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Ms. Cheap's Guide to the Holidays: 10 free things to do, plus some festive virtual options

The Tennessean (Nashville) logo The Tennessean (Nashville) 12/1/2020 Mary Hance, Nashville Tennessean
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My annual Ms. Cheap Holiday Guide usually offers a full list of free things to do, like concerts, choir performances, Christmas tree and Menorah lightings, live Nativities, parades, old-fashioned Christmas celebrations and free Santa visits.

a person flying through the air: Nicolas Scheuer as the Snow King in the Nashville Ballet production "Nashville's Nutcracker." © Heather Thorne Nicolas Scheuer as the Snow King in the Nashville Ballet production "Nashville's Nutcracker."

But, with COVID-19 making many of our favorite holiday activities "high risk," the seasonal guide has had to be modified.

Fortunately, there are still some cheery options to help us celebrate the holidays. Here are my 2020 picks for free holiday doings, along with a list of virtual events to take advantage of this season. 

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Gaylord Opryland

A Country Christmas is filled with activities and shows with fees, but also has plenty of free offerings for families who want to enjoy the lavishly decorated resort through Jan. 3.

It would be hard to find a better outdoor Christmas light display than Gaylord Opryland's 4 million holiday lights.

The Delta Atrium shows are back this year at 6, 7, 8 and 9 p.m. with choreographed music, water and projections on a giant LED light curtain suspended above the Bellagio-like fountain inside the 4.5-acre indoor garden. They each last about 15 minutes.

The hotel's outdoor Nativity display features 55 life-size figures and a nightly recorded version of The Christmas Story on the Magnolia Lawn. 

Other free highlights include the 15,000 poinsettias in the lobby, a free ice skating show, nightly caroling and countdowns to tree lighting at 4:45 p.m. on the Magnolia Lawn. .

New this year are free daily screenings of popular holiday classic movies and self-guided holiday horticulture tours in the indoor gardens. Plus there are plenty of holiday spots for selfies or group photos.

If you park at Opry Mills and walk to the hotel/convention center, parking is free, too.

Details: christmasatgaylordopryland.marriott.com

Volunteer 

Hands on Nashville is encouraging people to volunteer any way they can this holiday season. Choose an angel from the Salvation Army Angel Tree, organize a food and clothing drive or work with neighborhood groups to pick up litter.

“COVID-19 has impacted so many this year, and our community nonprofits have stepped up in amazing ways. Whether providing food to families in need, supplies to those experiencing homelessness or tutors for children, the need for volunteers is greater than it has ever been," said Savanna Maue, community relations coordinator at Hands On Nashville.

The group's calendar also includes activities like assembling face mask kits, cleaning Nashville City Cemetery, planting trees, delivering food boxes or delivering Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. To sign up for volunteer opportunities: https://www.hon.org.

 "Your support is absolutely crucial this year," said Maue, who said many agencies are seeing their services more in demand but at the same time having a harder time finding volunteers due to the pandemic. 

Details: www.hon.org

Bass Pro Wonderland

 Throughout the holiday season, Bass Pro Shop at Opry Mills doubles as a festive Christmas village. Families who visit Santa (with plenty of COVID-19 safety measures including "contactless Claus" and "Santa's Sanitation Squad") receive a free 4x6 photo, as well as a free digital video to use on social media.

Families can mail their letter to Santa from the store. Instead of in-store craft making, children can take home free holiday craft activity kits.  Advance Santa reservations can be made at www.basspro.com/shop/en/santas-wonderland.

Free tickets to Nashville Zoo

The Nashville Zoo is hosting the Metro Nashville Police Department's Mounted Patrol Christmas Basket Toy Drive from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Dec. 5 and 6; bring unwrapped toys to donate and receive free zoo tickets for later. There's a limit of 2 tickets per person. Tickets are valid through 2021.

Details: www.nashvillezoo.org

Christmas Eve Carillon concert

Join Belmont School of Music's Richard Shadinger for the annual Christmas Eve Carillon Concert at 1 p.m., Dec. 24 in the Belmont Bell Tower in the center of the campus. You can listen to the concert from your car or by walking around (masks required) Belmont’s lovely campus.

Continuing a tradition started during the Ward-Belmont days, the concert features traditional Christmas music played on the tower's 42-bell carillon. Details: www.belmont.edu/cmpa/music or 615-460-6408

Nashville Farmers Market 

The Nashville Farmers Market is having a Holiday Market on the first Saturday and Sunday of December, offering shopping, music and a visit with Santa who will be walking around visiting guests and posing for photos.

Details: www.nashvillefarmersmarket.org

Clarksville's Christmas on the Cumberland

The City of Clarksville's annual Christmas on the Cumberland, a walk-through outdoor display of more than a million lights, continues through Jan. 1.

It is open 5-10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 5-11 p.m., Friday and Saturday at the McGregor Park/Cumberland River Walk, 640 N. Riverside Drive in Clarksville. Details: www.cityofclarksville.com/384/Christmas-on-the-Cumberland or 931-645-7476

Hike off those calories the day after Thanksgiving

All 56 Tennessee State Parks have an After-Thanksgiving-Day-Hike on Black Friday, Nov. 27. The free ranger-led hikes range from easy to strenuous and there are plenty to choose from for all ages. 

There is another all-parks hike on New Year's Day.  

Details: tnstateparks.com

Trees of Christmas in the hallway of The Factory at Franklin. © Submitted Photo Trees of Christmas in the hallway of The Factory at Franklin.

Trees of Christmas at Factory

The Factory at Franklin is having its "Trees of Christmas" display of 40 decorated Fraser Firs in The Factory. The trees will be up through Christmas.

