The first official Christmas market is said to have occurred in Dresden, Germany, in 1434. Centuries later and some five thousand miles away, Texans have embraced the tradition. In nearly every city across the state, you’ll find some version of a craft show, bazaar, or festival featuring handmade works and plenty of holiday cheer. Here are thirteen of the best markets to shop this season.

Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market

Houston | November 10–13

It takes a village—or, more accurately, a thousand volunteers—to put on the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market, which hosts nearly three hundred vendors in a decked-out convention center next door to the Astrodome. Now in its forty-second year, the market draws shoppers and arts patrons who are eager to find the perfect gift and give back. (All of the proceeds from the market’s luncheons, fashion shows, and $20 entry fee add to the more than $80 million the market has raised for the Houston Ballet Foundation.)

Many longtime marketgoers arrive in matching, holiday-themed T-shirts, hats, and accessories. If you’re to join the massive festive affair, you’ll need a game plan. Peruse the market’s website in advance for a list of vendors, or pick up a program when you arrive. Take advantage of the curbside pickup option so you can shop without being bogged down by bags, and go later in the day for smaller crowds. Lastly, be sure to stop by booth 907, also known as the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Boutique, for a staggering array of nutcrackers, including the traditional moustached men in red and green and, of course, sparkling ballerinas.

Holiday Market by Sister Cities

Laredo | November 18–20

Every July, Laredo hosts the International Sister Cities Festival, transforming an indoor arena into a mercado that features hundreds of makers from Mexico and beyond. This free holiday market is a smaller version of that, but you can still expect more than fifty artisans and an impressive array of handcrafted goods—from Talavera pottery, turquoise jewelry, and Otomi fabric to more unusual items like religious icons made out of birdseed. Get your fill of fresh tortillas and pick up some Mexican candies for stocking stuffers.

Pioneer Museum Holiday Home Tour & Market

Fredericksburg | November 19

During the holidays, the town of Fredericksburg is like something out of a Hallmark movie. The smell of freshly baked German sweet pretzels wafts through the air. Decorations are hung with care at shops and winery tasting rooms along Main Street. An authentic, 26-foot-tall Christmas pyramid towers over the central Marktplatz. And every year for 63 years, the Pioneer Museum has hosted a self-guided holiday home tour. Recently, the museum combined the home tour with a market (a $40 ticket gets you access to both). The market is on the smaller side, with just 21 vendors, but everything is handmade by Hill Country artisans. Grab a warm beverage at the coffee bar and listen to live music as you shop. Goods run the gamut from small-batch soaps and pottery to silk scarves and pearl jewelry. 

WinterFest Market

El Paso | November 19 and 26

Nestled between the El Paso Museum of Art and the Plaza Theatre, the free, open-air WinterFest market is surrounded by an outdoor ice-skating rink and San Jacinto Plaza, boasting more than 400,000 twinkling lights and a 55-foot Christmas tree. Local talent is on full display with handcrafted toys, silver- and gold-plated jewelry, pottery, and more. Keep an eye out for vendors offering the option to personalize their wares. Warm up inside the museum with crafts themed around the work of artist Leo Villareal, or make reservations in advance to enjoy a post–shopping spree treat at the Plaza Hotel’s rooftop bar, which provides a bird’s-eye view of the action.

Shoppers at Nutcracker Market in Houston.
Shoppers at the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market. Courtesy of the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market
Holiday treats at Texas Christkindl Market in Arlington.
Holiday treats at Texas Christkindl Market, in Arlington. Courtesy of Texas Christkindl Market

Texas Christkindl Market

Arlington | November 25–December 23

Of all the markets in the Lone Star State, the Texas Christkindl Market at Globe Life Park is most akin to what you’d find in Europe—which makes sense, considering that Arlington’s seventy-year relationship with its German sister city, Bad Königshofen, inspired the first market back in 2011. It’s also the only place in the Southwest where you can pick up exclusive Käthe Wohlfahrt Advent calendars and decor. 

Wander the candy cane–striped stalls and admire colorful ornaments, candle-powered pyramids, and other items from across the pond. Get your photo taken with Saint Nikolaus, feast on sausages and roasted nuts, and have a glass of gluhwein while German musicians and performers break out the accordion and alpenhorn. Be there when the doors open on November 25 to get a glimpse of the Christkindl Angel, or go several times throughout the market’s month-long run—with free admission, it’s easy to return.

Pearl Holiday Night Market

San Antonio | November 30 and December 7, 14, 21

During the holidays, weekends tend to be jam-packed with soirees and endless to-do lists. This free weekday-evening market, in the shadow of San Antonio’s former Pearl Brewery, is a great way to relax and soak up the season. The eclectic lineup features more than seventy makers offering one-of-a-kind merchandise—think jean jackets adorned with vintage Japanese textiles and handmade Selena dolls. Make it a date night with dinner at one of the Pearl’s award-winning restaurants, or stake out a bistro table and listen to carolers while enjoying tamales and a Mexican hot chocolate.

