually $6 for kids and $10 for 13 and older.

My kids loved it so much that they are ready to do it again, and I have to admit that I wouldn’t mind painting something as well.

Follow Leigh Hines on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, or visit her blog here: HinesSightBlog

WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary NCThis weekend Greater Raleigh once again takes center stage of the collegiate and amateur soccer world when the NCAA Men’s College Cup returns to WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Four teamsUniversity of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), Providence College and the University of Virginia (UVA)will square off to decide the 2014 NCAA Champion. Two national semifinal games will be played Fri. evening with the championship game on Sun. Here’s everything you need to know:

1. Matchups and game times:

Fri., Dec. 12 | 5pm: UMBC vs. UVA (TV: ESPNU)

Fri., Dec. 12 | 7:30pm: UCLA vs. Providence (TV: ESPNU)

Sun., Dec. 14 | Noon: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner (TV: ESPNU)

See the full tournament bracket at NCAA.com/collegecup.

2. Tickets:

Tickets can be purchased for the semifinal games ($30 for both games), the championship game ($20) or as an all-session pass ($43) HERE. Tickets are general admission and include parking fees. Print your tickets at home or have them waiting for you at will-call. Plan ahead and arrive early. Ticketing is being run by Campbell University, the official host institution of the 2014 Men’s College Cup.

3. Powerhouses:

UCLA and Virginia both sit inside the top five for all NCAA DI programs for most NCAA Tournament and College Cup appearances. UCLA, a four-time National Champion, is participating in their 32nd straight NCAA Tournament (42 appearances overall), along with making their 14th College Cup. Six-time National Champion Virginia has reached their 12th College Cup (and second straight) in their 36th NCAA Tournament. UCLA is the tournament’s number two seed; Virginia is the number 16 seed.

WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary NC4. Cinderellas:

This UMBC squad has reached a place no team at their university has gone beforethe Final Four. The unseeded Retrievers, who have won four games in a row in four different stadiums, are yet to allow a goal in 400 minutes of play in the NCAA Tournament. UMBC is no stranger to competition, however, as this is their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in the last five seasons.

Providence, this year’s Big East Champion (the program’s first), had never reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament before this season. Now the unseeded Friars find themselves just one win away from playing for the national title. The team’s 15 wins this season is the most in program history.

5. Visitor Info:

The Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau set up a website for visitors at visitRaleigh.com/CollegeCup. On this page you’ll find:

  • Calendar of events across the area for this weekend
  • Accommodation info
  • Restaurants in the area
  • Area maps
  • and more

Visitors can also view the online version of the Official Visitors Guide to Raleigh, Cary and Wake County. While you’re in the area, stop by the Visitor Information Center in downtown Raleigh to find out more about the area and receive personalized recommendations for your stay.

Have questions while on the go? Tweet @visitRaleigh with any of your needs!

6. Fan Festival:

The Fan Festival will keep fans entertained before games on Fri. and Sun., located behind sections 109 and 110. The festival will open at 3pm on Fri. and 10am on Sun. The festival will include interactive games, face painters, concessions, merchandise and more. Tickets are required to access the fan festival.

7. A History of College Cups:

This year will mark the 10th College Cup (4th Men’s) to be hosted by the Town of Cary and WakeMed Soccer Park since 2003. Either a Men’s or Women’s College Cup was held in Cary from 2003 to 2010, and again in 2013. Next December, the women will return to Cary to crown another national champion.

College Cup in Cary NC8. Stay Connected

Want to keep up with the NCAA College Cup while in town (or watching from home)? Follow along on Twitter and Instagram (and post your tweets and photos) using the hashtag #CollegeCup, and make sure to follow the teams on Twitter: @UCLAMSoccer, @UVAMenSoccer, @PVDMensSoccer and @UMBCMensSoccer

As always, follow and tweet to @visitRaleigh for information on the Greater Raleigh and Cary areas.

Wake County Libraries Annual Book Sale in Raleigh NCBy Kristy Stevenson

Calling all bibliophiles!

Want to get a really good deal on an amazing selection of reading material? The Book Sale and Festival of Reading hosted by Wake County Public Libraries, an annual event featuring more than 350,000 books for sale, is coming Dec. 11-14 to the Jim Graham Building at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds in Raleigh.

