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What we know about the traditional lighting of Austin's Zilker Holiday Tree this year

Roberto Villalpando
Austin American-Statesman

The coronavirus pandemic changed how we celebrated the holidays last year, but with mask-wearing and the increasing use of vaccinations to get the spread of COVID-19 under control, the public can enjoy one of Austin's most treasured traditions: the Zilker Holiday Tree.

What is the Zilker Holiday Tree?

The Zilker Tree is one of Austin's few remaining moonlight towers, originally purchased from the city of Detroit in 1894 to illuminate Austin streets using bright carbon-arc bulbs. Although Austin has switched to energy-efficient LED lights, the city is the only one in the country that still operates moonlight towers.

Every year, the city installs a garland of electric lights on the 155-foot-tall Zilker moonlight tower to create the familiar conical form of a pine tree. Work crews put up a total of 3,309 lights, including 39 streamers, each holding 81 multicolored, 25-watt LED bulbs.

The tree has a circular base with a 120-foot diameter, and a 10-foot-wide double star made up of 150 frosted bulbs sits at the top.

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The Zilker Holiday Tree will brighten the skyline from Saturday to Jan. 1.

When will the Zilker Tree be lighted?

The tree is scheduled to be illuminated from Saturday to New Year's Day. The tree lights are turned on at 6 p.m., and the park curfew is 10 p.m.

Could things change between now and Saturday?

Yes, based on COVID-19 rates. But the Austin Parks and Recreation Department said information on its website, austintexas.gov/department/zilker-holiday-tree, is up to date and will be updated as needed.

Do you have to wear a mask?

Yes. Even though Austin is reopening the tree to self-guided visits as in years before the coronavirus pandemic, masks are required on city property, parks officials said. Anyone older than 2 is required to wear a face covering while present in or on city property unless expressly exempted.

What else should you bring?

Bring your holiday cheer, of course. But parks officials also recommend wearing footwear appropriate for long walks outdoors and layered clothing. The tree is on unpaved park grounds, so shoes should be able to handle mud or moisture.

Don't bring alcohol — it is prohibited in all parks.

Groups take turns spinning in circles under the Zilker Holiday Tree in 2018. You can do the traditional spin under the tree, but this year you'll have to wear a mask.

Where can you park?  

Parking is available on a first-come, first-served basis only on the paved surface lots in Zilker Park on the south side of Barton Springs Road.

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Can you go to the Trail of Lights from the Zilker Tree?

No. City officials said the park will not have walk-up or pedestrian access to the Trail of Lights from the tree area. Vehicle entry passes must be purchased in advance to go to the Trail of Lights.

How do you get to the Trail of Lights?

The Trail of Lights this year is a drive-thru event only. All vehicles must be enclosed, so no motorcycles or bicycles. Vehicle passes are required in advance and include specific directions for access routes, parks officials said.

Citing safety issues, the city is not providing on-site admission sales or viewing areas from the road or park. 

Visit austintrailoflights.org for more Trail of Lights information.

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