’Tis the season for holiday festivals

  • Mauri Elbel
  • Special to the American-Statesman
12:00 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017 Travel
Boerne’s Dickens on Main takes place Thanksgiving weekend. Contributed by E. Castle Photography

As pumpkins roll out to make way for Christmas trees and bags of candy corn are swapped for boxes of candy canes, towns across Texas will start to twinkle with that familiar nighttime glow, and we’ll soon be wrapped up in the magic of the season once again. From Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day, the Lone Star State delivers a sleigh full of yuletide to towns big and small. Below is a festive lineup of holiday happenings across Texas worth checking off your list.

BASTROP

Just a jingle away — or a half-hour, if you aren’t traveling by sleigh — the historic small town of Bastrop celebrates the season with a slew of seasonal fun during its annual Lost Pines Christmas (Nov. 23-Dec. 25). Get into the spirit at Lost Pines Christmas events like Wassail Fest and Small Business Saturday (Nov. 25), the Lighted Christmas Parade (Dec. 9) and Sip, Shop and Swirl (Dec. 16). Bundle up in Bastrop for Snow Day (Dec. 2) to play in the fluff while enjoying winter-themed activities spanning snow slides, snowball fights and a screening of “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” from 1–7 p.m. in Fisherman’s Park. When the sun goes down, the beloved Bastrop River of Lights sparkles with over 100 festive displays along the Lower Colorado River from 6-9 p.m. nightly (Nov. 24-Dec. 31). More at lostpineschristmas.com.

BEAUMONT

Check the names off your list at A Very Merry Main Street Market, the three-day, one-stop holiday shopping extravaganza featuring merchandise from more than 100 selected vendors put on by the Junior League of Beaumont (Nov. 30-Dec. 2). Watch the Beaumont Community Players’ performance of “Scrooge,” a beloved musical take on Charles Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol” (Dec. 1, 2, 8, 9, 14, 15, 16). More at beaumontcvb.com/event-calendar.

BOERNE

Boerne’s Main Street, usually known as the Hill Country Mile, transforms into a vintage Dickens on Main over Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 24-25). The 18th annual Christmas event brings two days of family-friendly, winter-themed fun to Boerne in the form of snow on Main Street, ice sculpture shows, a 60-foot ice slide, photos with Santa, a tree lighting ceremony, live theatrical performances, holiday shopping and concerts, horse-drawn carriage rides and a Reindeer Village with live reindeer both evenings. More at dickensonmain.com.

BUDA

Kick off the holidays at the 38th annual Budafest (Dec. 2-3), a free, family-friendly two-day holiday bash brimming with festive fun in the form of kids activities, craft vendors, pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, a Santa’s artisan workshop, carnival, food and drink booths, “reindog” parade, snow slide and the Brilliant Lights Parade, which lights up downtown Buda at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. Take a stroll while sipping cocoa and seeing Santa along the lighted and decorated displays at Buda’s 9th Annual Trail of Lights (Dec. 8-9; 14-17 from 6 to 10 p.m.), a free event held at Historic Stagecoach Park. More at ci.buda.tx.us/525/Trail-of-Lights.

CLEBURNE

A sweet scene unfolds in Hulen Park during the 21st annual Whistle Stop Christmas, themed Christmas in Candyland (Nov. 20-Dec. 31). The countywide celebration features 3.5 million lights sparkling over a 12-acre area as well as special events ranging from children’s train rides and horse-drawn carriage rides to live theater performances and orchestras. Don’t miss the lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m. (Nov. 20) or the Lighted Christmas Parade at 6:30 p.m. (Dec. 1) featuring nearly 100 floats. More at whistlestopchristmas.org.

RELATED: You won’t believe the holiday spectacle coming to COTA in December

COLLEGE STATION

Experience a Texas-size Christmas at Santa’s Wonderland (now-Jan. 7), where you can enjoy nightly merry entertainment such as hayrides or horse-drawn carriage rides through the sparkling Trail of Lights, race down the Toboggan Chute, have a white Christmas in Texas with the help of snow machines, ride on the West Pole Express trackless train, jump inside a Texas-size snow globe, sample tastings at the Wonderland Winery, enjoy live performances of singalong Christmas tunes and brave Santa’s mechanical bull. More at santas-wonderland.com.

COMFORT

Soak in the small-town feel of Christmas in Comfort (Nov. 25), where you will discover holiday shopping and family fun at this annual event that brings together more than 125 arts and crafts vendors, a slew of holiday activities, live music and entertainment and merriment throughout the town. Visit with the jolly man himself at Santa Land from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and experience the magic of the lighted night parade and fireworks from 7 to 9 p.m. More at comfortchamber.com/events/christmas-in-comfort.

