'Tis the season for holiday festivals
From tree lightings to gingerbread workshops, there's fun to be had across the state
Gingerbread decorating. Downtown tree lightings. Santa sightings. From now through the new year, Texas towns big and small glow with the magic of the holidays. This year, the Lone Star State is delivering a sleigh full of merriment ranging from snow days and lighted Christmas parades to Santa visits and holiday markets. Below is your comprehensive guide to yuletide.
Book it to Bastrop to celebrate the season during the annual Lost Pines Christmas — five family-friendly, fun-filled weekends brimming with holiday shopping, entertainment, activities and events from Nov. 24 through Dec. 23. During Lost Pines Christmas’ Banner Weekend (Dec. 6-9), expect everything from a snow day in Fisherman’s Park (noon to 5 p.m. Dec. 8) and live musical performances to the Lighted Christmas Parade (6 p.m. Dec. 8) and Bastrop’s River of Lights (Nov. 27-Jan. 4 from dusk until 10 p.m.). More at lostpineschristmas.com.
Check a few names off your list at the Junior League of Beaumont’s three-day Main Street Market (Nov. 29-Dec. 1), a one-stop holiday shopping extravaganza featuring merchandise from more than 100 selected vendors. Don’t miss the Gingerbread House Workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Dec. 1, the annual Children’s Holiday Party and Tree Lighting from 4 to 6 p.m. Dec. 6, Christmas in Boomtown from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Dec. 8 or Tracy Byrd’s Christmas Special on Dec. 22. More at beaumontcvb.com/blog/post/beaumonts-december-event-guide.
On the heels of Thanksgiving, Boerne’s 19th annual Dickens on Main Celebration brings two days of family-friendly, winter-themed fun to Boerne on Nov. 23-24 with shops opening at 10 a.m. and activities from 4 to 10 p.m. The vintage Christmas experience on Main Street features ice sculpture battles, photos with Santa, a glittering tree lighting ceremony, live musical and theatrical performances, holiday shopping, horse-drawn carriage rides and much more. The new Scrooge Village will feature kids’ crafts, a 60-foot ice slide, a petting zoo, photo-ops and a “snowy village” where kids can play in freshly blown snow. More at dickensonmain.com.
Kick off the holidays at the 39th annual Budafest (Dec. 1-2), a free, family-friendly two-day festival that celebrates the spirit of the holidays with artisan craft vendors, visits with Santa, a lighted Christmas parade, a snow area, games, kids activities, local performers, fireworks over downtown and more. More at budafest.org. Take a stroll while sipping cocoa and seeing Santa at Buda’s 10th Annual Trail of Lights (Dec. 6-8; 14-16 and 21-23 from 6 to 10 p.m.), a free event held at Historic Stagecoach Park. More at ci.buda.tx.us/525/Trail-of-Lights.
Dreaming of a bright Christmas? Come to Cleburne during the 22nd annual Whistle Stop Christmas. Don’t miss the Lighted Christmas Parade at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 7, followed by festivities at Market Square with vendors, pictures with Santa and more. On Dec. 8, come hungry for a pancake breakfast with Santa from 8 to 11 a.m. and a slew of other holiday events as well as a Candlewalk Tour of Homes from 1 to 8 p.m. in downtown Cleburne. More at whistlestopchristmas.org.
A Texas-size Christmas unfolds at Santa’s Wonderland each evening now through Dec. 30. Enjoy nightly merry entertainment such as Santa’s Hayride Tours and VIP Horse and Carriage Rides through the sparkling Trail of Lights. Don’t forget to play in the nightly Texas snow that falls over Santa’s Wonderland, ride on the West Pole Express trackless train, jump inside a Texas-size snow globe or brave Santa’s mechanical bull. New this year is Frostbite’s Mountain, where you can grab a tube and race down one of eight furiously fun snow tubing lanes, and the Snow Playground, where you can make real snow-filled memories in Texas. More at santas-wonderland.com.
Experience a small-town Christmas on Nov. 24 at the 33rd Annual Christmas in Comfort, an all-day holiday event full of family fun, holiday shopping, a slew of holiday activities, a parade and fireworks taking place from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The free holiday event draws visitors from near and far with 125 vendors, kids activities including a petting zoo, face painting and gingerbread decorating, live music, photos with Santa and his elves, Christmas carols, a Christmas tree town lighting at 6 p.m., the Weinachten Lichter lighted night parade at 7 p.m., and a glittering fireworks display immediately following. More at comfortchamber.com.
