From small town squares to traffic lights, where to spend the holidays this year – texas monthly



Among the many holiday celebrations across the state, it’s harder to find anything more Texan than a living nativity scene in a cowboy church. TO Living for the Cowboy Church brand in Athens, about halfway between Corsicana and Tyler, services are performed in Stetson hats and Ariat boots. There is an on-site arena where kids learn about lassoing and barrel racing. And in December, for the second year in a row, the church will host a drive-through nativity scene with live animals.

The idea germinated at the start of the pandemic, said chef de mission Debbie Burleson. Members of the non-denominational church wanted a way to safely publicize Living for the Brand, which moved from Giddings in 2018, and to celebrate Christmas.

They didn’t have a budget for the nursery, so Burleson relied on church members to sew the costumes. Locals loaned animals – the church even found a master who brought a camel. To attract a crowd to the free event, which lasted four nights, someone donated two sides of beef that had been processed. Each car received a ticket to put in a bucket for a drawing after the end of the nursery: two people would win a freezer full of beef. Word got around, okay.

The church expected about fifty cars to pass. The first night they got “a lot,” Burleson said. More came the second day. “The third night it was amazing,” she added. “We couldn’t even take a break.

A total of 796 cars saw the nativity scene, which included a donkey, cows, goats, sheep, chickens and the camel. From 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., December 16 to 19 of this year, the church, located at 902 Texas Highway 7 Loop, will host both the nativity scene and the ox drawing. This time, four sides will be drawn, each worth approximately $ 1,000.

Here are a few other selected, mostly outdoor, locations across the state to get you into the vacation spirit.


The United Way Winter Lightfest is a one stop shop for vacation enjoyment. Walk through a tunnel of lights to arrive at Christmas Village, where you can make s’mores in view of the twenty-meter tree of light. There’s also an illuminated maze, singing snowmen and elven fuel at Mrs. Claus’s Snack Shack. The event, which is in its third year, will kick off on November 26 and feature nearly three million lights. Adult tickets are $ 15 at the door and $ 12 in advance online; children’s tickets are $ 10 at the door and $ 7 in advance. The Winter Lightfest is open on weekends and Christmas week from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Austin's annual Trail of Lights is a drive-thru event that runs from November 27 to December 31.
The annual Austin Trail of Lights is a drive-thru event this year, from November 27 to December 31.Courtesy of Austin Trail of Lights


Now with over two million lights Path of Lights at Zilker Park has been an annual tradition since 1965. It will be a driving event again this year, with tunnels, nearly a hundred illuminated trees and dozens of exhibits. Timed tickets start at $ 30 for the 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. slot, or you can opt for the $ 65 Dash Pass for early entry (5:45 to 7 p.m.) and a box of cookies. The Path of Lights runs from November 27 through New Years Eve. Some evenings are closed for private events.


The Christmas Ranch Illuminated signage began 36 years ago in Huntsville with the goal of winning a neighborhood signage contest. Each year Bob and Diane Hanley have added more lights. And in 1995, the family moved south to Cleveland and purchased fifteen acres outside of town to accommodate an illuminated drive-through display. This year, more than 300,000 lights will be hung between towering pines around glittering reindeer, signs and nutcrackers. Free and open to the public, the exhibit runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. every night from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day.

El Paso

Until January 2, the popular El Paso restaurant Winter party brings a downtown skating rink, hundreds of lights to San Jacinto Square, and all kinds of festive events, such as free holiday movies at the Plaza Theater and readings at local libraries. Although the rink requires tickets for fifty-minute sessions, the majority of events are free.


The town’s German roots are fully on display during Weihnachtszeit, or the Christmas season, with the German Christmas Pyramid, handcrafted in the motherland in 2009, standing 26 feet tall with a windmill atop and is decorated with figurines representing holiday scenes. During gratuity Christmas Nights of Lights, which kicked off this week, the Marktplatz and the Pyramid will be illuminated each evening after an audio presentation. With the exception of December 3 and 31, the nighttime event runs until January 6, the feast of Epiphany, which is a public holiday in several German states.