Details: factoryatfranklin.com or 615-791-1777 

Discovery Center Open House

Murfreesboro's Discovery Center is having a free Holiday Open House 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Dec. 12. Learn how others celebrate around the world, take a picture with Santa and decorate the giant gingerbread house. Advance registration recommended at explorethedc.org/openhouse

Virtual holiday happenings

Some of my favorite holiday happenings have gone virtual due to the pandemic. They won't be the same, of course, but they will bring some holiday cheer.  And, they are FREE!

a person on a stage in front of a crowd: Amy Grant performing at a past Lighting of the Green at Lipscomb University. © Kristi Jones / Lipscomb University Amy Grant performing at a past Lighting of the Green at Lipscomb University.

Lighting of the Green

This Christmas tradition at Lipscomb University will be hosted as usual by Amy Grant and feature performances by Grant, special guests and Lipscomb Academy and University choirs.  This is the16th annual lighting; the theme is "Home for the Holidays."  You can see the virtual version at 7 p.m., Dec. 1, at www.lipscomb.edu/lighting-green

a group of people performing on stage in front of a crowd: Tuba Christmas, which has been a popular holiday offering for years, will be virtual this year. © File / The Tennessean Tuba Christmas, which has been a popular holiday offering for years, will be virtual this year.

Tuba Christmas

Nashville First Baptist Church, which has hosted Tuba Christmas concert in recent years, is creating a virtual version, using clips from previous concerts and live commentary from perennial Tuba Christmas host G.R. Davis and others. The concert, which has been a holiday staple for decades, features 100 or more tubists of all ages playing Christmas carols.

The plan is to livestream the concert at noon, Dec. 15 on the First Baptist youtube channel. It will be archived to be played later.  There will be a link to donate to Ms. Cheap's Penny Drive for Second Harvest Food Bank.

Details: www.youtube.com/firstbaptistchurchnashville

Nashville's Nutcracker 

Instead of the usual in-theater performance in TPAC, the Nashville Ballet will present a full-length televised production of "Nashville’s Nutcracker" on Dec. 18. The two-hour performance will be narrated by former Tennessee Titan Eddie George.

The show will air at 7 p.m. on NewsChannel 5 (WTVF Nashville), NewsChannel 5+, or the WTVF app on Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, Amazon Alexa and Google Play.

More info: Nashville Ballet to present televised premiere of Nashville’s Nutcracker

The performance will re-air at 7 p.m. on Dec. 24 on NewsChannel5+ and at 3 p.m. on Dec. 25 on NewsChannel5.

Nashville Christmas Parade

Nashville Christmas Parade organizers are replacing the annual in-person holiday event along Broadway with a virtual parade, that will air 9 a.m., Dec. 5, and at noon Dec. 6, on WKRN News Channel 2. The show also will air nationally in December and January.

In recent years, the parade -- this will be the 93rd -- has benefited the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt's Julie Carell Stadler, parade co-producer, said the virtual format will not only be safer, but will allow for more entertainment – such as performances and appearances broadcast from across Nashville, inspirational patient stories, sponsor spotlights and highlights from past parades.

In lieu of a grand marshal, frontline healthcare workers will be spotlighted as Hometown Heroes.

Details: nashvillechristmasparade.com

a clock tower lit up at night with Tennessee State Capitol in the background: The Capitol Tree is glowing after being lit at the Tennessee state Capitol during the lighting ceremony Dec. 2, 2019. © Alan Poizner / For The Tennessean The Capitol Tree is glowing after being lit at the Tennessee state Capitol during the lighting ceremony Dec. 2, 2019.

Nashville Christmas Tree Lighting

Nashville Mayor John Cooper will participate in the 21st annual tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m., Dec. 4. The ceremony will be streamed on the Mayor's Facebook page and on Metro Nashville Network – Channel 3.

Virtual Menorah Lighting

Mayor John Cooper will join Jewish community leaders to virtually celebrate the start of Hanukkah during the 17th Annual Menorah Lighting Ceremony at 5:15 p.m., Dec. 10.

Rabbi Shana Goldstein Mackler of The Temple, Congregation Ohabai Sholom in Nashville will provide a brief history of the menorah and Hanukkah, before the lighting of the menorah.  The ceremony will be streamed on the Mayor's Facebook page and on Metro Nashville Network – Channel 3.

Ms. Cheap Penny Drive for Second Harvest

The 12th annual Ms. Cheap Penny Drive is also mostly virtual this year. Donations are needed more than ever with pandemic pressures and increased joblessness. The number of Middle Tennessee children at risk of hunger has jumped from one in seven to more than one in five as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Second Harvest. The demand for food has jumped from 600,000 pounds to one million pounds a week since COVID. 

That staggering demand has held steady for months. While food donations are down, distribution and other expenses are up. Our help is urgently needed.

Donate at http://shfbmt.convio.net/site/TR?px=1555307&fr_id=1323&pg=personal 

Drop off your change with our sponsor banking partners, Pinnacle Financial Partners, Wilson Bank & Trust and Cornerstone Financial Credit Union.

Or, send a check to Second Harvest/ Penny Drive, 331 Great Circle Road, Nashville, 37228

Information, www.secondharvestmidtn.org/pennydrive

Reach Ms. Cheap at 615-259-8282 or mscheap@tennessean.com. Follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/mscheap, and at Tennessean.com/mscheap, and on Twitter @Ms_Cheap, and catch her every Thursday at 11 a.m. on WTVF-Channel 5’s “Talk of the Town.”

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Ms. Cheap's Guide to the Holidays: 10 free things to do, plus some festive virtual options

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