Be merry and bright in the Big D at Klyde Warren Park’s free holiday show and tree lighting on Dec. 1, or by soaking in the nighttime lighting displays at the Perot Museum or the Dallas Zoo (now through Jan. 6). Join thousands of onlookers during one of the biggest holiday events in the city — the Dallas Holiday Parade at 10 a.m. Dec. 1. Attend a holiday show like "The Nutcracker" at the Winspear Opera House (Nov. 23-Dec. 2), Dallas Symphony Orchestra’s "Christmas Pops" (Dec. 7-16), "A Christmas Carol" at the Wyly Theatre (Nov. 21-Dec. 30) or "Elf the Musical" at the Music Hall in Fair Park (Nov. 27-Dec. 2). Christmas is in full bloom now through Dec. 31 at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden’s Holiday at the Arboretum, featuring 12 Days of Christmas. Stroll through the garden to see the 25-foot Victorian-style gazebos come to life with extravagant scenes inspired by the beloved Christmas carol, enjoy more than 500,000 lights twinkling throughout garden and check out “The Artistry of the Nativity” in the DeGolyer House while enjoying holiday festivities. More at visitdallas.com and dallasarboretum.org.
Get festive in Fort Worth at Sundance Square during the GM Financial Parade of Lights Nov. 18, featuring half a million lights and more than 100 illuminated floats in downtown Fort Worth. Experience the largest drive-through lights display at the Texas Motor Speedway’s Gift of Lights (Nov. 22-Dec. 30) or recapture your western heritage at Christmas in the Stockyards (Dec. 1). Attend a live holiday performance at Bass Hall such as "A Charlie Brown Christmas," or take an icy spin around Panther Island Ice (now through Jan. 14). Find more holiday events “worth” checking off your list at fortworth.com/holiday-checklist.
A sleigh-load of holiday fun unfolds in Fredericksburg, but be sure to check these four celebrations off your list. Watch as the 26-foot wooden Christmas Pyramid hand-crafted in Germany and a German-themed 30-foot-tall community Christmas tree are lit up at Marktplatz (Nov. 23). Swirl around the Eisbahn Outdoor Ice Skating Rink beginning Nov. 23. Soak in the twinkling sights at the Light the Night Christmas Parade & AfterGlow (Dec. 7). Time your trip with the Texas Hill Country’s most popular Holiday Home Tour and Market, showcasing beautiful, historic homes decorated for Christmas (Dec. 1). More at VisitFredericksburgTX.com/holiday.
Wander to Winter Wonder Island, also known as Galveston, for 50 days of magical activities that unfold from November through January. Ice Land: Pole to Pole at Moody Gardens brings a skilled team of master ice carvers to carve 2 million pounds of ice into everything from polar bears and penguins to walrus and reindeer (now through Jan. 6). Brighten up the season along the mile-long trail twinkling with more than 1 million lights and lighted scenes at the annual Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens (now through Jan. 6). Downtown Lanterns and Lights features a magical display of Christmas lights and other artisan pieces throughout Saengerfest Park and historic downtown (Nov. 24-Jan. 1). The 45th annual Dickens on the Strand (Nov. 30-Dec. 2) transforms historic Strand Street into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens as characters walk the streets and strolling carolers and roving musicians fill the air with sounds from the era. Splash and surf with Santa at Holiday Splash at Schlitterbahn Galveston (weekends now through Dec. 30). Run with thousands of jolly joggers jingling through the streets of downtown Galveston at the Santa Hustle Galveston 5K and Half Marathon (Dec. 15-16). Find more merriment at galveston.com/holidaymagic.
Just a jingle away, the Georgetown Square becomes a holiday wonderland with wintry window displays, carolers and old-fashioned decorated lamp poles. Kick off the season at the annual Lighting of the Square on Nov. 23 as the mayor and Santa flip the switch at 5:30 p.m., the Austin Carolers perform classic holiday songs and children can do crafts and take photos with Santa. The 38th annual Christmas Stroll (Nov. 30-Dec. 1) brings festivities including more than 200 artisans, craft and food vendors, Santa’s Village, Bethlehem Village, Everest Mountain Climb and Slide, kids karaoke, dessert with the Grinch, live music on two stages and more. More at visit.georgetown.org.
Winterfest in Gonzales (Nov. 30-Dec. 2) kicks off on Friday with a Jingle Mingle of shopping in historic downtown while Saturday festivities include a Winterfest 5K and Kids Reindeer Dash 1K at 8 a.m. followed by Breakfast With Santa at 9 a.m. The day remains merry with a Santa’s Market, snow patch and snow slide, historic homes tour, historic organ concert and a Lighted Christmas Parade at 7 p.m. More at gonzales.texas.gov/events/2018/city-wide-winterfest.
