Texas towns shining bright this holiday season

By: Mauri Elbel
December, 2021

‘Tis the season for annual tree lightings and Santa sightings. From now through the new year, Texas towns big and small are glowing with holiday magic, delivering a sleigh full of merriment in the form of everything from sparkling downtown squares to jolly photo ops with Santa. Here is your family’s guide to yuletide featuring twelve Texas towns shining bright throughout the holidays.

Bastrop River of Lights is free to attend. Credit Visit Bastrop

BASTROP

From an old-fashioned Main Street Christmas and small-town traditions to a dazzling nighttime holiday parade, Bastrop offers a festive lineup of holiday events to enjoy with your family during its merry, month-long Lost Pines Christmas. Don’t miss the sparkling sights of the Bastrop River of Lights, featuring numerous seasonal displays lining Bastrop’s scenic June Hill Pape River Walk that’s free to attend and runs daily from dusk until 10 p.m. through Jan. 1, or check out the 2021 Lighted Christmas Parade taking place at 6 p.m. on Dec. 11 as 100 fanciful floats light up the night skies over downtown Main Street. Find more holiday events at lostpineschristmas.com.

Santa makes the journey to Boerne. Credit City of Boerne

BOERNE

Book it to Boerne for its all new “A Dickens Celebration” featuring three December weekends chock-full of festive fun, including Weihnachts Weekend (Dec. 3-4) and the 34th annual Weihnachts Parade at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 4, when downtown will light up with nearly 100 floats glowing with holiday cheer along Boerne’s Main Street. Cuddle up for Boerne’s Toast of Olde Town, where holiday date nights are best spent under the stars snuggling up with a classic holiday movie in the park on Dec. 8, or with late-night shopping, wassail tastings and a Christmas market in Main Plaza on Dec. 10 and 11. Round up the whole family for a weekend of holiday fun, including the downtown cookie crawl, a visit with Santa, and a scavenger hunt with treats along the way plus real “Texas” reindeer (longhorns) at the finish line, a family movie night and more unfolding the weekend of Dec. 17-19. Check the schedule of events for details at www.adickenscelebration.com/

Corpus Christi is the ultimate hub for holiday cheer. Credit Visit Corpus Christi

CORPUS CHRISTI

Corpus Christi’s Merry Days by the Bay is a citywide collaboration of holiday-themed events, family-friendly activities and more, to celebrate the holiday season now through the end of the year. Whether you’re soaking in the holiday spirit in downtown Corpus Christi, which is the ultimate hub for holiday cheer, bedecked in garland, bows and bright and merry décor along Peppermint Lane on Chaparral Street, or visiting Santa Claus at La Palmera Shopping Mall, Merry Days by the Bay is jam-packed with events throughout the month. For a complete list of events and more information on Merry Days by the Bay, coast on over to www.visitcorpuschristi.com

Celebrate the holidays in the Big D at Enchant in Fair Park. Credit Enchant

DALLAS

Everything is bigger in the Big D, including the city’s extensive lineup of holiday festivities. Big D Holiday is a one-stop shop for visitors and locals alike to discover all the ways to ring in the most wonderful time of the year. From now through Jan. 2, become captivated by the holiday season as Enchant, the whimsical and heartfelt Christmas light maze and village, transports you to a world of festive wonder unfolding on the Esplanade at Fair Park in Dallas. Holiday at the Arboretum featuring a 50-foot-tall Dazzling Musical Tree, The 12 Days of Christmas life-size 25-foot-tall Victorian-style glass gazebos, the European-inspired Christmas Village, the stunningly decorated DeGolyer House featuring The Artistry of the Nativity and more  has something for everyone to get into the holiday spirit now through Dec. 31. Or take the kids ice skating at Galleria Dallas and swirl around the rink while gazing up at its towering Christmas tree, which happens to be the tallest indoor tree in the nation. More at www.visitdallas.com/campaigns/bigdholiday

Kick-off the holidays at Christmas in the Stockyards. Credit Fort Worth Stockyards

FORT WORTH

Get festive in Fort Worth at Sundance Square, which features a 55-foot Norway Spruce Christmas Tree decorated and lit through Jan. 6 and a live weekend music series Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Soak in sparkling sights at Modern Lights at the Modern Art Museum or head to Texas Motor Speedway to see over 2 million LEDs at the Gift of Lights, or take an icy spin around Panther Island Ice (now-Jan. 17). You can kick-off the holidays at Christmas in the Stockyards Dec. 4 from 12-4 p.m., where festivities include Sounds of the Season, strolling holiday entertainment, reindeer games, photos with Cowboy Santa, story time with Mrs. Claus and a Christmas parade following the 4 p.m. cattle drive. Through the holiday season, guests can journey through a district-wide Western wonderland complete with dreamy lighting and décor at Christmas at the Stockyards. Find more holiday events “worth” checking off your list at  www.fortworth.com/holiday-checklist

Dickens on the Strand is a not-to-miss holiday event in Galveston. Credit Galveston Island CVB

GALVESTON

Wander to Winter Wonder Island, also known as Galveston, where you can experience tropical weather and a 32-mile coast with traditional Victorian charm, a world-renowned Dickens festival and light shows during the holidays. A few festive reasons to visit this year include: the return of the Polar Express Trail Ride offering rides to the North Pole from the Galveston Railroad Museum (now-Dec. 23), Moody Gardens Holiday in the Gardens featuring a mile-long Festival of Lights trail of illuminated holiday displays and much more (now through Jan. 2), or attend The 48th annual Dickens on The Strand (Dec. 3-5), which transforms historic Strand Street into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens as characters walk the streets and strolling carolers and roving musicians fill the air with sounds from the era. You can also run with thousands of jolly joggers jingling through the streets of downtown Galveston at the Santa Hustle Galveston 5K and Half Marathon (Dec. 19). Find more merriment at www.galveston.com/holidaymagic.  

