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Last year, the holidays felt like a bust, so it’s no surprise that this year, holiday happenings are back and bigger than ever. While Christmas tree lightings and holiday parades are to be expected, why not celebrate all things holly jolly with a few North Shore events that aren’t your typical Christmas fare? Read on for more.

For family-friendly sparkle

You know Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen, but have you met the reindeer who live on the North Shore? Be sure to check out ZooLights, which illuminates the Stone Zoo's 26 acres with thousands of colorful lights that sparkle on meandering, tree-lined paths throughout exhibits like Yukon Creek and Treasures of the Sierra Madre.

“It’s a beloved holiday tradition for many families on the North Shore and beyond, and our guests love having the chance to stroll through the lights and see many of the animals, including black bears, arctic foxes, and even reindeer,” says Brooke Wardrop, vice president of marketing and communications at Zoo New England.

For the second year in a row, ZooLights will also have “several large-scale lanterns on display to make the experience even bigger and brighter,” Wardrop says. “These will light up the night in addition to the lights that illuminate the tree-lined paths at Stone Zoo during ZooLights.”

To see the sparkle: ZooLights runs now through January 9 (closed on Christmas). Reserve timed tickets online.

You’ll also love: Winterlights, which lights up the newly renovated gardens and grounds at the Stevens-Coolidge House and Gardens in North Andover, where visitors will find thousands of glittering lights throughout the garden property, along with cocoa, cider, and sweet treats. Runs Wednesdays through Sundays now through January 9, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Purchase timed tickets in advance.

For a performance that’ll knock your stockings off

When Americans think of “pantomime,” they usually think of Marcel Marceau trapped in an invisible box. But in the United Kingdom, panto is a beloved Christmas tradition that combines fairytale storytelling with musical comedy, slapstick, audience participation, dance, and more. 

To get in on the silly fun, be sure to get a seat in the audience for Theater in the Open’s A Nutcracker Panto, which is returning this year to the Firehouse Theater in Newburyport.

“Holiday pantos I like to compare to ‘Bugs Bunny live,’” says Theater in the Open artistic director Edward Speck. “You’re going to get a lot of very silly interaction between the audience and the actors. We are constantly breaking that fourth wall so that the people in the audience are participants in the show itself.”

This year, expect to see the classic story of The Nutcracker to be “Bugs Bunnified,” says Speck, including familiar ballet themes along with “comedic dance routines and audience participation. And of course, a good snowball fight at the end.”

To get in on the laughs: A Nutcracker Panto is running December 10-19 on Fridays and Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Learn more at

You’ll also love: All the holiday programming at the Lynn Memorial Auditorium, including an evening with Chevy Chase and a screening of National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation; The Nutcracker presented by the Greater Salem Ballet; and Cirque Musica’s Holiday Spectacular. Learn more and get tickets at