Granbury bursts with the magic of Christmas in the form of twinkling lights, holiday festivities and Santa sightings. The annual Night of Lights Christmas parade (Nov. 23) marks the beginning of the Christmas season with Santa’s arrival. If you miss the big guy that evening, visit the interactive Santa House on the grounds of the historic Hood County Courthouse on select days and hours throughout the season for free photos with Santa. The Annual Candlelight Tour showcases Granbury’s architecture, history and culture through some of Texas’ most historic residences (Dec. 7-8), or you can see the Granbury Living Christmas Cards depicting a different scene from Christmas accompanied by live performances (Dec. 14-15). More at visitgranbury.com/events/annual-events/christmas-in-granbury.
Experience the holidays in the Christmas Capital of Texas: Grapevine, home to more than 1,400 Christmas events taking place in 40 days. Kick the holiday season off with the Carol of Lights and lighting of Historic Downtown Main Street (Nov. 19) with family-friendly activities beginning at 3 p.m. and the street lighting at 7 p.m. Attend the Parade of Lights, the largest lighted Christmas parade in North Texas, at 7 p.m. Dec. 6. Climb aboard the Grapevine Vintage Railroad’s North Pole Express in your Christmas jammies, take in a holiday concert or movie at the Historic Palace Theatre or shop for everyone on your list at the charming local stores in Historic Downtown Grapevine. Need a festive place to rest your head? Celebrate the “howlidays” at Great Wolf Lodge when the year-round indoor water park resort transforms into Snowland with a life-size gingerbread house, nightly snow showers and festive events for the whole family. Or soak in the magic of the Gaylord Texan Resort’s 15th annual Lone Star Christmas (now through Jan. 1) to marvel at 2 million holiday lights decorating the resort, 2 million pounds of hand-carved ice featuring Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a two-story 12-lane snow tubing hill, a 6,000-square-foot ice skating rink, more than 30,000 feet of gingerbread for decorating, 25-foot-tall toy soldiers, magical miniature trains, a new Christmas Carousel, Santa and Mrs. Claus and more. Find more Grapevine merriment at grapevinetexasusa.com/christmas-capital-of-texas.
Gruene is gearing up for the holidays with a festive six-week lineup of celebrations. On Dec. 1, start the day with the 17th Annual Gruene Pony Express Ride at 10 a.m. and end it with Cowboy Kringle riding into town on horseback for the annual Gruene Town Lighting at 5 p.m. Put a Texas twist on this year’s holiday cards and pose with Cowboy Kringle, the town’s own brand of Santa (weekends now through Dec. 22). Start holiday shopping at Gruene Christmas Market Days (Dec. 1-2), which boast 100 vendors selling unique Christmas gifts, crafts and foods. Or work off holiday treats at the 26th annual Jingle Bell 5K run/walk on Dec. 8. More at holidaysingruene.com.
The Hill Country shines the brightest during the holidays, and there’s no better way to experience it than by taking a self-guided evening drive along the Texas Hill Country Christmas Lighting Trail. Stretching north from the city of San Antonio to tiny towns including Boerne, Burnet, Dripping Springs, Fredericksburg, Goldthwaite, Johnson City, Llano, Wimberley, Marble Falls, Round Mountain and New Braunfels, all set aglow with sparkling lights and dazzling town squares, courthouses, shops, churches and historic sites from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. Wine-lovers should hit the Texas Hill Country Wine Trail for the 2018 Christmas Wine Affair (Nov. 30-Dec. 16). Tickets ($75/couple and $45/individual) include a full complimentary tasting at all 44 participating wineries with a limit of four wineries per day and a 15 percent discount on three bottle purchases at each winery. More at texaswinetrail.com/store/item/2018-christmas-wine-affair.
Heading to Houston for the holidays? Attend the Houston Ballet’s timeless production of the classic holiday tale "The Nutcracker" (Nov. 23-Dec. 29). See the Houston Zoo transformed with more than 300,000 LED lights at Zoo Lights (now-Jan. 13). Go ice skating at Discover Green’s 7,716-square-foot outdoor rink while gazing at the downtown skyline (now-Jan. 27). Visit Santa and his reindeer at Christmas Village at Bayou Bend (Dec. 14-Jan. 5). More at visithoustontexas.com.
This little town lights up during Llano’s Starry Starry Nights, which brings unique Christmas displays to Badu Park from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly (Nov. 23-Dec. 31). Visitors can stroll along the Llano River enjoying thousands of sparkling lights, sip hot chocolate and roast marshmallows each night. On weekends, bring your wish list and get your picture taken with Santa from 6 to 8 p.m. Be sure to bundle up for Snow Day (Dec. 8) taking place from 1 to 9 p.m. when Badu Park transforms into a white and fluffy winter wonderland perfect for sledding with the family. More at llanostarrystarrynights.com.