DALLAS

The spirit of the season is in full bloom at Holiday at the Arboretum (now through Jan. 7), which features everything from the 12 Days of Christmas exhibit to more than half a million twinkling lights throughout the garden. In addition to viewing the 12 extravagantly decorated 25-foot gazebos inspired by the beloved Christmas carol, expect several new nighttime events sure to get you in the holiday spirit, such as viewing the movie “Elf” outdoors while sipping hot cocoa, singing favorite holiday songs during karaoke night and viewing the collection of more than 800 nutcrackers on display in the historic DeGolyer House. More at dallasarboretum.org.

FORT WORTH

Soak in the dazzling sights of the XTO Energy Parade of Lights, which brings hundreds of illuminated floats, half a million lights and tens of thousands of people to the streets of downtown (Nov. 19). Take a spin through the drive-through lights display at the Texas Motor Speedway’s Gift of Lights (Nov. 23-Dec. 30) or experience the western-themed holiday magic that unfolds at Christmas in the Stockyards (Dec. 2). Visit Bass Performance Hall for a Christmas-themed performance, including Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” (Nov. 19); “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Nov 21-22); “Home for the Holidays” (Nov. 24-26); Handel’s “Messiah” (Nov. 30); “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Dec. 1); “The Nutcracker” (Dec. 8-24); Sister’s Christmas Catechism: “The Gift of Magi” (Dec. 13-17); and Michael Martin Murphey’s “Cowboy Christmas” (Dec. 18). Take an icy spin around Fort Worth’s outdoor skating rink, Panther Island Ice, while soaking in downtown views (now-Jan. 15). Find more holiday events “worth” checking off your list at fortworth.com/holiday-checklist.

FREDERICKSBURG

There’s no brighter time of year to visit Fredericksburg than the holidays. Watch as the 26-foot wooden Christmas Pyramid handcrafted in Germany and a German-themed 30-foot-tall Community Christmas tree are lit up at Marktplatz (Nov. 24). Swirl around the Eisbahn outdoor ice skating rink with family and friends for $15 including skate rental (Nov. 24-Jan. 7). Take in more twinkling sights at the Light the Night Christmas Parade & AfterGlow (Dec. 1). Time your trip with the Texas Hill Country’s most popular Holiday Home Tour and Market, showcasing beautiful, historic homes decorated for Christmas and one-of-a-kind artisan merchandise (Dec. 2). Or holiday shop till you drop at Fredericksburg Trade Days (Dec. 15-17), which features over 400 vendors. More at VisitFredericksburgTX.com/holiday.

GALVESTON

Living up to its name as the “Winter Wonder Island,” this holiday season will bring eight weeks of festivities to Galveston. Below are just a few highlights, but you can find more at galveston.com/holidaymagic.

At Ice Land at Moody Gardens (now-Jan. 7), visitors can explore a 28,000-square-foot Rainforest Holiday-themed ice land. Professional ice carvers use 2 million pounds of ice to create the exhibit featuring rainforest-themed ice sculptures, slides and a Shivers Ice Bar where adults can chill with a cocktail. More at moodygardens.com/iceland.

The 16th Annual Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens (now-Jan. 7) features a mile-long trail of more than 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays. While there, go ice skating at the outdoor ice rink or snow tube on the Arctic Ice Slide. More at moodygardens.com/festivaloflights.

New this year, Downtown Lanterns and Lights will feature a display of Christmas trees and other artisan-made pieces as they illuminate Saengerfest Park (Nov. 25-Jan. 2). The free event will also feature an interactive photo frame and a giant snow globe that visitors can enter for family photos (Nov. 25-26 and Dec. 9, 16 and 23). More at downtowngalveston.org.

The 44th Annual Dickens on the Strand (Dec. 1-3) is Galveston’s annual holiday festival that transforms historic Strand Street into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens as characters walk the streets, strolling carolers and roving musicians fill the air with sounds from the era and costumed vendors peddle their Victorian-inspired wares. Admission is free Friday, and tickets are $15 for adults and $9 for youths Saturday and Sunday. More at dickensonthestrand.org.

Thousands of jolly joggers will jingle through the streets of downtown Galveston for the Santa Hustle Galveston 5K and Half Marathon (Dec. 17), which benefits the Galveston County Food Bank. More at santahustle.com/galveston.

The historic Hotel Galvez & Spa invites guests to celebrate the start of the holidays with the official city of Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration of its 35-foot Christmas tree at 6 p.m. Nov. 24, followed by a special appearance by Santa Claus and live holiday entertainment including the Galveston Ballet. Indulge in Sunday brunch with Santa at Hotel Galvez (Dec. 3, 10, 17, 24), where children can share their Christmas wishes with Santa. More at hotelgalvez.com.

