2016 Winterhaven Festival of Lights

Mike Crowder, right, and his wife Vilma Reynoso pause hand-in-hand to enjoy a fully-decorated tree. Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Star

Tucson in December may not be snowy but it's full of holiday events, shopping and lights. We've rounded up the 10 must-do Christmas traditions — the ones you hear about every season. Pick a new one this year and go check it out.

1. Winterhaven


A family pauses for a photo at the Candy Cane Lane sign on Farr Street toward — where else? — Treat Circle. (Treat and candy canes seem to go together.)

Winterhaven Festival of Lights is the big Christmas light display in Tucson. The midtown neighborhood has been lit up for 68 years. It's free to visit, although donations for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona are collected.

When: Dec. 9-26, 2017; 6-10 p.m. every night. Monday, Dec. 26 is the drive-through night.

Pro tip:

• If you plan to walk, look for parking on Tucson Boulevard and Prince Road and wear comfortable shoes.

• If you're driving, try entering the neighborhood at Prince Road and Treat Avenue or Tucson Boulevard and Kleindale Street or Country Club and Kleindale Street. The main entrance at Country Club and Fort Lowell roads tends to get congested.

2. Eat some tamales


Forget holiday gifts, there's nothing more satisfying than unwrapping a tamale around this time of year.  

You may already have a fridge stocked full of them thanks to your family's yearly tamale-making party. But in the chance you don't there are plenty of places to help you with your masa and meat needs. Try the Tucson Tamale Company, Perfecto's on South 12th Avenue or Lerua's on Broadway. 

3. Las Posadas


A group of angels and and Maypole carriers sing outside the final home that symbolizes where Joseph and Mary finally found shelter during the Carrillo Elementary School's 75th Annual Jubilee of the Las Posadas on Dec. 16, 2011.

Carrillo Elementary students dressed as angels carry the nacimiento through the neighborhood streets, part of the procession dramatizing the search for shelter by Joseph and Mary.

Since 1937 students at Carrillo K- 5 Magnet School, have been enacting Las Posadas with a procession through the historic Barrio Viejo neighborhood.

When: Dec. 15, 2017, event starts at 5 p.m. with food and entertainment. The procession begins at 7 p.m.

4. Tucson Downtown Parade of Lights


A line of floats moves south along Grande Ave for the Downtown Tucson Partnership's 18th Annual Downtown Parade of Lights on December 15, 2012.

The Downtown Parade of Lights has a new route this year that begins at Jacome Plaza at 3 p.m. with a wellness festival, holiday performances and real snow you can play in. Stay to see the mayor light the tree at 6 p.m. The parade begins at 6:30 p.m. Watch for Santa as he rolls in on an epic sleigh. 

When: Saturday, Dec. 16, 2017, 6:30 p.m.

5. Arizona Inn Christmas decorations


Visit this piece of Tucson history to take in the festive décor, take a portrait by the fire or unwrap gifts in the library.

Relaxing in the library of the Arizona Inn near a 14-foot Christmas tree with a champagne cocktail or a steamy cup of holiday cheer — as a cozy mesquite fire crackles nearby — is bliss. Visit this piece of Tucson history, located in midtown at 2200 Elm Street, to experience the hotel's wonderful festive décor for yourself. Get to the family together and take a portrait by the fireplace or unwrap gifts in the library.

6. Christmas at San Xavier


Luminarias light the way to a tent before the "Christmas at San Xavier" concert. 

Experience Christmas in Southern Arizona's 18th century landmark, a treasure of Spanish mission architecture and Baroque art. The Sons of Orpheus and Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus will perform. Fun fact: Linda Ronstadt headlined the first Christmas concert in the mission.

Pro tip: Tickets go fast and start at $100 buy them here.

When: Dec. 12, 13, 14, 2017 at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. 

7. Rooftop Santa show


Santa Claus throws candy out to the audience from the rooftop during the annual Poet's Square Christmas Pageant. 

Santa Claus climbs a midtown roof and showers the audience with candy during the annual Poet's Square Christmas Pageant. The show was moved in 2014 to the Peter Howell Neighborhood in midtown at 4054 E. 4th St. (Near Alvernon and 5th Street). Free, but bring a canned food donation.

When: Friday, Dec. 23, 2017 at 6:30 and 8 p.m.

8. Holiday lights in the gardens

Two events feature festive lights in a desert garden setting. Holiday Nights at Tohono Chul and Luminaria Nights at the Tucson Botanical Garden are beautiful ways to celebrate the season in Tucson. 

For the 31st year, the Tucson Bontanical Gardens is covered with more than 2,000 candlelit luminarias. A special holiday light show, live music and food trucks transform the space into a winter wonderland. 

Where: Tucson Botanical Gardens, 2150 N Alvernon Way

When: Dec. 1-3 and 8-10, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Cost: $4-$13

For more information click here.

At Tohono Chul's Holiday Nights you can stroll along paths with over a million twinkling lights while musicians and artists perform. You can also visit with Santa and get free photos and children get a free book. 

Where: Tohono Chul, 7366 N. Paseo Del Norte

When: Fridays and Saturdays, Dec. 1-2; 8-9; 15-16, 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Cost: $3-$16

For more information click here.

9. Reid Park's Zoo Lights


Visitors stroll past a long line of lighted trees after visiting Santa on the first night of last year’s Zoo Lights event at Reid Park Zoo.

Reid Park's Zoo Lights displays include animal-themed light sculptures throughout the park, live entertainment and a visit from Santa. Tickets are $10 for adults, $6 for kids, kids under 2 are free, members get $2 off.

When: Wednesday, Dec. 7 through Friday, Dec. 23, 2017, 6-8 p.m. Encore nights from Dec. 26 to Dec. 30.

10. Winter-break Arizona Wildcats basketball


UA basketball games during the winter break break have a festive feel and it's easier to get tickets. The holiday ticket pack contains one ticket to the NDSU (Dec. 18), UConn (Dec. 21) and ASU (Dec. 30) games and starts at $101.