The holidays are full of joy and plenty of fun things to do but the season also brings lots of expenses and stress if you are not careful.
So why not take advantage of some of the many free entertainment offerings that are out there?
Fun and free is a good combination.
And Middle Tennessee is loaded with free activities that will keep you and your family busy and in the spirit of the holidays. Here are my picks for the holidays.
Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s “Santa’s Wonderland” has transformed the Opry Mills Bass Pro Shop into a Christmas village with snow covered hills, elves, and other festive holiday decorations.
Plus, there is a chance to write a letter to Santa, and free games and free photos with Santa through Christmas Eve. You can sign up for pictures and reserve a spot online so you don’t have to wait in a long line. Details: www.basspro.com/shop/en/santas-wonderland
Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center has a calendar full of paid holiday events and activities like ICE!, a dinner show, and ice skating. But there are plenty of free things to do at the resort, too — everything from seeing the 5 million lights, walking through the giant Nativity display, enjoying the indoor nightly atrium light and fountain shows, and walking through the acres of lavishly decorated indoor gardens. The holiday decorations are up through Jan. 1. Park free at Opry Mills and walk over to the hotel. For ticket and resort access information, go to christmasatgaylordopryland.marriott.com.
Tour the Tennessee Residence. On Dec. 1-3 and Dec. 7-10. Gov. Bill Lee and first lady Maria Lee are opening the Tennessee Residence to public holiday tours. The holiday theme this year is “Heaven and Nature Sing.”
The free tours, which last 60-90 minutes and are self-guided, will have docents and volunteers stationed throughout the home to provide additional information and answer questions. Tour hours vary and you must have a reservation and must bring a valid ID on your tour date. www.tn.gov/residence/christmas-at-the-tennessee-residence/christmas-at-the-residence-2023-.html or call (615) 399-4254.
Letters to Santa. Children are invited to write letters to Santa and drop them in one of Santa’s Williamson County Parks’ special mailboxes by Dec. 18. There will be special mailboxes in front of the Franklin Recreation Complex, the Fairview Recreation Complex, the Nolensville Recreation Complex, the Longview Recreation Center in Spring Hill and the Indoor Sports Complex in Brentwood. Santa promises to write a letter back to every good girl and boy, but be sure to include your mailing address, so Santa knows where to send his response.
Tennessee State Parks has a series of park hikes through the year when all 56 parks offer ranger-led hikes and other activities. The parks have a Black Friday Hike on Nov. 24, and a New Year’s Day hike. Details: tnstateparks.com/activities/hiking.
Music City Bronze has a series of Holiday Handbell Concerts including Nov. 30 at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Murfreesboro; Dec. 4 at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood; Dec. 7 at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church in Hendersonville; Dec. 11 at Lebanon First Baptist Church in Lebanon; and Dec. 14 at Connection United Methodist Church in Nashville. All are at 7 p.m. and donations are accepted Details: www.musiccitybronze.org.
Nov. 28: Lipscomb University’s annual Lighting of the Green holiday concert will take place outdoors in the Allen Arena Circle on the Lipscomb campus. Joining Amy Grant for the 19th annual lighting will be “special surprise musical guests” along with Lipscomb’s ensemble Sanctuary and Gospel Choir and choirs from Academy and University. Festivities begin at 4 p.m., with the concert starting at 6 p.m. and concluding with the lighting of the giant Christmas tree. Guests are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and blankets to the concert. Shuttles will run from 3-10 p.m. from Woodmont Hills Church, 3710 Franklin Pike.
The Lipscomb event also includes a “Merry Marketplace” of holiday vendors inside McQuiddy Gym and free pictures with Santa starting at 4:30 p.m. Details: www.lipscomb.edu/events/19th-annual-lighting-green
Dec. 1: Murfreesboro’s “Celebrate Christmas Downtown” festival is from 5:30- 8:30 p.m. outside the Rutherford County Courthouse, with the annual tree lighting, photos with Santa, Christmas music, live reindeer, carriage rides and scavenger hunts. There will be free hot chocolate and crafts for the children and the shops around the square will be open. Santa will be back in the courthouse for free pictures from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 2 and Dec. 9, and from noon to 2 p.m. on Dec. 16.
Dec. 2: Morning with Santa at the John P. Holt Brentwood Library gives children a chance to see and take photos with Santa and deliver their wish list. A magic show is part of the celebration. Passes are available at the children’s desk beginning Nov. 21. The library is at 8109 Concord Rd. Details: www.brentwoodtn.gov or (615) 371-0090, ext. 8380.