Georgetown Square will be transformed on November 26 into an illuminated wonderland worthy of a Hallmark movie, but another story will be on full display on the first weekend of December. On December 3 and 4, the city 40th Annual Christmas Walk will feature many family-friendly attractions and events, including desserts featuring the Grinch and a booth where kids can get their hair done just like the residents of Whoville.

Grapevine is hosting the Parade of Lights this year on December 2 as part of their 40 days of Christmas events.
Grapevine will host the Parade of Lights this year on December 2 as part of the city’s forty days of Christmas events.Courtesy of the Grapevine Convention & Visitors Center


We’re generally careful with superlatives, but Grapevine truly is the Christmas capital of Texas. The state legislature ruled so in 2009. Tickets for the North Pole Express train with Santa went on sale in September and sold out in mid-November. But there are 1,399 other things to do in the city. From November 26 to December 23, the Christmas village of the vineyard, on Historic Main Street, will feature a 44-foot living Christmas tree, singers dressed in Victorian clothing, and an oversized Santa’s Workshop where children can play the role of elves. By January 2, the Texan Gaylord will be decorated in the usual way with a life-size gingerbread house, 12,000 ornaments and model trains.


The Hidalgo Festival of Lights celebrates its 30th year with a modified drive-thru format, but that doesn’t mean it’s less fun. Once you’ve entered the Payne Arena parking lot, turn the dial on your radio to a preset FM station and listen to vacation tunes while listening to over five million lights. Drive-through concessions will sell hot chocolate and other goodies to enjoy for the three-kilometer excursion. General admission tickets cost $ 20 and must be purchased in advance for the celebration, which opens nightly at 6 p.m. from December 1 to January 2.


While the animals are sleeping, take a stroll through the Houston Zoo and enjoy light shows that take on the shapes of the creatures. Now in its tenth year, Zoo lights features a 125-foot tunnel as well as an “underwater” adventure with jellyfish and other sea creatures. On December 6, there will be a sensory night with reduced noise, smaller crowds, and fewer flashing lights to welcome guests sensitive to loud sounds and bright lights. Zoo Lights is now operating through January 9 from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Ticket prices range from around $ 15 to $ 25, depending on the day, and must be purchased in advance.


This little town in east Texas put a Bayou flair During the holidays. Walk through the Enchanted Forest with 115 decorated trees, then take a candlelight tour of historic homes richly decorated for the season. End the weekend with a 1-hour riverboat cruise on a floodlit boat and learn about the region’s rich history. Tickets for the Home Tour, which runs December 2-4 and December 9-11, cost $ 22.50 in advance. The River boat tours in Turning Basin every evening from November 26 to December 20.

Johnson Town

Travel back to the turn of the 20th century, when Lyndon B. Johnson was a boy in this part of the Hill Country. There are guided tours of LBJ’s childhood home on Saturdays and carriage rides available for hire each weekend. From November 26 to January 2, as part of the thirty-first Spectacular lights, the headquarters of the Electric Cooperative of Pedernales will be illuminated by more than 1.3 million small bulbs. The courthouse will also be draped in lights and fireworks will kick off the season. Santa will be on site every weekend to grant wishes at a social distance: the children will sit on a bench near him.


If you’re a fan of hot chocolate, Santa Claus, and old trains in your pajamas, head to Piney Woods for the Polar Express on the Texas State Railroad, leaving the station until December 26. Once the passengers board the steam locomotive, the crew members read the famous book aloud and hand out treats. The trip includes a quick stop at the “North Pole” and Christmas carols on the way back. Seating options range from presidential class to coach. Tickets range from $ 30 to $ 100 for the trip, which departs from the train depot in Palestine and takes about an hour round trip.

San Antonio

Bluebonnets usually appear in March, but the San Antonio Botanical Garden has them now, at least in light form. TO Light landscape, a display with 100,000 lights, visitors can walk through a tunnel that mimics the vault of a cathedral to see a field of lights chained to resemble 2,500 of the state’s favorite spring flowers. To make it a weekend getaway, head downtown and stroll along the River Walk, where more than 2,000 fairy lights will be draped over the bald cypress trees that line the river. Lightscape is now running until January 2; tickets cost $ 25 for adults and $ 18 for children over two.



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