By: Brian Kendall
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Malcolm Mayhew
Despite cool weather and runny noses, the winter makes a habit of blowing in a host of holiday festivals. While cozying up by the fire or taking part in local happenings is never a bad idea, there are some festivities throughout the Lone Star State worthy of a quick road trip. So, don your favorite holiday sweater, pull on that goofy elf hat and hit up one of these holiday festivals.
Moody Gardens Festival of Lights
Galveston Island | Nov. 17–Jan. 6
Billed as eight attractions in one venue, this festival’s wintery attractions include ice carvings, a holiday circus, train rides and tons of live entertainment. The main draw, however, is the mile-long trail of lights winding through Moody Gardens. Grab a hot chocolate and enjoy millions of twinkling lights along with remarkable views of Galveston Bay. There’s even an outdoor ice rink, an arctic slide and holiday movies in 3D.
Austin Trail of Lights
Austin | Dec. 10–23
Despite humble beginnings more than 50 years ago, this community-wide celebration is now one of Austin’s largest events and has gained national exposure. Besides the more than 40 displays, interactive environments and 2 million lights, Zilker Park hosts Austin’s best food trucks and other unique food offerings, local musical entertainment and a bustling holiday marketplace. To be one of the first to see this phenomenal attraction, join the Trail of Lights Fun Run and Festival on Dec. 1.
Harbor Lights Festival
Corpus Christi | Dec. 1
This festival begins with the children’s parade along Shoreline Boulevard and continues at Bayfront Marina for a storybook holiday. Kids will enjoy face painting and holiday crafts in the Children’s Activity Area, roughhousing throughout the Children’s Fun Zone, and lots of fun and games at the Elves Gift Shop. The festival concludes after sunset with the ceremonial tree lighting, followed by the Illuminated Boat Parade through Corpus Christi Bay.
Holiday at the Heard
McKinney | Dec. 14–15
The Heard Natural Science Museum & Wildlife Sanctuary is a 289-acre preserve set aside in 1967 for the sole purpose of educating children about nature. In December, lights and holiday décor adorn a half-mile nature trail, enhancing the landscape’s natural beauty. Along with family-friendly fun and live holiday music in the outdoor amphitheater, kids of all ages can get their picture taken with Father Christmas and Mother Nature.
Tropical Christmas Festival
Rockport | Dec. 1
For 14 years, the Rockport Festival Grounds near the Rockport Harbor hosts a winter festival full of food, fun and lots of great downtown shopping. Cast in Bronze, the festival’s featured entertainment and crowd favorite, is a must-hear, 4-ton medieval folk carillon loaded with 35 brass bells. After sunset, witness the lighting of the giant community Christmas tree, an illuminated night parade along Rockport Beach Park and a stunning fireworks display over Aransas Bay.
Magical Winter Lights
La Marque | Nov. 16–Jan. 6
This larger-than-life lantern festival spans seven weeks and covers 20 acres in 100 spectacular lantern sets. Lantern art depicting the Houston skyline, world landmarks like the Eiffel Tower and the Roman Coliseum, a full Christmas village, castles, dinosaurs and much more create a mesmerizing wonderland of lights. The festival also includes cultural events like Chinese acrobatic shows, as well as carnival rides, games and food.
Christmas Wine Affair
Fredericksburg | Nov. 30–Dec. 16
While you don’t need an excuse to visit the winegrowers of the Texas Hill Country, toasting to the holiday season is a fine reason to embark on this winter wine experience. Your Tasting Passport, valid throughout the event, includes complimentary tastings at over 40 participating wineries like Pedernales Cellars, Becker Vineyards, Duchman Family Winery and William Chris Vineyards, as well as exclusive holiday discounts and a collectible Christmas ornament.
Ford Holiday River Parade
San Antonio | Nov. 23
Preceded by the lighting of nearly 1.5 million Christmas lights, this hour-long floating parade follows the San Antonio River Walk and features professionally decorated river barges, costumed riders and holiday music. This year’s theme is “Christmas in San Antonio” and will depict traditional San Antonio Christmas scenes. Free and reserved seating options, as well as dinner packages, are available along the 2.5-mile parade route.
Denton | Nov. 30–Dec. 1
For 30 years, the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival has packed the square with live local music and performances, tasty food and lots of hot wassail. Merchants from the Denton Main Street Association will stay open late and serve up their secret wassail recipes as they battle for the prestigious wassail crown. Don’t miss the Holiday Express Train, all the holiday happenings at the “North Pole” and the nearby Historic Homes Tour through the Oak-Hickory Historic District.
EmilyAnn Trail of Lights
Wimberley | Nov. 24–Dec. 28
The EmilyAnn Theater’s Tree Lighting ceremony officially opens the theater’s Trail of Lights, a free winter festival full of down-home Texas charm. The walking tour meanders through an 8-acre musical garden decorated by community volunteers, school groups and local businesses who work to create a winter wonderland of Christmas lights and themed installations. Sip free hot chocolate while roasting hotdogs and s’mores at the festival favorite Ye Olde Yule Log.
By: Brian Kendall
By: Courtney Dabney
By: Malcolm Mayhew