Raleigh, NC – Each city has its own holiday traditions that help create the culture and spirit of the community that lives there.
For those of us who grew up in Raleigh, we know that there are some traditions that are unique to celebrating the holidays here – like wondering about the origins of the little Christmas tree across the Beltline or doing shopping at The Secret Shop as a child .
So here are some unique holiday memories – some you may remember and others you may have forgotten – that you can only have if you celebrated your holiday in Raleigh
1. “I’m a booger!” Shopping for trees on Booger Mountain
Whether you were working in the tree party or just shopping for your Christmas tree here, many locals remember the iconic, red “I’m a booger!” jackets worn by staff at Booger Mountain.
Just down the road, a giant inflatable snowman fell off Neuse Road from a rival Christmas tree party.
If you grew up before the 70s, you might be more likely to remember to shop for your Christmas tree at the Devereux Meadow baseball stadium – then do some shopping at the Belks in the center.
2. Cross Family Lights – or Happyland
Whether you remember Cross Family Lights or Happyland depends on your generation. In the 1960s, the crosslights near New Bern Avenue were one of the most memorable exhibits in Raleigh.
“Cars would line up for miles,” said Lucille Alexander, who remembered taking her children to see the lights.
Unfortunately, the Cross screen was packed away and almost destroyed decades ago. Then a Christmas miracle occurred: the Moore family discovered the old decorations in a property sale and salvaged them.
In recent years, the Moore family has had one of the most memorable exhibits. Called Happyland, it is a mix of brand new decorations mixed with the historic statues used in the Cross display. Jan Moore restored the vintage statues so that a new generation of locals could see them in their full glory.
When he was 90, Alexander recalled seeing the statues of Cross on display at Happyland. “They brought tears to my eyes,” she said, showing them to her granddaughter for the first time.
The little Christmas tree above the belt line
For decades, Raleigh residents have been driving past the small Christmas tree that hangs across the Beltline between Six Forks Road and Glenwood Avenue, wondering the story behind it.
It turns out it belongs to the Minikus family, who have set it up since the 1980s. The ‘small’ tree is over 6 feet high and hangs over 40 feet in the air.
The Secret Shop at Belk in the Crabtree Valley Mall
Locals who grew up in the 1970s or 80s may remember The Secret Shop. It was a magical place where children could buy gifts for their family and friends, and things were priced to be affordable for children.
“When I was a student at Peace College in 1972, I had the best job of my life! My Christmas job was being an elf at ‘The Secret Shop’ in Belk, Crabtree Valley,” said Margaret Lynn.
She’s not the only Raleighite who remembers spending their vacation as a teenager in the mall.
She helped the children buy their special gifts based on a list given by the parents.
“The joy was wonderful – to see the children choose a gift for someone they loved,” she said.
Many locals who grew up during this time share this special memory of a Christmas wonderland created just for them.
5. Raleigh Christmas Parade at Night
Younger locals may not remember, but the Raleigh Christmas Parade used to be at night.
These days, the flashing lights shone even brighter, and many Raleighites said the magic was more tangible after dark.
Aside from just watching the parade, many Raleighites have extra special memories of being in the parade itself – marching in a school band, waving from a swimmer or being involved through a student organization.
“My strongest parade memories are from Shriners in the small cars, Shaw’s amazing marching band and of course Santa Claus who brings back up with the tall fire trucks,” said Karla Lineback.
6. Holiday Express in Pullen Park
The Holiday Express in Pullen Park is a recent memory in the history of Raleigh’s Christmas season.
There are two kinds of memories attached to the Holiday Express: Either you remember driving the amazing train through a flashing wonderland – or you can remember the stress of trying to buy tickets before they sell out.
Either way, it’s a tradition that has become part of the city’s culture – and the experience is nothing short of the wonder of childhood.
7. To see Raleigh’s own version of A Christmas Carol
Ira David Wood is Raleigh’s very own Joakim.
Ever since the show was launched in 1974, it has been a tradition. It’s just not Christmas before you cry while hearing a Christmas lullaby sung to Tiny Tim.
Joakim keeps an eye on the darkness – for a moment, Wood explained as he reflects on his own childhood and his lost father and hears the words he wishes his father could say to him.
No other city has this version of the show.
The show changes a bit every year with new jokes and pop culture references – but like Christmas, the important parts always remain the same.
8. Driving through Historic Oakwood
There are incredible holiday displays across the triangle. But year after year, people return to drive through the rustic majesty of Historic Oakwood.
Each home is decorated to reflect the owner’s personality and style. Raleigh’s famous velociraptor protects the neighborhood with flair. Wooden porches are decorated with snow, dazzling lights, red velvet ribbons. Some homes are classic; some are eclectic.
Some lucky locals get a ticket for the candle tour to go into the neighborhood and look inside each of the homes involved. But even if you’ve never made the trip, the majesty of Historic Oakwood at Christmas is a truly Raleigh experience worth seeing.
9. WRAL Tower lighting
Nothing says ‘Christmas!’ like seeing the tallest ‘Christmas tree’ in Raleigh looking across Western Blvd. when you drive into the center.
For more than 50 years, the community has been gathering to watch the TV news station start the holiday by lighting the 300-foot tower.
The tower of WRAL-TV Studios, 2619 Western Blvd., was first transformed into an illuminated Christmas tree in 1960.
10. Honest Reviews: Snow bear, Thalheimer’s, North Ridge
On Christmas Eve, the North Ridge neighborhood was a hauntingly beautiful walk through light streets. There was nothing like listening to holiday music while looking at the lights of North Ridge.
One house in particular had a memorable tradition.
“Throughout December, one could see a large stuffed Santa laying in the hammock. But on Christmas Eve, we always checked – and Santa was gone!” said Libby Alexander. “As a tradition on Christmas Eve, I loved taking my daughter to see if Santa had started to start delivering toys yet.”
Other locals remember a giant polar bear that roamed around Thalheimers during the month of December.
“Visiting Snow Bear was a favorite tradition for the kids,” Alexander said.
Share your holiday memories
Hopefully you remembered some of those cherished memories of Raleigh’s Christmas time – and if you did not remember them, the stories might have triggered your own memory!
Do you have a favorite holiday tradition that is unique to Raleigh? Email your story or photos to WRAL’s hidden historian at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make a new holiday memory!
The holiday memories we’re making in 2020 are likely to be different than ever before – but that does not mean we can not create magical Christmas moments!
WRAL and the City of Raleigh present a light show like never before – a 1.3-kilometer traffic light inside Dorothea Dix Park.