The Top Songs, Gifts, Decorating Inspiration, and So Much More

By Karlie Justus Marlowe

While Santa is making his list and checking it twice, we’re busy with a holiday list of our own. Here’s a run-down of the season’s best of the best.

Holiday Songs

1.    “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee
This rockabilly beat captures the fun of the holiday season.

2. “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby
The Christmas song master’s nostalgic ode to the magic of snow.

3. “Santa Baby” by Eartha Kitt
Inspiration for how to drop (not so) subtle hints about the must-have items on your wishlist.

4. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Frank Sinatra
Ol’ blue eyes paints the perfect red and green picture of the holidays.

5. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Mariah Carey
The high-note queen’s pop spectacle is major fun – and a major earworm.

Hostess Gifts

photo by joe reale

1.    Trophy Brewing Co.
Grab a growler to give out-of-town guests a taste of some delicious, local beer.

2.    Lucettegrace
Pick up irresistible macarons in a variety of flavors.

3.    Boulted Bread
Bring your host delicious bread perfect for sopping up the next-morning holiday hangover.

4.    Edge of Urge
This Person Street Plaza shop has coasters and LOL-worthy cards for the hip host.

5.    Form & Function
This furniture store just moved into its Five Points digs, and has lots of small items to add to your host’s home decor.

Gifts For Those That Have Everything

1. Umstead Spa gift card
Perfect for post-holiday fatigue, and right in Raleigh’s backyard. Just be sure to pass along the restrictions on booking appointments for non-hotel guests.

2. Poole’s cookbook
Raleigh celebrity chef Ashley Christensen published her first cookbook, named after her downtown Raleigh mainstay restaurant. Master the foodie favorite’s famous macaroni and cheese, and this is the gift that keeps on giving.

3. A brick in the NC State Brickyard
Wolfpack fan on the list? Immortalize their fandom on one of the campus’ trademark red bricks.

4. CAM Raleigh membership
Support downtown Raleigh’s contemporary art museum to get membership access to special exhibitions.

5. Charity donation
Funnel funds in their name into deserving local organizations like Raleigh Rescue Mission, Raleigh Food Corridor, or the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

Holiday Fashion Picks

Monkee's of Raleigh, photo by joe reale

1. Monkee’s of Raleigh
After a recent redesign and expansion, this North Hills store has a mix of popular designers like Tory Burch and Loeffler Randall.

2. Vermillion
Treat yourself to clothes and accessories from Balenciaga, Rag & Bone and Lela Rose at this uber-fashionable boutique.

3. Art of Style
If sleek and edgy defines your holiday wardrobe, visit this store’s new downtown outpost.

4. Lumina Clothing
Lumina’s mix of clothes and accessories make holiday dressing easy on the guys.

5. Goodwill
Find the perfect tacky holiday sweater while giving back.

Places to See Lights

1. Holiday Express at Pullen Park
Located between Hillsborough Street and Western Boulevard, Pullen Park transforms into a holiday wonderland.

2. State Capitol Tree Lighting Festival
Festivities begin with the lighting of luminaries and musical performances on the State Capitol grounds, before the State Capitol opens for tours.
3. Historic Oakwood Candlelight Tour
Go back in time via this annual look into private homes decorated for the season right in the heart of downtown Raleigh.

photo coutesy of Koka Booth Amphitheatre

4. Wendell Wonderland’s Lake Myra Christmas Light Show
One of the state’s largest holiday light shows, featuring thousands of twinkling lights moving in sync with Christmas carols and sing-along holiday favorites.

5. North Carolina Chinese Lantern Festival
This Koka Booth experience is great for adults and children alike.

Holiday movies

1. Home Alone
Simply the best. (All together now: “AHHHHH!”)

2. Home Alone 2
Right on the heels of the original, Kevin’s romp through New York City captures the magic of the season.

3. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation
Chevy Chase helps make the stress of the season a little more manageable.

4. A Christmas Story
For everyone who ever wanted a Red Ryder BB gun.

5. Elf
“Not now, Arctic Puffin!” Will Ferrell’s one-liners make this a modern Christmas comedy classic.

Local Shopping

photo by joe reale

1. Stitch
Designer Holly Aiken creates must-have bags and accessories.

2. DECO Home
DECO Raleigh’s new foray into home goods has pillows, furniture and more.

3. Progeny
For the stylish babies and toddlers on your list, pick up clothes and toys at this Five Points retailer.

4. Moon & Lola
Featured in Oprah’s Favorite Things, this local jewelry shop has gifts for all ages.

5. Runologie
The city’s only independent running shop is a great place to pick up gear for impending New Year’s fitness resolutions.

Holiday Traditions

1. Raleigh Ringers Holiday Concert
The community handbell choir has been dazzling concert audiences in Raleigh with unique interpretations of sacred, secular and popular music since 1990.

2. Carolina Ballet’s ‘Nutcracker’
A can’t-miss interpretation of the ballet classic, with shows in Raleigh and Durham.

3. Ira David Wood III’s ‘A Christmas Carol’
Performed annually since 1974 and named one of the “Top 20 Events in the Southeast.”

4. Annual WRAL Christmas Parade
The unofficial kick-off to the holiday season (not counting the holiday decorations out at Target before Halloween).

5. Raleigh Winterfest
This two-month holiday event features an outdoor skating rink in downtown Raleigh.

Places for Tree Decorating Inspiration

1. Furbish
Owner Jamie Meares turns the holidays on its head, working traditional Southern motifs into one-of-a-kind tree skirts, stockings, ornaments and more. Visit the downtown Raleigh retail space for all the eye candy.