Dec. 2: Holiday Concert at 11 a.m. featuring The Ukedelics in the lobby at the Main Library, 615 Church St. This band of ukulele maestros and multi-instrumentalists will play holiday favorites. Details: library.nashville.org or ukedelics.com
Dec. 2: Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at the Inglewood Branch Library, 4312 Gallatin Pike, from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. for stories, treats and photos. Details: library.nashville.org
Dec. 2: “String City, Nashville’s Tradition of Music and Puppetry,” the unique puppet show that chronicles the history of country music through assorted puppetry, including marionettes, shadow puppets and hand puppets, will be performed at 10 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Ford Theater. The show, which features more than 100 puppets ranging from the Staple Singers to Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Taylor Swift, is a collaboration between the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Nashville Public Library’s Wishing Chair Productions. The free shows, which appeal to all ages, are one hour and 15 minutes. Details: library.nashville.org
Dec. 2: Yulefest kicks off the holiday season in Goodlettsville, with musicians, storytellers and demonstrations in the cabins of the fort and in the historic home. The event, which has been taking place for more than 35 years, is from 5-8 p.m. at the Goodlettsville Visitors Center and Historic Mansker’s Station. Details: www.cityofgoodlettsville.org
Dec. 2: Williamson County Community Chorus is having two free holiday chorus concerts at Franklin First Presbyterian Church at 101 Legends Club Lane in Franklin. Times are 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Details: wcparksandrec.com
Dec. 2-3: Nashville Zoo will host Metro Nashville Police Department’s Mounted Patrol Division for its annual Christmas Basket Program, where guests are invited to donate new toys for families in need this holiday season in exchange for complimentary zoo admission tickets (limit of two tickets per family).
Metro police officers will collect toys in the zoo’s parking lot from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Children are also invited to drop off letters to Santa Claus for the officers to deliver them to the North Pole in time for Christmas.
Police officers will deliver the donated toys to more than 300 homes on the morning of Dec. 24.
Zoo admission is not required to donate toys. Toys must be unwrapped and designed for children 12 and younger. The complimentary zoo tickets may be used anytime through May 1, 2024.
Dec. 3: St. George’s Episcopal Church at 4715 Harding Rd. is holding its annual Lessons and Carols service at 6 p.m., featuring seasonal anthems paired with spiritual readings. The Choirs include the St. George’s Choir, the Choristers of St. George’s and St. Dunstan’s Choir. Details: www.stgeorgesnashville.org or (615) 385-2150
Dec. 3: The Williamson County Community Band’s Winter Concert isat 3 p.m. at the Williamson County Enrichment Center at 110 Everbright Ave. in Franklin. Details: wcparksandrec.com
Dec. 4: The 25th annual tree lighting ceremony outside the Brentwood Library takes place at 5:30 p.m. with the Brentwood High School Choir performing. This popular event, featuring ASL interpreters, includes:
Treats in the Brentwood Room, by 4:30 p.m., the library will provide visitors with cookies in the Brentwood Room. A holiday photobooth will also be available, and the room will include a Hanukkah display and a Santas Around the World display. There will also be live music in the lobby, featuring the Williamson County Youth Quartet.
The evening also includes a hot chocolate tent outside the library and Polar Express Storytimes at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. The story times are free, but you must have a ticket. Tickets are available at the Children’s Desk on a first-come, first-served basis.
For details, see www.brentwoodtn.gov
Dec. 7: Festival of Lights/Tree Lighting at Metro Nashville ‘s Bordeaux Branch Library is from 4:30-7 p.m. This annual community festival includes crafts, food, hot chocolate and activities for all ages. The tree lighting ceremony is a new addition to the annual festival. Details: library.nashville.org
Dec. 7: The Tennessee Agriculture Museum is having its Christmas Open House from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with refreshments, local vendors, live music. live trees, and for the first time, a model train exhibit. The museum is at the Ellington Agricultural Center, 404 Hogan Rd. Details: (615) 837-5297 or see tn.gov/agmuseum.
Dec. 7: The Brass Band of Nashville will be in concert at 7 p.m. at Vine Street Christian Church, 4101 Harding Pike, in Nashville. The band will be playing the music of Handel, Leroy Anderson, and Stan Kenton.
Dec. 9- 10: Dickens of a Christmas. This 38th annual festival, which is put on by the Downtown Franklin Association and the Heritage Foundation of Williamson County, re-creates the time of Charles Dickens in historic downtown Franklin. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Dec. 9 and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 10.
This event, which is one of the larger Christmas festivals in Middle Tennessee, fills downtown with musicians, carolers, dancers and costumed Dickens characters. Details: williamsonheritage.org/events/dickens-of-a-christmas/
Dec. 9-10: The 39th Bethlehem Marketplace at Southeast Baptist Church, 708 Minerva Dr. in Murfreesboro. It is a walk-through reenactment of the village of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.
The annual event, which has had an average attendance of 6,000 in past years, features characters in historical costumes such as Roman soldiers, prisoners, tent makers, weavers, shop keepers and merchants.
