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Find Holiday Spirit in the Small Towns of Texas

Catch the Polar Express, visit the Grinch, or have your own ’It’s a Wonderful Life’ moment in a festive town square.

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The shops on Main Street glow with animated window displays and hundreds of lights in downtown Fredericksburg.
Photograph by Trish Rawls

For a holiday experience straight out of your favorite Christmas classic, escape the urban bustle and head to a small town near you. Beautifully decorated town squares serve as the center of community-wide celebrations, cultural traditions, and family activities. Nothing gets you into the spirit like ice skating under the stars, horse-drawn carriage rides, and last-minute shopping on Main Street. Take advantage of one-of-a-kind experiences too, like visits to the Grinch’s lair at the Historic Anderson County Jail in Palestine or candlelight holiday tours of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s childhood home in Johnson City.

Fredericksburg

 In front of Fredericksburg’s historic Vereins Kirche building, a Christmas tree and German Christmas Pyramid illuminate the Marktplatz. Plan ahead to experience rich cultural celebrations in the Hill Country’s most traditional German town, like the annual Zweite Weihnachten, or “Second Christmas,” celebrated at Gillespie County Historical Society Social Hall on Dec. 26. During the holiday season, you can also sip on wine at local wineries participating in the Hill Country Christmas Wine Affair (through Dec. 17), ice skate, and shop for unique gifts at the Fredericksburg Market Days.

Grand Prairie

Featuring more than four million lights on a two-mile stretch from now through New Year’s Eve, the drive-thru Prairie Lights at Lynn Creek Park is one of the biggest and brightest displays in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Halfway through the light show, stop at Holiday Village for food, gifts, carousel rides, pictures with Santa, the Holiday Magic Lighted Walk-Through Forest, and the brand-new indoor Snowmaze. The town features a number of other festive events, including screenings of classic Christmas movies at Uptown Theater

Visitors drive slowly through the tunnel of lights at the end of Prairie Lights in Grand Prairie.

Grapevine

Each winter Grapevine’s Main Street is decorated with dazzling lights and dozens of Christmas trees. The holidays are serious business in this lakeside town, which the Texas Senate named the official Christmas Capital of Texas in 2009. Grapevine’s historic downtown shopping district is the epicenter of 1,400 holiday festivities, including the annual Light Show Spectacular held nightly from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. until Jan. 7, and the popular ICE! attraction at the Gaylord Texan hotel through New Year’s Day.

Georgetown

Lights line every rooftop and wrap around each tree in the downtown historic district, home to stunning Victorian-era buildings and quaint brick-lined sidewalks. If you are looking to do some holiday shopping, Georgetown is a good place to start. In addition to being beautifully decorated, downtown is full of shops with handmade crafts, antiques, unique clothing, and accessories. While searching for the perfect gift, make sure to check out the holiday window displays, and enjoy a glass of wine from one of the local wineries while you browse.

Johnson City

For 28 years, Johnson City has transformed into a whimsical Texas wonderland during the winter. Christmas is a big deal for the community: The Blanco County Courthouse is covered in 100,000-plus lights, and the enormous oak trees outside of the Pedernales Electric Co-op are wrapped in more than one million lights. Explore the restaurants and retailers in downtown by foot or carriage. For a historical field trip on Saturday nights through Dec. 23, take a lamplight tour of former President Lyndon B. Johnson’s boyhood home, which looks as it appeared during Christmas in the 1920s.

The East Texas Baptist University hockey team plays in front of the Old Harrison County Courthouse in Marshall.

Photograph by Rachel Skowronek

Marshall

From now through Dec. 31, the town of Marshall is bustling with the 31st annual Wonderland of Lights Festival. Take a horse-drawn carriage ride around the Historic Downtown district, and hop off at the beautiful decorated Old Harrison County Courthouse. The blocks surrounding the courthouse are always jubilant during December. Enjoy live entertainment at Telegraph Park and skating on the ice rink outside of the courthouse, or catch a ride on the Holly Trolley, Wonderland Express, or Marshall’s restored vintage 1948 Herschel carousel.  

Nacogdoches

The oldest town in Texas celebrates its own rich history and spirit during the 22nd Annual Nine Flags Christmas Festival, through Dec. 20. Visitors and residents have many holiday festivities to look forward to, such as live music, food, and drink crawls.

Palestine

The town’s Historic Anderson County Jail has been transformed into the Grinch’s lair, where you’ll meet a Who’s Who of Whoville. Palestine hosts an array of other classic holiday festivities, like ice skating in the Historic Downtown district, holiday home tours, farmers markets and craft shows, wine tastings, caroling, and more. Perhaps the most magical experience though is the Polar Express at Texas State Railroad, which offers a round-trip ride from the Palestine Depot to the North Pole on a historic steam train.

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  • John Davis

    Great article, but it ran too late for busy people to make plans. This would have been much more useful had it ran on NOV. 12. Hope to see something similar earlier next year.

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