Lockhart will transform into a Dickens-style Christmas of yesteryear Nov. 30 to Dec. 1. The tiny town’s annual event takes place around Lockhart’s historic downtown square, beginning with the Lighted Christmas Parade Friday evening and continuing Saturday with authentic Victorian decorations, costumed characters from Charles Dickens’ classic novels, choirs, jugglers, bagpipers, carriage rides and the lighting of the Yule Log, which signifies that Christmas has come to Lockhart. More at lockhartchamber.com/pages/DickensChristmas.
MARBLE FALLS/LAKE LBJ
Take a free stroll through the Walkway of Lights (now-Dec. 26) at Lakeside Park along beautiful Lake Marble Falls, which dazzles visitors with more than 2 million lights nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. Admission is free, but concessions and Santa photos are fundraisers for local nonprofit organizations. More at marblefalls.org/events/2018/walkway-of-lights.
NATURAL BRIDGE CAVERNS
Christmas at the Caverns (Dec. 1-2, 8-9, 15-16, 22-23) fills this geographical gem with the joy and magic of the season including Caroling in the Caverns as the sounds of Christmas rise from 180 feet below, a Christmas Campfire with seasonal games, food, drinks and photos with Santa “Spelunker” Claus, Christmas hayrides with lighted scenes and music, the AMAZEn’ Reindeer Roundup and more. More at naturalbridgecaverns.com.
On your way to town, pull over at the popular Santa’s Ranch, santasranch.net, a festive 1-mile drive-through featuring more than 1 million dazzling lights, holiday displays, homemade hot cocoa and kettle corn (now through Dec. 30). Sip warm wassail at Wassailfest in downtown New Braunfels on Dec. 6 from 6 to 9 p.m. while getting a jump-start on your holiday shopping. Enjoy the magic of the Hometown Holiday Christmas Parade (Dec. 1) unfolding in downtown New Braunfels from 5-9 p.m. More at innewbraunfels.com.
PALESTINE and RUSK
Climb aboard the Polar Express in your pajamas to hit the tracks to the North Pole, the quintessential Christmas journey that heads out of Palestine station now through Dec. 27. Aboard the Polar Express at Texas State Railroad, children of all ages can look forward to a one-on-one experience with the cast, conductors, elves, waiters, chefs and Santa Claus. Ticket prices for this popular experience range from $20 to $100 per passenger. More at texasstaterailroad.net.
Lights at Legacy welcomes the 2018 holiday season with a grand tree lighting and family fun including photos with Santa, a holiday movie, train rides, face painting, toy soldier stilt walkers and more (Nov. 18). Each Saturday from now through Dec. 22 from 4 to 6 p.m., Holiday Experience at the District includes festivities spanning an animated Christmas tree, carolers, live reindeer and more. Step back in time to experience the holiday magic at Lantern Light at the Heritage Farmstead Museum on Dec. 8 from 3 to 8 p.m. which celebrates traditions from the past with horse-driven wagon rides, historic demonstrations, storytelling, snow hill sledding and more. More at visitplano.com/events.
From twinkling thrills to glowing sights, San Antonio shines the brightest during the holidays. Attend the city’s annual tree lighting ceremony on Nov. 3 at Travis Park when more than 250,000 holiday lights will be on display; the Ford Holiday River Parade on Nov. 23 from 6-9 p.m., or the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias (Dec. 2-4, 9-11, 16-18), which lights up the River Walk with more than 2,000 traditional Mexican luminarias. On Dec. 9 Chanukah on the River brings the Chanukah Boat Parade, interactive entertainment, a menorah lighting and a live concert. On Dec. 19, the Pearl will host its second annual traditional Posada at Pearl, inspired by the Mexican and Latin American tradition of Las Posadas. Thrill-seekers can get into the holiday spirit with seasonal experiences at Morgan’s Wonderland (Nov. 23-Dec. 23), SeaWorld San Antonio (now through Jan. 6) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (now through Jan. 6). More at visitsanantonio.com. Not ready to go back home? The spirit of the holidays comes alive at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa from now through Dec. 31 with its nightly light display with thousands of twinkling lights synchronized to holiday music, the JW Elf Express train, JW Elf School, Elf Tuck-Ins, Santa’s Slime Factory and holiday activities spanning from ornament-making and cookie-decorating to selfies with live reindeer and a life-size gingerbread display featuring city landmarks. More at jwsanantonio.com.
Jingle down the highway to experience the “Sights and Sounds of Christmas,” which brims with holiday cheer in the form of Santa Claus, festival food, carnival rides, a petting zoo, pony rides, ice skating, live performances and a sea of Christmas lights spread throughout the park at 401 E. Hopkins St. (Nov. 28-Dec. 1; Dec. 5-8). More at sights-n-sounds.org.