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What to do in Austin and Central Texas this 2021 holiday season with the family

Alana Dias and her husband, Kevin, kiss their son, Jonathan, 2, under the Zilker Holiday Tree during the 2019 holiday season. The tree will be back this year, but you'll need to wear a mask.

Some favorite Austin family traditions have returned for the holiday season, while others have been altered to fit COVID-19 safety guidelines. Some, like the Chuy's Children Giving to Children Parade, have been canceled for a second year. (You can drop off an unwrapped toy for Operation Blue Santa at any Chuy's restaurant through Nov. 28.)

Here's our guide to some holiday happenings for kids.

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Sisters Anni Brown, left, and Camille Brown with their dog Abbey visit with Santa in 2017 at the Long Center. Santa will be back on the terrace this year.

How to visit with Santa

Santa on the Terrace. Santa is back outside the Long Center and there will be a roller rink on site, too. Noon-4 p.m. Nov. 27. Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive. thelongcenter.org

Selfies with Santa. Hill Country Galleria's free Santa's Workshop lets you be the photographer. Santa is there at various times Nov. 26-28, Dec. 2-5, Dec. 9-24. Check the location and times at hillcountrygalleria.com. Santa also will be at the tree lighting ceremony at 6 p.m. Nov. 27.

Santa's Wonderland. Santa is at the Bass Pro Shop in Round Rock and the Cabela's in Buda now through Dec. 24. It's a contactless experience. You also get a photo with Santa for free. You can reserve your spot at basspro.com.

Santa at the mall. Santa is at Barton Creek Square, the Domain, Lakeline Mall and Round Rock Premium Outlets through Dec. 24. Santa photos are offered contactless or socially distanced if you prefer. You need to reserve your spot at your mall of choice's website. 

Kid-friendly Holiday lights around Austin

Trail of Lights at Zilker Park. For a second year, it's drive-thru only for COVID-19 safety. An expanded run goes from 7 to 10 p.m. Nov. 27 to Dec. 31 (closed Christmas Eve and Christmas Day). General admission is $30-$40 per vehicle. A $65 vehicle dash pass gets you in early at 5:45 p.m. and comes with a box of cookies. Secure your vehicle passes at austintrailoflights.org.

Zilker Tree. Take a spin underneath the tree across from the Trail of Lights. The moontower will be aglow nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. Nov. 27 to Jan. 1. Masks are required for everyone 2 and older. Free, but parking is limited. austintexas.gov/department/zilker-holiday-tree

Peppermint Parkway at Circuit of the Americas. This now annual event is drive-thru at the racetrack. Additional optional events include ziplining, go-kart racing, an amusement park and a train. You also can mail your letters to Santa. The parkway is open 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Nov. 26 to Dec. 26. Tickets start at $35 and can be purchased online at peppermintparkway.com.

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Luminations at the Wildflower Center. Twinkling lights and luminarias fill the grounds of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday-Sunday, Dec. 2-Jan. 30. The Center is closed Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Tickets are $15 for ages 5-17, $25 for ages 18 and older. Children 4 and younger are free. 4801 La Crosse Ave. wildflower.org

Luminations returns to the Wildflower Center with light displays and luminarias from Dec. 2 through Jan. 30.

Holiday lights outside Austin

Look for Lakeway Trail of Lights, Dec. 4-Jan. 2 by the Lakeway Activity Center.

Walkway of Lights at Lakeside Park in Marble Falls is aglow 6-10 p.m. nightly through Jan. 1.

Johnson City's Lights Spectacular is Nov. 26-Jan. 2 around the courthouse.

Santa's Ranch in New Braunfels, at 9561 N. Interstate 35,  is open through Jan. 2.

Sights & Sounds of Christmas in San Marcos by Bicentennial Park is happening Dec. 2-4 and Dec. 9-11.

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Guy Benson, the Santa Claus at Bass Pro Shop in Round Rock, puts on his face mask in November 2020. Santa will be back at Bass Pro Shop this season.

Gingerbread

Gingerbread Village. See a whole village created out of Gingerbread in the lobby of the Four Seasons from Nov. 29 through Dec. 28. 98 San Jacinto Blvd. Information: fourseason.com/austin

Thinkery cookie kits. This year instead of gingerbread house workshops, the Thinkery children's museum is offering kits for sale online. Kits start at $20 and are designed for different ages. The kits are available at thinkery.myshopify.com.

Make & Take: Decorate a Gingerbread House. Central Market's North Lamar Boulevard store offers classes through its cooking school. Kids younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Nov. 28 and 4 p.m. Dec. 4. There's a special parent and child version at 1 p.m. Dec. 4. $28.50 to $32.50. Information: centralmarket.com.

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Amanda Pallagi-Naim works on a Gingerbread Village at the Four Seasons for the 2019 holiday season. The village will be back in the lobby beginning Nov. 29.

Holiday performances

Ballet Austin's "The Nutcracker." After going virtual last year, the holiday ballet is back in-person. You'll need to wear a mask. 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4-5, Dec. 11, Dec. 18; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17; 2 p.m. Dec. 19, Dec. 21-23. $35-$99. Long Center, 701 W. Riverside Drive. Information: balletaustin.org.

Duke Ellington's "The Nutcracker Suite." Ballet Afrique, led by founder China Smith, interprets the classic holiday story set to Ellington's iconic music. 7 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Amphitheater in Waterloo Park, 1401 Trinity Street. Tickets are $20 to $4,700. Information: www.balletafriqueaustin.org.

Austin City Ballet's Children's Nutcracker. It's the 20th anniversary for this production featuring dancers ages 8 to 18. 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18, and 2:30 p.m. Dec. 18 and 19 at the Boyd Vance Theater, 1165 Angelina St. $20-$35. Information: austincityballet.org.

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"A Christmas Carol" at Zach Theatre. The classic Christmas story of Scrooge returns, with updated modern music. You'll need to wear a mask. Nov. 24-Jan. 2, $25-$95. Topfer Theatre at Zach Theatre, 202 S. Lamar Blvd. zachtheatre.org

"The Elf on the Shelf: A Christmas Musical." The book/toy come to life for one night. 6 p.m. Dec. 10. $29.95-$98. H-E-B Center,  2100 Avenue of the Stars, Cedar Park. hebcenter.com

"Lightwire Theater's A Very Electric Christmas." It's musical theater, it's a puppet show, it's all in neon lights. 2 p.m. Dec. 24. $15-$47.50. H-E-B Center,  2100 Avenue of the Stars, Cedar Park. hebcenter.com

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Public Hanukkah events

Hanukkah this year starts the evening of Nov. 28 through the evening of Dec. 5. Each synagogue has their own private celebrations, but some events are open to the public. 

Hannukah Celebration with the Austin Public Library. Celebrate the holiday and make a menorah outside in front of the library. 3:30 p.m. Nov. 29 at the Hampton Branch Oak Hill, 5125 Convict Hill Road. library.austintexas.gov

Congregation Beth Israel Brotherhood Latke Dinner. Curbside pickup of latke meal from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 5. Online celebration 6:30 p.m. Dec. 5. bethisrael.org/latkes2021