Long-distance travel and kissing strangers under the mistletoe may be on hold in 2020, but Texas still knows how to show up for the most wonderful time of the year. Communities across the state have modified traditional festivities to help ensure the safest possible public holiday events. Some light displays are now drive-through only, Santa’s lap is behind plexiglass, and hand-sanitizing stations abound, all to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Rest assured—there are still plenty of ways to get your holiday light fix. Many celebrations newly require timed tickets this year, so be sure to reserve in advance if you want to ensure your family’s festivities and snag that once-in-a-lifetime (let’s hope) photo of Santa with a mask on. Read on to see how the holiday season will look in 2020.
Walk the .75-mile festive holiday trail at Abilene’s United Way Winter Lightfest, a caliche path decorated with thousands of festive lights and animated holiday displays. On your way, stop at Santa’s Village for hot chocolate, snacks, and light-up jewelry, then visit the man himself, who will be housed in a two-seated sleigh fitted with a plexiglass divider. The event is open weekends through December 13, as well as December 18 to 23, with its final night on the 26th. Advance tickets are suggested, and are $1 cheaper than tickets bought in person, at $10 for adults, $5 for students through grade twelve with school ID, and free for children under two.
Good things come in small packages in Addison, a 4.4-square-mile town whose seasonal celebration boasts 1.5 million lights. Because of COVID-19 concerns, Addison’s Vitruvian Lights festival won’t host any other holiday-related activities, but the 550 decked-out trees are more than worth the visit. Lights will be on every evening from 5 to 11 p.m through January 3; it’s free to stroll through the park.
Head to the Amarillo Botanical Gardens’ Christmas in the Gardens for holiday lights strung up amid 4.4 acres of flowers, trees, and plants. The event, which features kid-friendly eats like cotton candy and hot chocolate, is Thursdays–Sundays through December 20, starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $5 per person, though kids under five get in free—they’ll still need $5, though, for a picture with Santa.
The annual Austin Trail of Lights is drive-through-only this year, with timed access every evening from now through January 3. Since one holiday drive-through isn’t enough, Austinites can also enjoy the Peppermint Parkway, at Circuit of the Americas racetrack, where your car will follow hosts Pepper and Mint as they rush to deliver Christmas letters to Santa. While you wait for your vehicle reservation time(s), shop artworks, jewelry, crafts, and more from local vendors at the Blue Genie Art Bazaar.
Santa’s Wonderland has set up shop in College Station. The holiday light extravaganza offers free hay rides, ticketed rides in a horse-drawn carriage, and a Santa in a cowboy hat. This year, Santa’s helpers have added one hundred outdoor tables for increased social distancing capability, along with mobile hand sanitizing and washing stations. Open through December 30, with ticket prices starting at $21.95 for children and $26.95 for adults.
Santa is quarantined in the North Pole this year, so NorthPark in Dallas is making things easy (and contact-free) with virtual Santa visits. Grandparents and other family or friends are welcome to join in on the visits, even if they’re beaming in from a different location than your little elf. Reservations are required and there’s a $24.95 fee, with 100 percent of proceeds going to Children’s Health hospital. If that isn’t enough holiday cheer, bask in the one million lights and Twelve Days of Christmas–themed gazebos at the Dallas Arboretum, where tickets run from $12 to $17.
From December 5 to January 3, El Paso Winterfest will spread virtual cheer with a series of at-home events, including ornament kits available for pickup, step-by-step painting classes (mulled wine encouraged), and $50 tickets to a taped performance of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. The play is streaming now, but the event officially kicks off on Facebook and Instagram on December 5 from 2 to 10 p.m., with a free program that includes crafts, cooking, and an evening concert.
The cheer continues at Texas Motor Speedway’s Gift of Lights, where visitors can enjoy the dual gifts of driving on the track and viewing the holiday light displays. The traditional Santa’s Village is closed this year, but guests do get the convenient treat of skipping the food truck line and ordering snacks directly from the car. Tickets start at $30 per sedan, with additional fees for larger vehicles.
