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Swain County holiday events

By Kristin Fox

Swain County will kick off the holiday season with their annual Christmas Parade on Saturday, December 2 at 2:00 p.m. in downtown Bryson City. The 49th annual Christmas parade will feature floats, marching bands, homecoming queens, fire trucks, antique cars, and Santa. This year’s theme is “Home for the Holidays.” The parade is sponsored by the Swain County Chamber of Commerce, Darnell Farms and the Town of Bryson City. For more information, call (828) 488-3681.

Swain County and nearby Cherokee have many other opportunities to celebrate the holiday season including:

Letters to Santa, Hot Cocoa and Cookies

The Swain County Visitors Center and Heritage Museum located at 3 Everett Street, Bryson City will offer Letters to Santa, hot cocoa and cookies from now through December 31, 2023 from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Through December 24, children can write a letter to Santa and mail it at the Swain County Visitor Center. All materials are provided free of charge. Complimentary cookies and hot cocoa will be available through New Year’s Eve.

Polar Express Train Event

From now through December, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad will present The Polar Express Train Ride, a magical recreation of the classic holiday story. The 1-1/4 hour round-trip excursion on the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad comes to life as the train departs the historic train depot located at 45 Mitchell Street, Bryson City for a special visit to the “North Pole.” Set to the sounds of the motion picture soundtrack, guests on board will enjoy warm cocoa and a sweet treat while listening and reading along with the magical story. The train arrives to find Santa Claus waiting. Santa boards the train greeting each child and presenting them with their own silver sleigh bell. Christmas carols will be sung as they return back to the Bryson City Depot.

The Polar Express train will operate daily from December 1 through December 24; and December 26 through December 31. Departures times vary – general times include: 5:00 p.m., 6:40 p.m. and 8:20 p.m.departures.

For more information or to book your 2023 Polar Express Train ride visit or call 800-872-4681. The cost for this event will vary by class of service.

Christmas Hayrides at Darnell Farms

During evenings in December, Darnell Farms at 2300 Governors Island Road, Bryson City, will light up with Christmas lights and sounds. Hayrides will run from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. December 1-3, 8-10, 15-17 and 22-23. Before leaving on the hayride, hot beverages such as hot chocolate, cider or coffee will be servedwith a sweet treat. Pictures with Santa will be available. Cost for the event is $18.00 per person; children under two can ride on a lap.

For more information visit or call (828) 488-2376.

Merry Market with Santa

Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) will host Merry Market, a festive experience for all ages, on Saturday December 16 from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the NOC Campus in Bryson City. Merry Market is a great opportunity to get those last minute gifts and a visit with Santa Claus.

For more information email the NOC at or call at (866) 336-1037. 

Events in Cherokee:

Enchanted Island of Lights

From now until January 3, 2024, Cherokee will hold their Enchanted Lights of Oconaluftee Island Park on Highway 441N from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The interactive light experiences will entertain all ages each evening in December.

Cherokee Christmas Parade

The annual Cherokee Christmas parade will return on Saturday, December 9 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.Locals and visitors will gather to celebrate the holiday season with festive floats, music and creativity. The parade route will go through downtown Cherokee, turning onto 441 North, and concluding behind the Qualla Arts & Crafts.

All entries, drop-offs and traffic must enter via the Hungry Bear Exxon gas station on White Water Drive; parade participants and floats are the only traffic allowed on White Water Drive.

Prizes will be awarded to the top three floats. Floats will be judged based on lighting, music and creativity and will be judged along the parade route. Winners will be announced at the Cherokee Welcome Center at the end of the parade.

Entries will be accepted until 12/08/2023 at 4:00 p.m. Parade entry forms can be obtained at the Cherokee Welcome Center. Floats that will be judged are required to fill out a W-9 and liability form.

Parade participant application, W-9 and liability forms are available at the Cherokee Welcome Center or for download on

For more information, contact the Cherokee Welcome Center at (828) 359-6490 or Josie Long at (828) 359-6491 or via email at

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