Two hundred tubas, a monorail and a giant martini glass

Whether you’re a lifelong Portland resident or new to the area, the city probably has at least one holiday tradition you haven’t heard about yet.

Ale Festival

Those who enjoy a frosty pint should take in annual Holiday Ale Festival from Dec. 1-4 at Pioneer Courthouse Square. A large clear tent will provide a heated space while allowing views of the city lights and the region’s largest decorated Christmas tree.

More than 30 winter ales will be featured, all created for the holiday season.

Artisan Market

Pioneer Courthouse Square will also feature the Holiday Artisan Market on Dec. 6-8 and Dec. 13-15. Craftspeople from Portland’s Saturday Market will showcase jewelry, ceramics, stained glass and more.

Tuba Christmas

For something really different, head for Pioneer Courthouse Square on Dec. 10 for "Tuba Christmas." More than 200 tubas will play holiday favorites, accompanied by a community sing-a-long.

Storybook Lane

Storybook Lane at Portland’s Alpenrose Dairy is perfect for those with young children. Located on Southwest Shattuck Road, Alpenrose is a family-run business that dates back four generations.

Storybook Lane brings children’s fairy tales to life. Child-sized buildings are enrobed in sparkling "snow" and inhabited by live baby animals taking on their storybook roles: the three little pigs, Peter Rabbit and more. Each building is fronted by a "storybook" sharing the particular tale.

The dairy also features sleigh rides, a gift shop and a bakery. Best of all, Santa drops in from time to time.


On the 10th floor of the downtown Meier and Frank building, you’ll find another Portland holiday legend: Santaland. Decorated like a winter landscape and featuring a holiday model train display, Santaland is also home to a Santa Claus that many people call Portland’s best.

But Santa aside, the unique aspect of Santaland is the kiddie-sized monorail circling its ceiling. The monorail, the only one still in service from 26 similar Louden Supertrack monorails built by an Iowa company, has been thrilling children for more than 50 years.

In order to ride safely, children may be no taller than 51 inches. They also need to be self-sufficient, as adults are not allowed on the monorail platform.

Because of the sale of Meier and Frank to the May Company, the space is being remodeled and 2005 will be the last year for Santaland. Put this visit high on your list, especially if you have small children in your family.

Milwaukie solstice celebration

The winter solstice arrives on Dec. 21, and not everyone who celebrates the event is Wiccan, Pagan, Druid or a meteorologist. For the past three years, hundreds of Milwaukians have gathered at their riverfront for the city’s winter solstice celebration.

This year’s event will be held near the Jefferson Street Boat Ramp on Dec. 10. The evening will feature a bonfire, caroling and sales of food and drink by neighborhood vendors. The event also provides a great way to view the Christmas ships.

Christmas ships

The year 2005 marks the 51st year for the appearance of the Christmas ships on the Columbia and Willamette Rivers.

The Christmas Ship Parade started with a single sailboat from the Portland Yacht Club. The current Christmas Ship fleet averages about 60 boats, divided between Columbia and Willamette River routes. Each fleet sails nightly for two weeks during December.

Individual boat owners design and build their own lighting and pay for their operating costs. Many of the displays are animated.

The ship tradition packs restaurants and hotels along the two rivers. Local residents line the riverbanks to watch the ships, often blinking headlights and flashlights as the boats pass.


Pining for something warmer and fuzzier? Try the Oregon Zoolights festival, where you’ll see real animals interspersed with some 200 critter-animations using more than 500,000 lights.

A lit-up zoo train runs on Zoolight nights. Vendored food is available and live concerts are also featured.

Zoolights runs through Dec. 31 and is included in the cost of zoo admission.

The Grotto

If you’re looking for seasonal reflection and inspiration, you’ll appreciate the Grotto’s Festival of Lights.

Located in northeast Portland, the Grotto, known more correctly as the National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, is cut into a cliff and provides a dazzling display of lights and holiday concerts in a gorgeous outdoor setting. Food vendors, a gift shop and a petting zoo are also offered.

The Grotto’s festival is through Dec. 30.


Another traditional light display, Portland’s very own Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer is visible from the east side of the Willamette River, poised high atop an Old Town landmark: the "Made in Oregon" sign.

Originally built decades ago by the White Stag company, the sign features a prominent stag of bright white lights. In 1957 Portlander Elizabeth Hirsch suggested that the deer’s nose be lighted with a red bulb at Christmas, giving us our own version of "Rudolph."

Today, Rudolph’s nose turns red around Thanksgiving and stays red through December.

Peacock Lane

During the month of December, an otherwise unassuming street known as "Peacock Lane" transforms into one of Portland’s favorite winter light sights, as homeowners bring the street to life with lights and decorations.

The tradition goes back to 1929, when residents decided to decorate their houses as a show of civic pride.

You can drive your car or walk down Peacock Lane, which is located one block north of Southeast 39th Avenue, between Belmont and Stark streets. Walking is recommended, as traffic becomes very tight.

Horse and carriage rides are also available most evenings. Vendors sell hot cider and cocoa, and carolers are often on hand to entertain the crowd.

If you’re a bicyclist, you might like to join Shift2Bikes annual Holiday Lights Ride through Peacock Lane on Dec. 21.

Peacock Lane will be ready for viewing between Dec. 15 and Dec. 31.

Martini glass

For a quirkier type of holiday lighting, check out the famed giant martini glass, a unique display in Portland’s Southwest Hills, overlooking PSU. The martini glass has been a Portland holiday fixture for decades.

Several years ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving complained about the martini glass and it disappeared temporarily. Eventually, a compromise was reached: after 10 p.m., a circle and red slash are superimposed over the glass, reminding people to drink responsibly and not to drink and drive.