There will also be camels and other live animals, and there will be live music from school choirs and other groups in the sanctuary while you wait your turn for the walking tour. Details: sebaptist.org
Dec. 10: Woodmont Christian Church’s Annual Walk Thru Bethlehem is set for 12:30- 6 p.m. inside and outside the church at 3601 Hillsboro Rd. This beloved event features more than 200 costumed characters and live animals recreating the village of Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth.
There are merchants and shopkeepers and guests can sample food and see Mary and Joseph and baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by live camels, sheep and goats. The walk takes about 20 minutes and there are hands-on activities for children, including basket weaving carpentry, bread baking, wine and olive pressing.
Details: woodmontchristian.org/walk-thru-bethlehem/ or call (615) 297-8563.
Dec. 10: Christmas with Selah at Nashville First Baptist Church at Seventh and Broadway. This 5 p.m. concert features the beloved Christian group Selah, which has sold more than 4 million albums. Details: www.NashvilleFirst.org or call (615) 664-6000
Dec. 10: The Nashville Community Choir and Orchestra will present Handel’s “Messiah” at 7 p.m. at the Church of Latter-Day Saints, at 4304 Hillsboro Pike. Details: Nashvillecommunitychoir.org
Dec. 11: The Belmont Camerata Christmas concert takes place in McAfee Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Camerata is the faculty chamber ensemble of the Belmont School of Music. Details: cmpaevents.belmont.edu/ or call (615) 460-6408.
Dec. 12: Tuba Christmas is back with one performance featuring as many as 100 tubas playing Christmas carols at Nashville First Baptist Church, at the corner of Seventh Avenue South and Broadway in downtown Nashville. The 11 a.m. performance is free but volunteers will collect donations for the Ms. Cheap Penny Drive for Second Harvest Food Bank after the concert. Details: contact G.R. Davis at (615) 714-0247
Dec. 12: Nashville Unlimited Christmas Concert features top Nashville musicians and surprise guests, and place at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary of Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway. There is a suggested $20 donation, with all proceeds going to support Room in the Inn. Details: christcathedral.org
Dec. 14: A holiday piano recital featuring library staffer Amanda performing old favorites and new arrangements of holiday music at noon on the second floor landing of the Main Library, 615 Church St Details: library.nashville.org
Dec. 14: The Third Annual Elf Watch Party is an interactive viewing of this holiday classic and includes treats, singalongs, holiday popcorn at the Madison Branch Library, 610 Gallatin Pike S. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. and the movie starts at 4 p.m.
Dec. 17:The Carol-Candlelight Celebration featuring the Sanctuary Choir, children’s choirs and the First Baptist Orchestra, is set for 5 p.m. at Nashville First Baptist Church at Seventh and Broadway. There will be holiday classics and various arrangements of familiar carols. Details: www.NashvilleFirst.org or call (615) 664-6000
Dec. 17: Brentwood United Methodist Church’s Christmas Festival featuring the Chancel Choir and Youth Treble Ensemble will take place at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary at the church, 309 Franklin Rd. Details: www.bumc.net
Dec. 17: The annual Lessons and Carols traditional Anglican festival service featuring the Cathedral Choir and senior choristers will take place at 4 p.m. at Christ Church Cathedral, 900 Broadway, with a reception to follow. Details: Christcathedral.org.
Dec. 24: The annual Belmont Carillon concert on Christmas Eve is a longstanding holiday tradition. The 1 p.m. concert features Christmas music played on this unusual carillon instrument in the Belmont University Bell Tower in the center of campus. Details: cmpaevents.belmont.edu/
Dec. 26: Kwanzaa Nashville’s Umoja (Unity) Night at Plaza Mariachi, 3955 Nolensville Pike with performances by Sankofa Drum & Dance, and Shackled Feet, a marketplace and food trucks more at 6 p.m. See Kwanzaa Nashville on Facebook.
Dec. 31: The live show for “Jack Daniel’s New Year’s Eve Live: Nashville’s Big Bash” at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park will feature GRAMMY Award-nominated Thomas Rhett, reigning CMA and ACM Female Vocalist of the Year Lainey Wilson; Roll & Roll Hall of Famer Lynyrd Skynyrd as headliners. The concert is free and open to the public. The five-hour CBS special will air live on Dec. 31 at 6:30 p.m.,
This will be the 15th annual concert and seventh year at Bicentennial Park. The event will include the famed red Music Note, which will be dropped on a 138-foot tower at midnight to ring in the new year. Just FYI, the Big Bash generates as much as $38 million in direct visitor spending and an annual attendance of 200,000, with more than half being local residents.
For information on Menorah lightings this holiday season, see chabadnashville.com
Mary Hance, who has four decades of journalism experience in the Nashville area, writes a weekly Ms. Cheap column. She also appears on Thursdays on Talk of the Town on NewsChannel5. Reach her at email@example.com and follow her on Facebook as Facebook.com/mscheap