GEORGETOWN

Just 25 miles north of Austin, Georgetown transforms into a Christmas card brought to life with wintry window displays, carolers and old-fashioned decorated lamp poles. Festivities kick off at the Annual Lighting of the Square (Nov. 24) as the mayor and Santa flip the switch at 5:30 p.m. and Austin Carolers perform classic holiday songs. The 37th annual Christmas Stroll on the Square (Dec. 1-2) is Georgetown’s version of a winter wonderland filled with family-friendly activities such as Santa visits, holiday treats, a kids activity area and a nonmelting ice skating rink with free skate rentals. There will also be a swing carousel, Candyland obstacle course, live music, more than 150 arts and crafts booths and a holiday parade 10 a.m. Saturday. More at visit.georgetown.org.

GONZALES

This citywide Winterfest Celebration (Dec. 2-3) kicks off Saturday with breakfast with Santa, followed by a Santa’s Market, chili and bean cookoff, a historic organ concert and a Lighted Christmas Parade at 7 p.m. There’s also a Historic Homes Tour on Saturday and Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. More at gonzalesmainstreet.org.

GRANBURY

The annual Night of Lights Christmas parade (Nov. 24) from 6 to 8 p.m. marks the arrival of Santa Claus with a colorful lineup of beautifully decorated floats winding through Granbury’s historic district. The 34th Annual Candlelight Tour showcases Granbury’s architecture, history and culture through some of Texas’ most historic residences (Dec. 1-2). Visit the Granbury Santa and friends at their very own interactive Santa House Friday-Sunday Nov. 25-Dec. 23. More at granburysquare.com/event/visit-the-santa-house and christmasingranbury.com.

GRAPEVINE

There’s a reason this town is known as the Christmas Capital of Texas — it’s home to more than 1,400 Christmas events taking place in 40-plus days. Below are just a few events where you can collect merry holiday memories, but you can find more at grapevinetexasusa.com/christmas-capital-of-texas.

Gaylord Texan Resort’s ICE! and Lone Star Christmas is back and better than ever (now-Jan. 1). Brighten your family’s holidays by soaking in 2 million twinkling lights, 15,000 ornaments, a 54-foot-tall Christmas tree and an 8-foot-tall gingerbread house. While there, experience the thrill of Santa’s Wild Workshop Snow Tubing, enjoy cookies and milk with Mrs. Claus, take a yuletide glide around the 6,000-square-foot outdoor ice skating rink and check out ICE!, carved from more than 2 million pounds of ice with a live carving zone so you can see the master ice carvers in action. More at ChristmasAtGaylordTexan.com.

Indoor snow showers, twinkling lights and holiday trees set aglow set the scene for the winter celebrations that unfold at Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge (Nov. 25-Jan. 1), where you can soak in the magic of the season while splashing in an 84-degree indoor water park. Sleep warmly in a Snowland Suite bedecked in glimmering garland with a fully decorated holiday tree by night, and enjoy dining in a life-size gingerbread house and visiting with Santa by day. More at greatwolf.com/grapevine/snowland.

Don’t miss the free and festive holiday happenings that unfold in historic downtown Grapevine, including the Carol of Lights (Nov. 20) with family-friendly activities starting at 5 p.m. and tree lighting at 7 p.m.; the Parade of Lights (Dec. 7) at 7 p.m. with more than 100 lighted floats and marching bands; and the Twinkle Light Boat Parade (Dec. 2) from 6 to 9 p.m. where you can watch watercraft decorated in sparkling lights float by.

GRUENE

Channel your inner Texan for this year’s holiday cards and pose with Cowboy Kringle, the town’s own brand of Santa (weekends now-Dec. 23). Don’t miss the 16th Annual Gruene Pony Express Ride at 10 a.m. Dec. 2, when Gruene receives Pony Express riders from the Heritage Trail Ride Association of New Braunfels carrying a “Christmas Greetings” message from the governor, and stick around town for the Gruene Town Lighting that evening, when Cowboy Kringle rides into town on his horse and lights up Gruene for the holidays. Get your holiday shopping complete at Gruene Christmas Market Days (Dec. 2-3), which boast 100 vendors selling unique Christmas gifts, crafts, items and foods. More at gruenetexas.com/holidays.php.

HILL COUNTRY

Take a self-guided drive along the Texas Hill Country Christmas Lighting Trail to discover that this region shines its brightest during the holidays. Tiny towns including Boerne, Burnet, Dripping Springs, Fredericksburg, Johnson City, Llano, Wimberley, Marble Falls and New Braunfels are set aglow with sparkling lights and dazzling town squares, courthouses, churches and historic sites from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

LLANO

Each year this little town lights up during Llano’s Starry Starry Nights, which brings unique Christmas displays to Badu Park from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly (Nov. 24-Dec. 31). Visitors can stroll along the Llano River enjoying thousands of lights, sip hot chocolate and roast marshmallows by the fire. Be sure to bundle up for Snow Day (Dec. 9) taking place from 1 to 9 p.m., when Badu Park transforms into a white and fluffy winter wonderland perfect for sledding with the family. More at llanostarrystarrynights.com.

