After Thanksgiving, the holiday spirit sweeps in with all the excitement of a local weatherman hyping the arrival of an arctic cold front. Whether you want to stay in town or celebrate far from home, we’ve collected some of the best ways to celebrate the season.
Amarillo Botanical Gardens’ annual Christmas in the Gardens features three hundred thousand lights strung throughout the complex from November 30 through December 22. The merrymaking—accompanied by carolers, hot chocolate, and Santa himself—run from 6 to 8:30 p.m Thursdays through Sundays. Admission is $5 per person, but children age five and under get in free.
Music and art figure prominently in Austin’s Christmas traditions. Visit the Blue Genie Art Bazaar and view the work of more than two hundred artists, or the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, which brings together visual artists and musicians (and two bars) December 13–24. If lights (and Instagramming) are more your thing, Mozart’s Coffee and the official Austin Trail of Lights boast more than three million lights between them.
The town’s Depot Plaza will fill with holiday cheer when the Lighted Christmas Parade kicks off the annual Christmas Under the Stars Festival. Enjoy light displays, a baking competition, games, music, and lots of hot cocoa, 4 to 8 p.m. December 6–7.
The Lake Walk retail and restaurant development is again hosting Destination Christmas, a series of holiday events stretched over a month. You’ll find light displays, breakfast with Santa, festive cocktails, and classic Christmas movie screenings. On December 11, a Christmas Market will feature a host of vendors, food trucks, and live music.
Santa’s Wonderland first appears on the horizon like some well-lit mountain as you’re approaching College Station from the south. A few minutes after the amusement park opens, Santa makes his grand entrance. Visit for the hayrides (or horse-drawn carriage rides), and let your kids explore the snow playground and toboggan slide, or consult Tinsel the elf to find out if they’re on the naughty or nice list. The park also features a winery and live music. Open through December 30.
Downtown is decked out with lights and fun activities that will give you a Hallmark feeling. The eighty-fifth annual Denison Christmas Parade happens December 5, along with a tree lighting ceremony and a hot cocoa competition. The popular Denison on Ice skating rink will also return, with $5-10 admission.
El Paso is proof that you don’t need snow to celebrate the season. The city’s popular WinterFest, now in its fourth year, transforms San Jacinto Plaza in the heart of downtown into a light extravaganza. An ice skating rink ($5-8 per hour), a holiday cafe, and free movie screenings at the Plaza Theatre are also part of the festivities.
Lights shine each night from 5 to 10 p.m at the Grove at Mustang Crossing, and more festivities begin with the town’s tree lighting on December 7 at nearby Liberty Plaza. Attractions include crafts and other activities for children, holiday music by local schools and theaters, and Santa Claus. Walk across the street for ice skating, or grab something to eat while enjoying a classic holiday movie. Shop local vendors for unique handmade gifts at the Holiday Marketplace at the Grove on December 14 and 21.
Drive through more than five miles of holiday lights at Fort Hood’s Nature in Lights display, which runs through January 6. Don’t forget to stop by Santa’s Village for hot cocoa, pony rides, and pictures with Santa Claus.
Fredericksburg’s unique mix of German Christmas traditions and warm Texan hospitality make it a great place to celebrate the holidays. Get some Christmas shopping done among the 150 shops and art galleries on historic Main Street. Also, don’t miss the 30-foot tree and 26-foot Christmas pyramid at Marktplatz. On December 6, take in the annual Light the Night Christmas Parade, a perfect way to jump-start anyone’s holiday cheer.
Enjoy a true winter wonderland at Stevenson Park at the annual Santa in the Park celebration. With forty thousand pounds of snow, fireworks, amusement rides, and live music, it’s an appealing event for all ages.
Beginning with the Lighting of the Square on November 29, the town’s well-preserved historic center is gloriously illuminated for the season. December 6 brings the annual Christmas Stroll, which includes free activities like a winter wonderland and street hockey for children, plus more than 150 artisan, craft, clothing, and jewelry vendors, followed by a parade the next morning.