Wake County Libraries Annual Book Sale in Raleigh NCHours of operation and prices:

  • Thurs., 5-9pm
    Hardbound books: $4 each
    Paperback books, children’s books and CDs: $2 each
  • Fri., 9am-9pm
    Hardbound books: $4 each
    Paperback books, children’s books and CDs: $2 each
  • Sat., 9am-9pm
    Hardbound books: $2 each
    Paperback books, children’s books and CDs: $1 each
  • Sun., 9am-7pm
    Boxes of books: $5
    Bags of books: $2

Wake County Libraries Annual Book Sale in Raleigh NCSat. is the best day to go with your kids.

Sat. will feature family-friendly activities with entertainment and crafts to make the day festive and exciting for children–including a holiday magic show, “Rock Star Magic!” with Chris & Neal, family band Baron von Rumblebuss and Barefoot Juggling.

Cash, checks and credit cards are accepted for payment. It’s recommended that you bring your own bags, wagons or strollers. Boxes will be provided while they last: the customer packs.

Wake County Libraries Annual Book Sale in Raleigh NCStock up for yourself and also stuff stockings.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for all book lovers,” said Raleigh’s Don Vaughan. He and his wife attend ever year; they collect books in a variety of genres and always go home with a huge stack in great condition. “A few years ago, I added big-time to my Edgar Rice Burroughs collection,” Vaughan said. “And you can’t beat the prices.”

“One year, I did almost all of my Christmas shopping there,” said Katie A. Gailes of Holly Springs.

All funds generated from the sale return to Wake County’s General Fund, which in turn funds services offered in Wake County agencies, schools and public libraries.

Click here for more information.

Follow Kristy Stevenson, the writer of this article, here.

Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest Tree. ©Luster Studios.Every weekend Raleigh has an event lineup that keeps you wanting more. They never disappoint. Here are a few events you shouldn’t miss this weekend.

Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest Celebration

Downtown Raleigh’s winter celebration brings you the grand Official Mayor’s Tree Lighting along with outdoor skating. Even more festivities will line Fayetteville St., including live music, carnival rides, a sledding hill, a beer and wine tent and the brand-new Taste of Downtown feature and Gingerbread House Competition. Learn more.

Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Cinderella

Cozy up inside during this musical comedy production of Cinderella. Just the right mixture of comedy and romance to add the sparkle of magic to your holiday season. A visually-stunning musical combining elegant costumes and scenery with song, dance, conniving step-relatives and resourceful fairy-folk. Learn more.

Scandinavian Christmas Fair

Area holiday celebrations are not limited to those of secular pop culture but include celebrations paying homage to cultures from across the globe. Take part in the rich traditions of the Nordic countries during the Scandinavian Christmas Fair at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds and indulge in homemade Scandinavian foods, Nordic folk dancing, a traditional Lucia Procession and more. Learn more.

Winter Wonderland

Most absolutely can’t go without binge-watching holiday movies in Dec. Get social when you watch holiday flicks this Sat. at North Hills for its free Winter Wonderland event. Showing both Doctor Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas and Elf while kids activities, shopping and more transpire. Learn more.

First Friday

We couldn’t go without mentioning First Night, a monthly downtown Raleigh favorite. Visitors can experience downtown’s cutting-edge cultural hot spots tonight as local art galleries, art studios, alternative art venues and museums as they stay open late, until 9pm. Learn more.

Click through to see more events happening this weekend. Trust usthere’s a lot going on!

By Derek Allman

It's a Wonderful Life Radio Play, Cary, N.C.The Greater Raleigh town of Cary is set to deliver packages of holiday goodness this season. Immerse yourself in holiday magic at these charming Cary events:

1. It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play

Dec. 4-8 at the Cary Arts Center. Cary Players bring the beloved American holiday classic, It’s a Wonderful Life, to the stage as a live radio broadcast. You’ll be transported back in time at this live theatre production staged as if it includes 1940s radio stars broadcasting from a studio. Add live sound effects created on-stage by a collection of hand-crafted wind machines, miniature doors and other old-fashioned “Foley-props” and more, mix in live music and animated voices, and you’ve got a rich and wonderful production. Based on Frank Capra’s holiday classic film and recreated for the stage by Philip Grecian. Click for show times and tickets.

2. Town of Cary Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony

Dec. 6 at Cary Town Hall. For outdoor family fun, take your blanket to the always-festive, official Town of Cary Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. The night features actors, singers and musicians, plus the unveiling of the tree with hand-crafted ornaments from more than 120 community groups. The Community Christmas Tree is a true representation of the diversity of Cary.