2. Angus Barn
This Raleigh original goes all out for the holidays, turning its barn-like space into a country Christmas feast for the eyes.

3. NC State Fair Christmas tree
Ornament competition Blue ribbon tips and tricks.

4. NC Museum of Art
The Museum Store’s ornament tree helps turn a tree into a work of art.

5. Logan’s Garden Shop
The Seaboard Station outpost has tons of live greenery inspiration.

Places to Find a Real Tree

1. Tommy Burleson and Sons Christmas Trees
NC State basketball legend Tommy Burleson is known for his towering height, which helped the Wolfpack nab its 1974 NCAA National Championship title. These days, Burleson sells Christmas trees even taller than his own seven feet, at a lot in Cary. The Avery County native brings the trees in from Western North Carolina each season.

2. Back Achers farm
This Raleigh farm has sold fresh-cut trees since 1978.

3. State Farmers
Grab a tree, plus wreaths, garland, poinsettias and more, straight from North Carolina farmers.

4. Boyce Farms Farm
Located in northern Wake County, this family-run farm offers the experience of cutting your own tree. Bring your own saw, or let them cut it for you, net it for easy transportation home, and load and tie it on your vehicle at no charge.

5. Holidays by TROSA
Cross your holiday decorations off your list at the Lowe’s Foods of Brier Creek while helping TROSA, a worthy local charity.

Appetizers to please the crowd

1. Mushroom Pâte in Mini Phyllo Shells
These little bite-sized morsels practically make themselves and, sadly, there will be absolutely none left at the end of your party.

2. Green Olive & Pimento Cheese
Use pre-grated sharp cheddar cheese, a handful of chopped green olives stuffed with pimentos and enough mayo to hang things together. Add a dash of Texas Pete and serve with water crackers.

3. Spiced Pecans or Walnuts
Buy them at Whole Foods, or make your own at home using the recipe on their website.

4. Steamed Dumplings with Sauce
Buy a bag at Trader Joe’s in the freezer department and make a dip with 1/3 cup mayo and a large squeeze of sriracha sauce.

5. Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Halve a pound of brussels sprouts and spread on a cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil (a spicy olive oil will kick up the flavor a little), add salt and pepper, and place in a 400-degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Stir once while roasting. Serve with toothpicks at room temperature. A tasty, healthy snack!

Christmas Cookies

1. Swedish wedding Cookies
Swedish Grandma Jensen used to make these for any special occasion. They are also called butterballs and a million other names. Everyone LOVES them.

2. Thumbprints
These are basically little butter cookies, rolled in nuts and then dented in the center (with your thumb!) to hold a smidgen of raspberry jam.

3. Peanut Kisses
Another cookie with a bonus on top. Peanut butter cookies, rolled in sugar then crested with a Hershey’s Kiss. (Be sure to take the foil off before baking!)

4. Gingerbread Boys and Girls
This is the classic cookie to let the children help with. Have fun decorating them, then put them in an eggwash with sprinkles on top. Tip: they taste MUCH better with lots of sugar icing than plain.

5. Benne
Originally from Africa and the Middle East, these are now considered a classic cookie from Charleston. These rich brown cookies, sweet and nutty with sesame seeds, have a unique texture: solid and crisp on the bottom, crunchy-light on top. They go down nicely with a cup of tea.

Places to See Santa

1. Crabtree Valley Mall
Perfect for killing two birds with one stone! Get your holiday shopping done at the stores and then take the kids for a visit to Kris Kringle in the mall’s Promotional Court.

2. Lights on the Neuse
Head over to the Boyette Family Farm in Clayton to climb aboard Santa’s famous sleigh and talk with Mr. Claus himself.

3. Black Santa
For those desiring a more inclusive Santa Claus, Black Santa will be making appearances in Cary and Durham this holiday season. To find out more about where to spot him, visit

4. North Hills
Saint Nick will be stopping by the Shepherd’s Way Christmas Tree Lot behind JCPenney this December. Catch him while you can to snag a photo and fulfill those important holiday gift requests.

5. Triangle Town Center
Ever stop to think that our furry friends may want to meet Santa too? Bring your pets to Center Court every Tuesday night in November for what’s guaranteed to be an adorable photo with The Old Man in Red.

Things to do with the out-of-towners

1. ACC Basketball Game
It may not be March yet, but college basketball season is already heating up in the Triangle. Give your guests a true Tobacco Road experience at one of the area’s many hallowed arenas.

2. Marbles Kids Museum
Take your younger set of guests to this downtown Raleigh museum and let the kids play in the exhibits or catch an IMAX film.

3. The Governor’s Mansion
Also known as the “people’s house”, this historic mansion is steeped in fascinating local history and is sure to delight your guests with its Holiday Open House, open from December 8th-11th.

4. Second Empire
If your out-of-towners are used to fine dining, they’ll feel right at home in this world-class, award-winning restaurant in downtown Raleigh.

5. Brewery Crawl
Why not show off Raleigh’s bustling beer scene with a tour of the city’s most delicious brews? Trophy, Big Boss, and Nickelpoint Brewing are a great place to start. Have fun and stay safe!

UGLY Holiday Sweaters

Thanks to all of our readers for sending in your Ugly Holiday Sweater photos and congrats to Brad E. Miller for winning a $100 gift card to Empire Eats!