Driving along Prairie Lights’ two miles decorated with four million lights, it’s not hard to be dazzled. Get out of your car at the Holiday Village Tent to enjoy pictures with Santa, concessions, a gift shop and a lighted walk-through forest. Prairie Lights is open until the end of December.
The self-declared Christmas Capital of Texas boasts of hosting 1,400 holiday events and millions of lights this season. The City Hall Light Show Spectacular runs every night through January 4 and features a singing Christmas tree and even snow. Explore the World of Whoville or catch the Parade of Lights, the largest lighted Christmas parade in North Texas, on December 5.
The city is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of its Lights Spectacular event, which shines more than two million lights for all to see. The lights will turn on at dusk November 29 and stay up through January 5.
Catch the spirit of the season in the town known as the gateway to the Gulf. This year’s Christmas parade, December 3, includes a tree lighting and photos with Santa, as well as hot chocolate, making it a great time for the whole family. The Magical Winter Lights Festival is also back for its fifth year. The twenty-acre festival features one hundred individual lantern sets in eight themed sections.
The city’s annual Christmas parade is getting an eighties theme this year, so look for poofy hair and neon colors from the more than one hundred participating groups. The December 6 event is free, and singing is highly encouraged.
The Wonderland of Lights festival has been a Marshall staple for 33 years, and this year’s celebration looks even bigger. Including crafts, movies, a skating rink, and a vintage 1948 Herschel carousel, this event is a perfect way to enjoy the the historic downtown. The fun runs through December 29.
Millions of lights are deployed throughout the oldest town in Texas at the annual Nine Flags Christmas Parade on December 7. The tradition is complete with fireworks and food trucks, and it draws visitors from all over the state.
Tickets are on sale now for hour-long round trips on the Polar Express, departing from the Palestine train depot through December 28 (and many time slots are already sold out). Celebrate the holidays with dancing chefs who serve cookies and hot chocolate onboard. When you’ve arrived at the North Pole, children receive the first gift of Christmas from Santa (a silver sleigh bell; only believers can hear it ring). Families are advised to arrive 45 minutes early to be seated.
Rio Grande Valley
The city of McAllen is celebrating its official designation as “the South Pole of Texas” with FRIO!, a winter wonderland of real snow that also features a parade, an A Christmas Story-themed escape room, Broadway shows, and ballet. Hidalgo’s month-long Festival of Lights includes three miles of lights that can be viewed by car or by train, a carnival at City Hall plaza, and music from Latin Grammy award-winning accordionist Ramon Ayala. Brownsville’s Holiday Village features magically decorated cottages, music, and pictures with Santa. And the elf village, crafts, and story time with Mrs. Claus at the city of Pharr’s Christmas Posada is sure to interest families of all ages.
Salado has celebrated its annual Christmas Stroll for 59 years. A parade at 6 p.m. December 5 features a military band, horse-drawn carriages, hot cocoa, and a visit from Santa.
The annual Tour of Lights along the Concho River features animated scenes depicting the twelve days of Christmas, a toy factory, a gingerbread house, and more, beginning at 6 p.m. December 7. The same weekend, Christmas at Old Fort Concho offers a holiday experience straight out of the 1800s, with period reenactments, live music, and artisanal goods.
Enchanting as the River Walk already is, the addition of more than two thousand festive luminarias to guide your way takes it to another level. Visit Market Square on December 14 for the daylong festival La Gran Tamalada, which celebrates the tamal with workshops, vendors, the decorating of corn husk dolls, and live music. The Rotary Club of San Antonio has also invited skaters to an outdoor ice rink, open November 29 through January 31, in Travis Park.
South Padre Island
The parade “floats” off South Padre Island are putting truth to the term this holiday season. The annual Christmas Lighted Boat Parade, December 7, features boats of all sizes decked out in holiday finery. The Tree Lighting Ceremony on December 6 is a free and fun activity for all ages, and it’s followed by the South Padre Island Annual Christmas Parade.