There might not be snow in every corner of Texas this year, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be winter wonderlands. Across the state, embrace the holiday spirit with delicious food, gorgeous lights, and other must-haves of the season, from the small-town squares to the big-city blocks.
Let the hot chocolate keep you warm while you go for a walk through the Amarillo Botanical Gardens, decorated with beautiful Christmas lights, November 29-December 23, Thursdays through Sundays. If you have small children, head over to the Amarillo Zoo for ZOOLights, where you can enjoy fun holiday attractions for kids, like the holiday maze and a cookie decorating station. The nighttime attraction runs December 1-23, Thursdays through Sundays.
It’s all about art in Austin this holiday season. Peruse the work of about two hundred artisans at the annual Blue Genie Art Bazaar, now through Christmas Eve. And from December 13-24, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, which supports local charities through its 12 Days of Giving events, offers live music with performances by Shelley King, Carolyn Wonderland, and Marcia Ball. The Circuit of the Americas puts together the largest outdoor skating rink in Texas, a Chinese Lantern Festival featuring illuminated handmade sculptures, carnival rides, a petting zoo, camel rides, and an immersive tunnel of lights at Winter Wonderland at the Circuit (open now on select dates and then nightly December 13-30). And the iconic Austin Trail of Lights in Zilker Park will mark its 54th year, with food, music, and over two million lights.
Bryan’s Lake Walk is hosting Destination Christmas, a series of holiday events stretched over a month in the Christmas-lighted town center. Festivities include a cocktail series dubbed “Making Spirits Bright,” a Christmas market on December 11 with more than 40 local vendors, an open house at a local boutique complete with holiday treats and giveaways, and breakfast with Santa every Saturday in December.
Perhaps the most extravagant light show in Texas is located far west: the El Paso Christmas Light Show is a synchronized music and light show with complimentary hot chocolate and cookies after every show. It kicks off November 29 and runs every Friday through Sunday until Christmas. Also, driving past the brightly lit homes in Eastridge is a great way to get into the holiday spirit.
Shop along Main Street, check out the 30-foot tree and 26-foot Christmas pyramid at Marktplatz, and enjoy the local authentic German cuisine. The town offers shopping from 150 art galleries, boutiques, and shops, and the annual Light the Night Christmas Parade on December 7 highlights the beautiful downtown square.
From 3 to 8 p.m. on December 8, Stevenson Park in Friendswood will be transformed into the North Pole for the 11th annual Santa in the Park. With a parade, tree lighting, fireworks, 40,000 pounds of snow, amusement park rides, a concert, holiday shopping, and more, there is something for every age to enjoy.
Spanning two miles and sparkling with over four million lights, Grand Prairie’s drive-through Prairie Lights display is open till the end of December. With an all-new indoor holiday show and the Holiday Magic Lighted Walk-Thru Forest, which teaches kids about how the season is celebrated around the world, this family-friendly event is worth the drive for out-of-towners. And don’t forget to stop by the Holiday Village for hot cocoa and apple cider, shopping, and pictures with Santa.
Officially granted the title of Christmas Capital of Texas by the Texas Senate in 2009, Grapevine is hard at work living up to its name. The town boasts 1,400 Christmas events in 40 days, including ICE! at the Gaylord Texan—a walk-through display of life-size ice sculptures of holiday favorites—and the vintage railroad’s North Pole Express, featuring train cars decked out for the holidays. The Great Wolf Lodge is transformed into Snowland, and the historic Palace Theatre is hosting live music and movie nights all season long.
Chinese lanterns light up the night sky at the fourth annual Magical Winter Lights display at Gulf Greyhound Park in La Marque, now through January 6. The show, spread across twenty acres, includes performances by Chinese acrobats, carnival attractions, and over sixty lantern exhibits—each reaching up to 60 feet high—in eight categories, including dinosaurs and a Christmas village.
From the Elf Scavenger Hunt and the Jingle Bell Run to the Wassail Fest, Nacogdoches’ 23rd Annual Nine Flags Christmas Festival has something for everyone. Over the span of a month, the town is filled with festivities, competitions, and holiday cheer.
Taking off from Palestine on a journey to the North Pole, the Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express ride includes a reading of the children’s book and an opportunity to meet Santa. Every member of the crew is in costume, and children are encouraged to wear their PJs and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies.
Rio Grande Valley
This year’s iteration of McAllen’s annual holiday parade, one of the largest illuminated parades in Texas, is themed “Christmas Around the World” and takes place December 1. Brownsville’s Holiday Village is free of charge and offers music, food, and activities kids are sure to enjoy, now through January 1. Edinburg has an annual tree-lighting ceremony on December 6, and Pharr has Christmas Posada, a family-friendly event on December 1 with a snow slide and ice rink. And starting December 1, don’t miss Hidalgo’s Festival of Lights, a nine-mile illuminated route that can be traveled by train, trolley, or car all month long.
The Fort Concho National Historic Landmark’s largest annual event is its Christmas celebration, taking place December 7-9 this year. The site’s forty acres are open for shopping, entertainment, and presentations by period reenactors to take guests back to Christmas in the 1800s. The Tour of Lights along the Concho River offers a drive-through display of over three million lights through the end of December.
Alamo City celebrates its rich cultural history across town through its food, parades, performances, and more. Explore German and Mexican cuisine and learn how to cook tamales with professional chefs; experience a live concert and boat parade celebrating Hanukkah, complete with a menorah lighting ceremony on December 3 at Pearl; stroll along the River Walk, lighted by more than 2,000 traditional Mexican lanterns at the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias on Fridays through Sundays starting November 29; and, on select dates in December, hear the beautiful voices of choirs from across Texas performing Christmas carols in the acoustics of Natural Bridge Caverns.
The Christmas Wine Affair includes access to tastings at 44 wineries in the Hill Country for $75 a couple or $45 a person, November 30-December 16. Wineries and vineyards are tastefully decorated for the holidays so guests can warm up by the fireplace with a glass of Texas wine. Small towns around Texas have a lot to offer as well. Georgetown, Marshall, and the Village of Salado light their town squares for Christmas strolls and festivals, and others, like Johnson City, highlight history with Christmas displays among historic buildings, including the LBJ’s boyhood home.
Fort Hood’s annual Nature in Lights event is open nightly until January 6 at the Belton Lake Outdoor Recreation Area. The five-and-a-half mile drive-through light show includes a Santa’s Village with holiday shopping, hot chocolate, and Santa. Farmers Branch recently reimagined its Christmas offerings, deviating from its driveable trail of lights to the more interactive Christmas in the Branch, complete with high tea, ice skating, marketplaces, historic building tours, and more. Denison’s Holiday Lights at Loy Lake Park, another drive-through display, is free of charge, as is Greenleaf Cemetery’s trail in Brownwood.