jingle-jangle west of the sabine

A Texas holiday guide

The Nutcracker performed by the Houston Ballet

Amitava Sarkar photograph

Sure, you could celebrate 12 days of Christmas, but why not do it up in a Texas-size way with more than a month of festivities? That’s an easy wish to fulfill in the Lone Star State where the holiday cheer starts at Thanksgiving and continues all the way to New Year’s Day.

Some of Texas’ biggest holiday festivities occur in the city of Houston, which kicks off the season with the Houston Ballet Guild’s Nutcracker Market, scheduled for Nov. 10 to 14 at the Reliant Center, which will transform the facility into a shopping wonderland. On Thanksgiving morning, downtown Houston puts on a holiday smile at the H-E-B Holiday Parade, where Santa makes his debut alongside floats and marching bands. That evening, the Uptown Holiday Lighting event flips the switch on more than 500,000 twinkling lights along Post Oak Boulevard. An electric light parade, stage show and fireworks finale mark the start of the season in style.

Just outside of Houston in Old Town Spring, the Home for the Holidays celebration is one of the earliest in the Lone Star State, having launched the season on Nov. 6 and 7 with a Christmas train, horse and carriage rides and live music, set against a backdrop of holiday lights and shopping.

Holiday lights also bring a festive glow to the annual Christmas Boat Lane Parade on Clear Lake on Dec. 11. This Gulf Coast tradition features more than 200 decorated boats that sail around the lake and up the channel to Galveston Bay.

Galveston will be celebrating the Ninth Annual Moody Gardens Festival of Lights from Nov. 13 through Jan. 1.

Drawing more than 85,000 visitors a year, this sound-and-light extravaganza is the largest holiday event on the Gulf Coast, kicked off when Santa parachutes in to flip the switch on more than 1 million lights and 100 animated displays — then he heads to the aquarium to feed the penguins! Galveston is also the setting for the venerable Dickens on the Strand Festival, now in its 37th year. On Dec. 4 and 5, Galveston is transformed to Victorian London with costumed characters right out of a Charles Dickens novel. The festival takes place in The Strand National Historic Landmark District and includes parades, carolers, bagpipers, Victorian-inspired crafts and more.

Northwest of Houston, poinsettias take center stage when the community of Brenham hosts the Poinsettia Celebration on Nov. 20 and 21. Now in its 20th year, this special event blooms with holiday color thanks to more than 80,000 multicolored poinsettia varieties at Ellison Greenhouses, one of the leading producers of the plant that’s synonymous with Christmas. Besides the Poinsettia Christmas Tree and the other holiday plants such as Christmas Cactus, cyclamen, and Norfolk pines, the two-day event also includes plant seminars, live entertainment and of course a jolly Santa. While you’re in Brenham that weekend, don’t miss the Holiday Home Tour and Trunk Show, where Heritage Belles in period dress guide guests through historic Brenham homes decorated for the holidays. The Giddings-Stone Mansion is a special draw for shoppers looking for unique items and antiques for holiday presents. In early December, the holiday fun continues at the annual Christmas Stroll and Lighted Parade on Dec. 3 from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. with Christmas movies on the square, live entertainment and a lighted Christmas parade.

Christmas lights meet luminarias in San Antonio, which was named “Best Southern Christmas City” by Southern Living magazine last year. Along the River Walk, more than 122,000 lights join thousands of sand-filled luminarias symbolizing the Holy Family’s journey while carolers share the holiday spirit as they cruise the river on open-air barges. On Nov. 26, the lighting ceremony takes place at the Ford Holiday River Parade, one of the country’s only nighttime river parades. The luminarias are lit from Dec. 3 to 19 for Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights only. Other holiday highlights include Light the Way at the University of Incarnate Word from Nov. 20 to Jan. 6 when more than 1 million lights illuminate the campus for a walking or driving tour.
The Texas Hill Country celebrates the season from Thanksgiving through New Year’s with the Texas Hill Country Regional Christmas Lighting Trail, encompassing nearly a dozen communities. Fredericksburg shows its German heritage with such events as Eisbahn, an outdoor ice skating rink set up from Nov. 26 to Jan. 2, a Christmas parade on Dec. 3 and St. Nikolausmarkt on Dec. 3 and 4. In nearby Johnson City, the LBJ Tree Lighting is celebrated for the 41st year at the park that includes what was once called the Texas White House while the downtown area is lit by more than 1 million lights that can be enjoyed on carriage rides. Further north, Marble Falls is leaving on the lights –– holiday lights, that is ––  for the Christmas Walkway of Lights Nov. 19 through Jan. 2. In nearby Burnet, downtown Washington Street is transformed into Main Street Bethlehem on the first two weekends in December.

You’ll walk through the “city gates” and step onto streets that recall the look of the ancient city. Here, authentically costumed townspeople carry on chores of the day, from drawing water from a well to paying the local tax collector.

(Some chores never change.) The feel of the biblical city is enhanced by animals that stroll through the scene: camels, donkeys and other beasts that might have filled Bethlehem’s streets. And just north of San Antonio, the city of New Braunfels is home to Schlitterbahn’s Hill Country Christmas Event from Nov. 26 to Jan. 1. The popular summer water park transforms into a winter wonderland featuring a German Christmas village, Santa’s workshop, Schatze’s Winter Wonderland complete with falling snow, Candy Cane Lane and the Christmas Carol Riverwalk.

(Because this is Schlitterbahn, after all, look for plenty of water magic — but in frozen form!)

Heading north, the Capital City is the setting for the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar, a shopping extravaganza held in true Austin style from Dec. 15 through 24. Now in its 35th year, this event showcases the work of national artists and their eclectic works, all accompanied by the sounds of nearly 30 musical performances by local bands. (This is still the Live Music Capital of the World, even if it is Christmas!)

North Texas also offers holiday treasures –– including the town that’s called the Christmas Capital of Texas: Grapevine. The “North Pole Express” rings in the fun with rides that feature carols, Christmas stories and of course Santa, starting Nov. 26 and continuing weekends through Dec. 21. Another Grapevine highlight is the Parade of Lights, illuminating the town’s historic district on Dec. 2 with more than 100 floats as well as marching bands.

Or how about a visit to the world’s longest light tunnel? In the DFW Metroplex, the city of Grand Prairie stages Prairie Lights. More than 4 million lights comprise this truly Texas-size holiday attraction that runs from Nov. 25 through Dec. 31. Along with the drive-through displays, families can also enjoy walk-through lighting attractions, a holiday magic light show, photos with Santa and more. And the city of Cleburne celebrates Whistle Stop Christmas from Thanksgiving through the end of the year with more than 3 million lights and a downtown parade the first Friday in December. Meanwhile, in the city of Arlington, a private neighborhood of homeowners leaves on the lights for visitors during the Interlochen Lights Display; starting in mid-December, tour groups and travelers make their way to this area to enjoy this longtime neighborhood tradition.

The lights don’t merely twinkle over in the DFW community of Frisco; they’re downright dancing. Two-step your way over to Christmas on the Square in Frisco to see one of the largest choreographed holiday light-and-music shows in Texas. While admiring the lights, keep an eye out for a parachuting Santa, a balloon elf and even an inner-tube snow slide.

However your family likes to celebrate the holidays, there’s a full calendar of fun in Texas —from  from small- town festivals to big- city celebrations.

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