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Small-town Holiday Fun In The San Juan Islands

Islanders celebrate the holidays with a warmth and cheer that's like stepping back in time.

From Halloween through Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve, locals go all out to make their towns and villages cheery during the dark winter evenings. Colorful light displays, town gatherings, Santa arriving by sailboat, and of course, the big tree lightings.

Let yourself be swept up by friends new and old, favorite holiday activities, and cherished traditions.

Sparkling Island Lights

Each of the San Juan Islands has its own holiday flair. The Friday Harbor Island Lights Festival will transport you into a fairy tale - or even the last scene of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas, where everyone in Whoville comes down to see the tree – even little Cindy Lou Who.  At the foot of Spring Street, overlooking the harbor, everyone dresses in their winter finery, a choir sings carols, a band plays and at the right moment ... voila!  The two historic elm trees in the tiniest park in the world—Memorial Park—brighten up the chilly night with literally thousands of sparkling white lights. This minuscule park was created in the 1920s to commemorate the military service personnel who died in World War I, so this small-town tradition is especially meaningful at this time of year.

The equally charming Lopez Village Gathering & Holiday Lighting hosts a magical torchlight parade, and the Eastsound Holiday Celebration and Tree Lighting on Orcas Island includes a beautiful, live evergreen tree on the Village Green. On each island, the whole town comes out to raise a cup of cheer. So whichever island you visit, festivities abound!

Browsing for Beautiful Artisan Gifts

The islands are a great place to shop for unique handmade gifts. Artisan fairs in the islands all happen Thanksgiving weekend, giving a festive kickoff to the season. Bundle up and walk to the Friday Harbor Elementary School for the San Juan Island Artisans Holiday Marketplace. Enjoy hot cider, sugar cookies and meet artists who've spent months creating their best work for the show.

Taking the ferry to the shops in Eastsound or Lopez Village is a mini getaway in itself.  The Artisan Faire at the Odd Fellows Hall is a gathering of Orcas Island's best, and the Lopez Islander Resort Annual Holiday Craft Fair brings together dozens of talented Lopez artists in one place—what a treat! You can find paintings, fiber art, scarfs, pottery, candles, woodwork, heritage preserves and other foods, sheepskins, jewelry and tons of other cool treasures. 

Rosario's Tree Festival

The Mansion Restaurant at Rosario Resort puts on quite a feast for Christmas Day. With the mansion lit up like a Christmas tree, Chef Raymond Southern connects with island farmers to fill the menu with the freshest local fare. The lobby is full of beautiful Christmas trees, decorated by local non-profit organizations. Look for the Orcas Island Historical Museum's tree, decorated with historical photographs, and the Orcas Island Animal Shelter's tree, covered with handmade puppy ornaments. Cute overload!

On Saturdays, make time for the organ and piano concert in the Mansion’s Music Room. Learn about the history of the Moran Mansion, and watch historic footage from the heyday of silent films, with the 1,972 pipe organ as a soundtrack.

Brickworks Old-Fashioned Christmas Market - Child on Horse - Photo Credit Elena Porten

Old-Fashioned Christmas Market

This special holiday market was inspired by the Christmas markets in Germany, with lights, sweets, music, and gifts everywhere. This sweet little market takes place on a weekend in December at Brickworks in the heart of Friday Harbor. It truly feels like taking a step back in time. All sorts of activities are happening with kids cookie decorating, farm animals, hay rides and magical visits from the Sugar Plum Fairy and Santa. Peel and roast chestnuts, drink hot toddies and sit around the bonfire listening to a fiddler play Christmas tunes.

Lopez Torchlight Parade

Every year, the Lopez Island tree-lighting and holiday gathering features a tiny torchlight parade. With the whole community gathered together, they carrying lights and candles through Lopez Village, ending in a festival of sweets and hot drinks. It's the perfect way to end an island holiday celebration!

Happy Holidays!

Holidays Island-Style!

Charming shops, hot cider and roasted chestnuts, tree-lighting festivals make the holidays special in the San Juan Islands.

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