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Delight the kids with winter wonder in the form of ice skating at Gaylord Texan in Grapevine. Photo by Travis Albrecht

GRAPEVINE

Experience the holidays in the Christmas Capital of Texas: Grapevine, home to more than 1,400 Christmas events taking place in 40 days. Attend the Parade of Lights on Dec. 2 at 7 p.m., featuring more than 100 lighted floats with the last one containing Santa rolling along Historic Main Street, or experience the Twinkle Light Boat Parade on Lake Grapevine on Dec. 4. Throughout the month, you can feel the joy and cheer at Grapevine Christmas Village, Christmas Wine Trails, or with a magical family stay at Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge or the Gaylord Texan’s Lone Star Christmas. Grapevine truly is the epicenter of Christmas magic in Texas, and you can find the full lineup of festivities at www.grapevinetexasusa.com/christmas-capital-of-texas.

Cowboy Kringle is Gruene’s version of Santa. Credit Gruene Hall

GRUENE

Go to historic Gruene to experience the holiday magic this year. On Dec. 4, start the day with the 20th Annual Gruene Pony Express Ride at 10 a.m. before getting into the spirit with a lineup of holiday events and festivities. Then listen to the brass band street performance at 5 p.m. followed by the annual town lighting at 6 p.m. when Cowboy Kringle rides into town on horseback to light up the town and hand out candy canes to the kids. Put a Texas twist on this year’s holiday cards and pose with Cowboy Kringle, the town’s own brand of Santa, on December weekends, get your holiday shopping done at Gruene Christmas Market Days (Dec. 4-5), or burn off holiday treats at the 29th annual Jingle Bell 5K run/walk on Dec. 11. More at www.holidaysingruene.com.  

This year marks the 31st annual Johnson City Lights Spectacular. Credit Aneta Hayne Photography

JOHNSON CITY

More than a million sparkling lights with a display so big and bright that even NASA has reported seeing it from the International Space Station is what makes the 31st annual Johnson City Lights Spectacular, well, pretty spectacular. From now through Jan. 2, head to the twinkliest town in the Hill Country to check out this free dazzling light display just an hour from Austin. Go before sundown to park downtown and hang around for carriage rides (including horse drawn trolley and Cinderella carriage rides), shopping and dining in this charming town brimming with old-fashioned Christmas cheer. More at: https://www.johnsoncitytexas.info/lights-spectacular.html.

Marble Falls Walkway of Lights is worth the trip. Contributed

MARBLE FALLS

Marble Falls is magical during the holidays. From merrily decorated storefronts to its ever-changing roster of joyful holiday events, it’s worth the hour drive to experience Marble Fall’s 44 days and nights of holiday cheer. Stroll along the Marble Falls Walkway of Lights one of the biggest holiday events in the Highland Lakes every year featuring two million lights on more than 350 lighted sculptures illuminating Lakeside Park throughout the season. Before heading back to Austin, delight the whole family with a seasonal spin at the Winter Ice Skating Rink. More at https://visitmarblefalls.org/christmas-season

RELATED: November Texas Festivals

Celebrate the holidays in Port Aransas with Sand Santa. Credit Port Aransas

PORT ARANSAS

Celebrate the holidays on the beautiful beaches of Port Aransas, which is celebrating the holidays with Sand Santa, a Lighted Boat Parade and fireworks over the Gulf. Starting Dec. 1, visitors can drive through Port Aransas and view the iconic Farley Boat planters decked out in their holiday best. Port A’s official tree-lighting ceremony will light up the Port Aransas Community Center on Dec. 2., complete with cookies, hot chocolate and an automated display that includes a light show, “snow” and music every half hour from 6 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 3. On Dec. 4, holiday festivities continue with the annual Holiday Golf Cart Parade followed by the Lighted Boat Parade that evening. Or bid farewell to 2021 on New Year’s Eve with an impressive fireworks display over the Gulf at Robert’s Point Park. More at www.portaransas.org

WIMBERLEY

Wimberley is a Hill Country wonderland this time of year. Now in its 14th year, Wimberley’s Trail of Lights draws visitors from all over Central Texas to stroll through six acres of trails set aglow with the magic of the holidays. The Trail of Lights runs through Dec. 31, open Sunday-Thursday from dusk until 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from dusk until 10 p.m., bedazzling visitors through the decorated wonderland as Ye Olde Yule Log burns nightly. More at http://visitwimberley.com/

If You Go

Getting there:

Bastrop is 30 miles from Austin.

Boerne is 90 miles from Austin.

Corpus Christi is 200 miles from Austin.

Fort Worth is 190 miles from Austin.

Dallas is 200 miles from Austin.

Galveston is 215 miles from Austin.

Grapevine is 211 miles from Austin.

Gruene is 48 miles from Austin.

Johnson City is 50 miles from Austin.

Marble Falls is 52 miles from Austin.

Port Aransas is 250 miles from Austin.

Wimberley is 40 miles from Austin.

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