LOCKHART

Each year Lockhart transforms into a Dickens-style Christmas of yesteryear (Dec. 1-2). The tiny town’s annual event takes place at the Dr. Eugene Clark Library and Lockhart’s historic downtown square, beginning with the Lighted Christmas Parade on Friday evening and continuing Saturday with authentic Victorian decorations, costumed characters from Charles Dickens’ classic novels, choirs, jugglers, bagpipers, carriage rides and the lighting of the Yule Log, which signifies that Christmas has come to Lockhart. More at lockhartchamber.com/pages/DickensChristmas.

MARBLE FALLS/LAKE LBJ

Take a free stroll through the Walkway of Lights (now-Jan.1) at Lakeside Park along Lake Marble Falls, which dazzles visitors with more than 2 million lights and 400 sculptures nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. More at walkwayoflightstx.com.

NATURAL BRIDGE CAVERNS

Christmas at the Caverns (daily in December) fills this geographical gem with the joy and magic of the season. Unique Christmas offerings include Caroling in the Caverns, the AMAZEn’ Reindeer Roundup, Christmas Hayrides, the Canopy Challenge, Flying Elf Ziplines and Christmas Village. More at naturalbridgecaverns.com.

NEW BRAUNFELS

On your way into town, make a stop at the ever-popular Santa’s Ranch, a festive 1-mile drive-through featuring more than a million lights, holiday displays, homemade hot cocoa and kettle corn (now-Dec. 31). Pull over to Surf the Season (Dec. 2) from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at Texas Ski Ranch, where you can take adaptive wake-surf sessions, enter a surf competition and snowboard with Santa while sticking around for an outdoor holiday movie, s’mores and hot cocoa. Sip free wassail at Wassailfest held downtown (Dec. 7) while getting a jump start on your holiday shopping. Enjoy the magic of the Hometown Holiday Christmas Parade (Dec. 9) unfolding in downtown New Braunfels from 5:30-8:30 p.m. Find more at innewbraunfels.com.

PLANO

Santa Claus comes to Plano Nov. 19 and flips the switch at the annual Lights at Legacy, where visitors can snap photos with Santa, craft with Mrs. Claus, enjoy magic with Mr. Scrooge, ride the Atmos Energy Christmas train and witness the evening lighting of the new Legacy Texas Christmas Tree at 6:30 p.m. Experience the holiday magic at the Lantern Light at the Heritage Farmstead Museum (Dec. 2), which celebrates holiday traditions from the past with horse-driven wagon rides and historic demonstrations and features strolling carolers, Snow Mountain sledding and more. More at visitplano.com/events.

SAN ANTONIO

From holiday-themed thrills to twinkling sights, it’s easy to get into the spirit of the season in San Antonio. The 35th annual Ford Holiday River Parade is a free tradition that draws over 40,000 with a parade featuring 26 illuminated floats on the San Antonio River, lavishly costumed participants and 100,000 lights reflecting off the water (Nov. 24) from 6 to 9 p.m. Stroll along the banks of the San Antonio River Walk in the glow of more than 3,000 luminaries, traditional Mexican Christmas lanterns, during Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias beginning at dusk Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (Dec. 1-17). Find holiday-themed family fun at the San Antonio Zoo’s Zoo Lights at 6 p.m. nightly (now-Dec. 31); SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration (now-Dec. 31); and Morgan’s Wonderland’s A Wonderland Christmas (Nov. 24-Dec. 23). More at visitsanantonio.com. When you’re not ready to go back home, rest your head at the JW Marriott Hill Country Resort & Spa, where the spirit of the holidays comes alive with its Light Up the Night evening light shows featuring thousands of twinkling lights choreographed to holiday music (now-Dec. 31) as well as magical JW Hill Country Christmas experiences throughout December spanning story times and tuck-ins with the elves, breakfasts and pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, gingerbread craft workshops and more (jwhillcountryholidays.com).

SAN MARCOS

Jingle on down the highway to San Marcos for the downtown Holiday Lighting Ceremony (Nov. 25) at the historic Hays County Courthouse at 5:30 p.m. Or soak in the “Sights and Sounds of Christmas,” which will fill San Marcos Plaza Park with holiday cheer thanks to Santa, local school performances, carnival rides, a live nativity scene and more nightly beginning at 5 p.m. (Nov. 29-Dec. 2; Dec. 6-9). The first-ever Holiday Wonder Express is coming to Wonder World Park in the form of holiday-themed train rides and stories, candlelight tours, pictures with Santa and more on Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. (Dec. 8-30). More at toursanmarcos.com/events.

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