You don’t have to go big to soak in the winter holiday season. Some folks prefer to celebrate by gathering family around the fireplace, while others hope for an evening or two alone with a good book. (Full disclosure: this is my personal wish. Santa, are you listening?) But perhaps this year you’re yearning to go all-out. For those Texans who want their holiday celebrations big, fabulous, and over the top, we’ve got some ideas for you. 

Resorts, towns, and cities across the state are ramping up their holiday offerings, because nobody ever said, in the year 2023, “That is just too much festive cheer.” Case in point: a decade ago, in 2013, the JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa held its first Christmas tree lighting and synchronized light show; every year since, the resort’s staff have zhuzhed things up with more and more lights and activities. This year’s holiday season celebration, “Hill Country Christmas,” is the biggest ever. “We are thrilled to offer our guests an even more spectacular experience this year,” says Brian Morris, director of sales and marketing. (Brace yourselves. The gossip among the elves running the Snow Flow rides is that plans for next year’s even more festive holiday hoopla are already under way.)

So if you are looking for a train to the North Pole, latke lessons, ice-chute tubing, and snowball games, or a farm lit by two million sparkling lights, read on to learn about the craziest, brightest, and most delicious events across the state this holiday season.

The Ice Rodeo and Latke Lessons


In Austin, both the Four Seasons and Commodore Perry Estate hotels are celebrating Jewish tradition and lighting the menorah at sundown. The Four Seasons lobby is worth a visit just to see its beloved, intricately crafted gingerbread display. Look up to see huge ornaments, each decorated with scenes from classic holiday songs, or lace up your skates and hit the outdoor Ice Rodeo rink. Meanwhile, Commodore Perry guests can learn to make sweet potato pancakes in a Hanukkah baking lesson led by the chefs of Lutie’s, the on-site restaurant. Latke lessons? Sign me up!

Scuba Santa, Ice Sculptures, and an Aerial Circus


The booming North Texas ’burb of Grapevine calls itself the Christmas Capital of Texas® for good reason. It’s hard to fathom all the options: catch a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life at the historic Palace Theater, or grab tickets to Ho Ho Homicide at the Messina Hof Winery. Indulge in a holiday brunch with Santa at the delectable Bacchus, or make your own ornament from hot, molten glass at Vetro Glassblowing. Or maybe you’d prefer to take in a holiday musical tribute to both Elton John and Cher? There’s also a North Pole Express train journey, a Grinch-themed ice sculpture display at the Gaylord Texan Resort, and, at the Sea Life Aquarium, a scuba-diving Santa and his elf. Don’t forget the Holiday Heist Escape Room, the Cirque Winter Wonderland show with its dazzling acrobatics, and the Great Wolf Lodge’s Snowland spectacular. To cap it all off, the lovely Hotel Vin will host a New Year’s Eve Totally 80’s Party. (Please play Wham! and A-ha tunes for me?)

Outrageous Texas Holiday Spectacles
A Christmas tree in Grapevine. Courtesy of Grapevine Convention & Visitors’ Bureau
Outrageous Texas Holiday Spectacles
Snow Flow Mountain at JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa. Courtesy of JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa

Lights on the Farm


Now through December 30, Plano hosts Lights on the Farm, transforming the Heritage Farmstead Museum into a bedazzled wonderland. Set on four acres, this living history museum lets visitors step back into the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the property’s beautiful Victorian home and twelve outbuildings were part of a 360-acre working farm. Now it’s aglow with two million holiday lights and dozens of animated displays. Take a stroll along the quarter-mile trail and marvel at the lights. Be amazed by the twenty-foot Christmas tree and, for the little ones, don’t miss the chance to meet Santa Claus. To really go nuts, you can sign up for something called the S’mores Experience, during which you can sit on a hay bale (so rustic-farm chic!). For those curious about animal encounters, the museum is (sadly) not a petting zoo, though kids will enjoy watching the livestock and free-range poultry. You can purchase chicken scratch in the visitor center, if making s’mores on a hay bale is not your jam.

Giant Gingerbread Village and Floating Tree


The Giant Gingerbread Village is living up to its name in Spring, a half-hour north of Houston. At City Place Park, a shimmering, floating, 35-foot-tall Christmas tree looks over the main pond. Visitors walk a path lined with enormous gumdrops, lollipops, and candy canes, guarded by two giant gingerbread men. The walkway leads to a raised clearing featuring cookie trees, a 16-foot-high gingerbread house, and a 12-foot-tall windmill.

Snowball Fights, Tube Chutes, and Sloths?!

San Antonio

The JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country Resort & Spa is filled with activities for busy children and exhausted adults, including Snow Flow Mountain, a multi-lane ice tubing hill that stretches for more than a hundred feet. There’s also Snowball Build & Blast, a snowball make-and-toss game; Mrs. Claus’s Christmas Traditions, including a retelling of the classic “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” followed by a sing-along of favorite carols; a gingerbread decorating corner, where kids can meet Nutmeg, JW Marriott’s very own gingerbread man; and even a Secret Santa scavenger hunt. Rumor has it that actual reindeer may even make an appearance. Are you ready for a spa treatment yet? I sure was!

My children can attest that the Snow Factory is awesome and insane. They loaded up on artisan hot chocolate at one of the three holiday pop-up bars, then hit the Snow Flow Mountain and bombarded each other in the Snowball Build & Blast, even as fellow hotel guests lounged in bikinis and drank daiquiris by the resort’s lazy river. The energetic staff at the Hill Country Holiday area—especially Andres Millan, who kindly assisted my daughter as she refilled her snowball tray a dozen times to properly pelt her brother— made the experience especially wonderful. Later, we wandered into the lobby and happened upon an animal show by Zoomagination. A sloth sighting and a snowball fight in one San Antonio morning: that’s a holiday experience that’s hard to beat.