3. The Night Before Christmas Carol

Dec. 12 at The Cary Theater. If live theater is your style, check out The Night Before Christmas Carol from renowned Dickens scholar and author Dr. Elliot Engel and watch history, humor and the holiday come to life. Go back in time and join Charles Dickens in his study on Fri., Oct. 13, 1843. In this acclaimed performance, actor David zum Brunnen portrays Charles Dickens and 17 familiar characters; giving personal, social, and historical context to the ghostly classic, A Christmas Carol.

4. Seasonal Movies at The Cary Theater

Occurring throughout Dec. On the holiday calendar are a handful of traditional seasonal movies at The Cary Theater. From the Natalie Wood classic Miracle on 34th Street to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Muppets Christmas Carol (Kids Movie Morning), Bill Murray’s Scrooged, Will Ferrell’s Elf and the children’s classic The Polar Express, directed by Robert Zemeckis, The Cary Theatre offers a heap of holiday movie big-screen showings.

And of course there are many more reasons to visit Cary in Dec. Click through to see a full list of events.

By Kristy Stevenson. Follow her here.

Faire, Raleigh, N.C.Barbecue–we’ve got that covered. Farm-to-table cuisine–it’s a culinary norm here. Notable chefs–yep, they call Raleigh home. New restaurants adding to the dynamic reasons the Raleigh area is one of the nation’s hottest culinary destinations–plenty of those too. And here’s a few new spots that must be tried (including a much-anticipated beer garden):

Faire

Opened Oct. 2014. A contemporary twist on traditional American seafood and steak, with locally and regionally-sourced meat, seafood and produce.

Tupelo Honey Café

Opening Dec. 1, 2014. A decidedly-spirited, independent and frequently-unscripted take on Southern comfort, farm-to-fork food.

Standard Foods

Opening Early 2015. Former The Umstead Hotel and Spa Chef Scott Crawford will soon open his much-anticipated restaurant-grocery hybrid featuring “Southern comfort food with a twist.”

Death & Taxes

Opening Early 2015. The newest addition to James Beard Award-winning Chef Ashley Christensen’s lauded restaurant empire will focus on wood-fire cooking.

Raleigh Beer Garden

Opening spring 2015. Making a run for the “operational beer tap” world-record holder, this new beer bar will offer 365 separate varieties daily.

By Ryan Smith

Coffee in Raleigh, N.C.There’s no better time than when the weather is cool to warm your hands and heart with a good cup of coffee or hot chocolate. Throughout the Raleigh area are numerous restaurants, cafés, coffee shops and artisanal chocolatiers that take pride in serving and creating unique and flavorful creations. This holiday season have an extra marshmallow or two and take a break from the holiday shopping madness.

Hot chocolate

There’s no HERSHEY’s chocolate syrup here! Two downtown artisanal chocolate shops use their award-winning bean-to-bar chocolates and, in addition to making small bites and bars, have turned them into drinkable chocolates.

Escazu Artisan Chocolates offers a hot chocolate bar featuring historically-accurate recipes from as early as 1644. Try the Xochiaya, a pre-Columbian brew with chili, jasmine flower and other spices, or the 1692 France, made with cocoa, cinnamon, cloves, vanilla and chiles from India. If you aren’t feeling adventurous there’s always the Contemporary Hot Chocolate, made with their 74-percent-blended chocolate, milk and a small amount of sugar.

In downtown Raleigh’s Warehouse District, Videri Chocolate Factory offers not only a sipping hot chocolate, but also a frozen hot chocolate, which is a year-round favorite. Take a few extra minutes while you’re there to tour the factory and see the chocolate-making process up close.

Coffee

If a good cup of joe is more your style, try Jubala Village Coffee in Lafayette Village where each drink is made to order using single-origin coffee from Counter Culture Coffee, a local coffee roaster.

Joule Coffee, which was recently named one of the “Top 20 Coffee Shops in America” by The Daily Meal is James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen’s newest venture serving a myriad of choices on its expansive coffee menu.

See a full list of Greater Raleigh coffeehouses here, and for a list of local eatables, including chocolatiers, click here.

By Ryan Smith

A Christmas Carol in Raleigh, N.C.Artful Holiday Traditions

Jingle all the way to Greater Raleigh to create new and artful holiday traditions for your family. Take delight in two time-honored performances at the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (12/19-28) and Ira David Wood III’s A Christmas Carol (12/10-14).

You’ll be captivated and fascinated by the awe-inspiring grace, grandeur and mysterious illusions of Carolina Ballet’s production of the holiday classic, The Nutcracker. This season will be spectacular as Robert Weiss again combines the beauty of ballet with a little Las Vegas magic. You can also catch one of the “Top 20 Events in the Southeast,” A Christmas Carol in Raleigh. Celebrate the musical comedy’s 40th anniversary as this classic performance is sure to warm hearts of all ages. Both productions are bona fide Raleigh holiday traditions and are inspiring ways for adults and children to share in the holiday spirit.