Dickens on the Strand 

Galveston | December 2–4

You’d be hard-pressed to find any Scrooges at this three-day, Charles Dickens–inspired extravaganza. What started in the 1970s as a preservation effort for the Strand, one of Galveston’s historic districts, has become a favorite holiday tradition. Each year, artisans, entertainers, and several of Dickens’ descendants gather to re-create nineteenth-century Victorian London. Vendors must adhere to strict guidelines when it comes to costumes, booth decor, and goods, making for an authentic atmosphere at the Shopkeeper Skills Village. There, you’ll find hands-on crafts, as well as plenty of steampunk decor and clothing, pocket watches, top hats, and hand-painted ornamental bells. Don your best period attire to get half off the $20 admission.

Gruene Christmas Market Days

Gruene | December 3–4

In Gruene, Santa doesn’t have a sleigh or a herd of reindeer. Instead, Cowboy Kringle comes to town on horseback, wearing red leather chaps and a cowboy hat. Make reservations in advance to get your picture taken with the jolly old fellow at a free holiday edition of Old Gruene Market Days. Then head over to the various vendor booths to browse everything from canned pie fillings to crocheted crop tops. 

Cy-Fair FFA Country Christmas Craft Show

Cypress | December 3–4

Roughly 24 miles northwest of downtown Houston, the “best little craft show in Cypress” benefits the local high school chapter of Future Farmers of America. It has all the trappings of a country craft fair that you could hope for, from a cakewalk to patchwork quilts, but don’t let those details fool you—“little” is a relative term in Texas, and here there are more than 225 booths. Admission is free and includes a chance to mingle with Santa and “John Deer.” Don’t leave without some brisket.

Christmas decor on display at 80 Acre Market in Gilmer.
Christmas decor on display at 80 Acre Market in Gilmer. Courtesy of 80 Acre Market

80 Acre Market

Gilmer | December 2–4, 16–18

80 Acre Market, a home-goods store in an East Texas mansion, goes all out for the holidays, and its free Christmas market is no exception. There will be a vintage red pickup truck on the front lawn (perfect for photo ops), wreaths on nearly every window, and enough lights to make Clark Griswold jealous. Indoors, kids can busy themselves with activities—writing letters to Santa, making “reindeer food,” and painting holiday scenes on canvas—while adults shop room by room and sip wassail. On Saturdays, a pianist will post up at a baby grand piano and play holiday tunes. Keep an eye out for plaid throws, felt ornaments, and framed holiday prints made by the market’s parent company, Smallwoods, and don’t sleep on the ever-changing selection of local vendors, including one that creates “permanent” bracelets, which are welded closed on the wrists of the wearers.

Hogwarts Christmas Village & Market

Galveston | December 10

To have a happy Christmas, as the Brits would say, you don’t have to seek out Platform 9¾; you just have to get yourself to Galveston, specifically Kempner Park. That’s where you’ll cross over into a free, Harry Potter–themed Christmas village, complete with butterbeer, Quidditch, and goods from close to fifty small businesses. Highlights include wands made with crystals and candles inspired by literary characters (the Gamekeeper’s Pumpkin Patch is a nod to Hagrid). Marketgoers can earn points for their Hogwarts houses by competing in trivia or bringing items to donate to a local church. The winner will be announced that evening at another magical event: the Wizard Winter Formal. A riff on the Yule Ball, it features a costume contest and a chamber orchestra, as well as raises money for gastrochurch, an organization that creates fellowship around food and spirituality.

Tomball German Fest Christmas Market

Houston | December 9–11

In Tomball, a small town on the outskirts of Houston, the cultural exchange starts with a banner that reads “Willkommen Y’all!” From there, you get not one but two Santa Clauses: an American Santa Claus and a European Santa, a.k.a. Sinterklaas. Carolers sing in both German and English, and the opening ceremony honors German exchange students and their host families. The goodwill continues over funnel cake and beer (there are four biergartens, one for each music stage), while the free market, with its two-hundred-plus vendors, showcases steins, smokers, nutcrackers, and German brands like Steinbach and Mettlach. It has a warm ambience that, depending on where you’re from, you might call gemütlichkeit or simply good ol’ Southern hospitality.

Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

Austin | December 17–23

For nearly fifty years, this Christmas bazaar in the capital has combined fine art with live music under one roof for a $12 cover. Booths are organized around a stage, and the lineup showcases “the best of Austin,” from classics to newcomers, nationally renowned singer-songwriters to Grammy-winning acts. The aisles are specifically designed to be wider so you can get down without disrupting the flow of traffic, and you’re guaranteed a Christmas sing-along at some point. If you’re lucky, you may even catch a conga line.

On the art side of things, this year promises more newcomers than ever before, with 150-plus artists showing up to show off their skills. Whether you dig photography or oil painting, textiles or ceramics, metalworking or woodworking, there’s a medium for everyone and every budget. 

Keep the party going with spiked hot cocoa, a North Pole Mule, or Santa’s Margarita from the on-site bar.