In quality and quantity, this weekend is unquestionably the best event weekend of December.
From the downtown tree lighting to a holiday boardwalk concert to bustling markets, the area will absolutely buzz – especially on Saturday, as the tantalizing Bills-Ravens matchup will occupy many on Sunday.
Let's begin with four of the most popular events for the weekend:
Downtown Tree Lighting, 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at Rotary Rink at Fountain Plaza. Free to attend, small fees for skate rentals.
Because Canalside bundled its holiday joy into its season-opening celebration two weeks ago, Rotary Rink is downtown Buffalo's premier place for a ceremonial tree lighting this year.
The countdown, lighting and fireworks occur at 6 p.m., with skating, chances to hang out with Santa and warm up with Duke's Donuts following.
Fountain Plaza is picturesque, especially in the winter – and the Gold Dome nearby is a glorious backdrop. Here are last year's Smiles.
Don't be alarmed when you see throngs of people in Santa costumes gallivanting around Chippewa Saturday. Admission to the crawl means free cover into the 10 participating bars, plus $3 Labatt bottles and $5 Jack Daniels, among other specials.
A toy donation to the Boys & Girls Club is rewarded with a free Red Bull (wings not included) and a gift card to Jim's Steakout, which could come in handy later in the evening. The Smiles galleries are always glorious — here's 2017 and 2016, too.
Polar Plunge, check-in at 11 a.m., plunge at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at Woodlawn Beach State Park (3580 Lakeshore Road, Blasdell). No cost to plunge, but the encouraged fundraising minimum is $100.
Almost as wild as the people who laid in a coffin for 30 hours at the Erie County Fair is the new Super Plunge, fundraisers of more than $2,500 who dive into Lake Erie once an hour for 24 hours straight. The lake temperature is barely above 40 degrees. Brr.
Thankfully, the regular Polar Plunge returns for a 13th time, benefiting Special Olympics New York as usual. It's a full day of wacky costumes and defeating the mental hurdle of sprinting into freezing waters, but it's all for a legitimate cause. Browse last year's Smiles.
Holiday Live at Larkin, 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6 at Larkin Square (745 Seneca St.). Free to attend.
Larkin Square will be slammed with Christmas spirit on Friday. Back by popular demand, Vin DeRosa and Vitamin D will rumble through two sets from the heated boardwalk, Thistle Creek alpacas will don festive apparel and peer at you quizzically, and the Filling Station will double as a vendor market.
Show up early for the tree lighting at 5:15 before DeRosa surges into action shortly after. Larkin's staff will accept canned food donations in exchange for a free hot chocolate.
[Related: These alpacas probably have busier social lives than you]
5 more worthy options
Festival of Slice, 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at Niagara Falls Conference & Event Center (101 Old Falls St., Niagara Falls). Admission is free, and pizza tickets, good for one slice, are $1 apiece. Note the new venue for this event, which packed the NF Culinary Institute last year. The Conference & Event Center is 33,000 square feet, which should better accommodate the masses.
Queen City Market, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 at Karpeles Manuscript Library (453 Porter Ave.). Free, but please bring a nonperishable food item for the Food Bank. The Karpeles Library is a gorgeous building; its beauty might distract you briefly from shopping. See Smiles from 2017.
Totally Buffalo 716Mas Festival, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7-8 at Buffalo RiverWorks (359 Ganson St.). Admission is $5, while kids ages 5 and under get in free. All of the vendors are local, Star Wars characters will mill about and live music rolls all weekend. Will the festival eclipse 10,000 this year?
Christmas on Main Street, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7 on Main Street in Williamsville. Free to attend, and peep the flyer. The Christmas tree lighting is at 6 in Island Park with live music following. (Also know the free Christmas cookies at Elderwood. Always find the free cookies.)
Yuletide in the Country, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 at the Hamburg Fairgrounds (5820 South Park Ave., Hamburg). Tickets are $3 in advance, $5 at the door. Peruse the lengthy vendor list, which includes some Buffalo reps.
Sold out: The Spill Canvas at Rec Room on Friday; Festival of Trees' family day on Sunday (but you can see the trees for free on Monday).
10 more to consider
Tree of Light at the Martin House
Holiday Walk and Tree Lighting on Hertel
Labatt Blue bottle tree lighting at Labatt House
Willie Nile at Town Ballroom
Santa on the Carrousel
Moor Pat fifth anniversary party
"Mr. Popper's Penguins" at Theatre of Youth
Holiday Art Sale at the Burchfield Penney
Carly's Club Gift Gathering at Soho
Roycroft Winter Festival in East Aurora
Continuing: Fairgrounds Festival of Lights.
5 events to look forward to next week