The 55 Nights of Fredericksburg Lights started blazing at Marketplatz on November 12, and through January 6 visitors can relive the magic every evening at 6 p.m., when the countdown to the night’s tree lighting starts anew. The town nods to its German traditions with the 26-foot German Christmas Pyramid, a multilevel decorative wooden structure that, according to lore, predates the Christmas tree.
The lighting experts at Radiance! A Holiday Light Spectacular have set up shop in Frisco (and at locations in Decatur and Weatherford) with a mile-long holiday light drive-through from now through January 3. Admission is $30 per car. For totally free holiday fare, head to Frisco’s Christmas in the Square at 6 p.m. for a nightly choreographed show that features 175,000 lights.
Even if you live far from the Most Beautiful Town Square in Texas, you can still partake in Georgetown’s official lighting ceremony, which was streamed virtually this year for local cheer you can enjoy from home. Those who are able to visit will find the square decked out through January 2.
The self-proclaimed Christmas Capital of Texas hosts fun for all ages with 1,400 holiday events this year. Adults can partake in the annual Wine Train, a ride in a vintage railroad car with two glasses of fine Texas wine (included in the $45 ticket), while the kids climb aboard the North Pole Express for $34–$38, $5 per lap child. The varied event list, modified for health concerns, includes the view-from-your-vehicle “reverse” Parade of Lights on December 3, a cookie cutter–making class, and a replica of Whoville on Main Street.
The theme at Hidalgo’s Festival of Lights this year is “a season of hope,” and in keeping with that Christmas wish, the event has been modified to a drive-through experience. The holiday cheer is still out in full force with a 25-minute journey through a seasonal light display, open December 1–23 and 26–30 from 6 to 11 p.m. Tickets are $21 per vehicle.
The Houston Zoo’s annual Zoo Lights event, through January 10, is the one holiday celebration in Texas where you can get a selfie with an animatronic holiday zebra and walk through the 125-foot-long Infinity Tunnel of Light. Admission runs from $12.95 to $25.45, free for infants under 2. If you’re not an animal person, stop by the annual Deck the Trees celebration (moved to the George R. Brown Convention Center this year) to compare notes on thirty ornately decorated trees.
L&F Distributors, the sponsors of the city’s annual Christmas parade, have called off the event this year due to health and safety concerns. Laredoans can still celebrate with a virtual Santa visit courtesy of a photo booth at the Outlet Shoppes, open each day at noon.
It’s the thirtieth anniversary of Marble Falls’s Walkway of Lights, an outdoor trail of two million lights, where social distancing will be encouraged this year. We suggest you plan to stroll through on December 5, 12, or 19, when local artisan stores will offer free two-ounce pours of wine at the holiday Sip-n-Shop events. Parents can plan to make a day of it on December 5, when Breakfast With Santa kicks off at 9 a.m. One $60 ticket is good for up to six family members and a McDonald’s breakfast.
Social distance in style at Marshall’s Wonderland of Lights, which offers private horse-drawn carriage rides through the decked-out downtown, now through December 31. Tickets are $35 for a group of six, $65 for a group of eight. The town also will hold outdoor holiday markets December 5 and 12, and the Ugly Christmas Sweater Dog Walk, a truly must-see event, is December 12.
The sixtieth annual Salado Christmas Stroll is on, with an extra treat: its traditional two-weekend run has been extended all month long to encourage fewer crowds. Visit Santa on his (safely distanced) fire truck, opt for a pedicab or carriage ride down Main Street, and watch the live Nativity, presented by the First Baptist Church of Salado.
Start with a festive stroll along the water, where the San Antonio River Walk will be strung with 100,000 lights through January 4. Weekend visitors can enjoy the added cheer of luminarias, or traditional Mexican Christmas lanterns, which will blaze at dusk December 4–6, 11–13, and 18–20. The city’s website also boasts of holiday tamale events happening around town—bring some home to leave out for Santa.
Visitors to the Sugar Land Town Square this year can meet Santa in a massive holographic snow globe, which doubles as both a pandemic safety protection and a festive use of technology. Santa’s Sugar Land is open Tuesday to Sunday through Christmas Eve and is free to visit. Reserved timed entries are available every fifteen minutes, and walk-ins are accepted as well.