Cap off your holiday experience by grabbing your mittens, lacing up a pair of skates and visiting Ipreo Raleigh Winterfest (through 2/1). A centerpiece during the winter season, this premier holiday event features a signature outdoor skating rink and other fun-filled festivities. Can’t miss: Other holiday favorites across Greater Raleigh like It’s a Wonderful Life Radio Play (12/4-8) and “Tis the Season” (12/12) at the Cary Arts Center, Franc D’Ambrosio – Christmas in New York (12/7) at the Wake Forest Renaissance Centre and “Handel’s Messiah – Christmas Section” (12/20) at the Halle Cultural Arts Center in Apex :: All Creative Genius events in December

For the Adrenaline Junkie

The fall season in Greater Raleigh means nonstop soccer on a national scale, highlighted by the return of the NCAA Men’s Soccer College Cup (12/12-14). Forty-eight collegiate teams from across the nation will fight for a spot in the final game at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Greater Raleigh also hosts the largest annual youth sporting event in the area’s history, featuring the Boys Showcase during the CASL visitRaleigh.com National Soccer Series (12/12-14). Can’t miss: HighSchoolOT.com Holiday Invitational Basketball Tournament (12/26-30) at Broughton High School in Raleigh, featuring many of the top-ranked high school players from across the nation :: All Adrenaline Junkie events in December

Seasonal Treats

The holidays offer many special experiences across the Raleigh area. Children will love Brunch with Santa (12/17) at the Garner Performing Arts Center or sipping on a cup of hot apple cider at Historic Oak View County Park for their Sleigh Rides and Cider (12/6) event. Parents can enjoy a night out at the 12th Annual Gingerbread Benefit (12/7) at The Umstead Hotel and Spa, showcasing more than 25 elaborate gingerbread houses donated and created by local celebrity chefs. Can’t miss: North Carolina Symphony’s Sound Bites at the Pub (12/1) at Humble Pie. Sit back and enjoy the performance as you dine on a delicious multi-course meal :: All Foodie events in December

Holidays Around the World

Area holiday celebrations are not limited to those of secular pop culture but include celebrations paying homage to cultures from across the globe. Take part in the rich traditions of the Nordic countries during the Scandinavian Christmas Fair (12/6) at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds and indulge in homemade Scandinavian foods, Nordic folk dancing, a traditional Lucia Procession and more. Listen to the pipes and drums, watch traditional Irish dance and shop from local Celtic vendors at the 8th Annual Celtic Christmas (12/14) at Tir na nOg; or, be part of the candle-lighting and other festivities for all ages in the 20th Annual Kwanzaa Celebration (12/20) at the Cary Arts Center. Can’t miss: Take a special holiday tour of the North Carolina Executive Mansion during the Governor’s Mansion Holiday Open House (12/11-14). Browse the decorations, which include N.C.-grown Christmas trees, whimsical gingerbread houses, ornate mantle displays and mixed evergreen arrangements :: All Lifelong Learner events in December

Let’s Jam!

Warm up with a cup of joe and a performance at a coffee shop. Stop in Lorraine’s Coffee House in Garner for evening shows by Connie McCoy Rogers and Mo’ Jazz (12/6), Diamond Creel (12/11) and Foscoe Philharmonic (12/20). You can also relax with live music at Sola Coffee & Cafe while listening to Cory Bishop and Friends (12/5), Rachel Joy Pletts (12/6), Lounge Doctors (12/12) and Erin Mason (12/19). Can’t miss: The national and world tours stopping in Raleigh at PNC Arena, including The Black Keys (12/5) and The Avett Brothers (12/31) :: All Music Maniac events in December

Even more December can’t misses

The Raleigh Acorn will be lowered at First Night Raleigh 2015 to ring in the New Year. While the acorn has become synonymous with First Night Raleigh, the festival is much more than the countdown to midnight. Your admission grants access to every performance and every venue throughout the day. That’s nearly 100 performances in more than three dozen locations across downtown Raleigh. What a bargain for just $10! This year’s theme is “Out of This World Fun.” Learn more

Holidays in Raleigh wouldn’t be the same without the Capitol Tree Lighting at the North Carolina State Capitol. The Capitol is beautiful by itself… but holiday trees make things just a little more beautiful. Seasonal music and hands-on fun highlight this evening presented by the North Carolina Museum of History.

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