On Friday night, Epy Perez posed with her husband, Daniel Hinojosa, for a photo on a pedestrian bridge just off Losoya Street. They were looking for a restaurant with mariachis to celebrate Hinojosa’s 54th birthday, and it was Perez’s first time visiting the Christmas-bedazzled River Walk.

 “It’s pretty! I like the trees,” she said, gesturing to the delicate strings of colorful lights draped over the bald cypress trees arching over the San Antonio River. The two also planned to take a Go Rio boat tour after dinner; dozens of boats filled with riders glided down the river throughout the evening.

December in downtown San Antonio typically means holiday lights on the River Walk, a lavish tree at Travis Park, and decorations on street lamps and various buildings. Even though the coronavirus pandemic means restaurants could only open with certain restrictions, hundreds of people – many wearing face coverings – strolled through downtown over the weekend to take in the holiday decorations and take advantage of the mild San Antonio weather as the start of winter nears. 

The Bexar County Courthouse stood with white twinkling lights outlining its edges, a tall backdrop for the Christmas tree in its courtyard. Across the street in Main Plaza, the San Fernando Cathedral was bathed in colorful lights for the nightly San Antonio: The Saga light show – not a holiday installation but one that added to the general festive atmosphere nonetheless.

Terri Soria found a seat up front Friday at 10 p.m., joining about 50 people in the plaza. She ventured downtown not only to see the Christmas lights but to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe at the stroke of midnight. The feast day, which takes place each year on Dec. 12, is celebrated by Latino Catholics as the day that the Virgin Mary appeared in 1531 to Juan Diego, an Aztec Indian laborer, on the Tepeyac mountain in Mexico City.

In San Antonio, people gather at San Fernando Cathedral starting at midnight to commemorate Mary, she said. People bring roses, teddy bears, and other tokens of their gratitude to the church.

“Every 12th of December, we celebrate her with flowers, with music, to give thanks,” she explained. 

“I used to watch it on the TV, but last year I said, ‘I’m going to do it in person.’ It’s beautiful to see everyone singing to her, bringing her things.”

At Travis Park, the H-E-B Christmas tree lit up the park with red, white, and blue lights in a Texas flag design.

George Martinez visited Travis Park Friday night with his wife, Amy Cantu, and their 1-year-old daughter, Hazel. They try to visit downtown to see the lights every year, Martinez said, though this is only Hazel’s second Christmas.

For her family, Christmas is a time to get together, Cantu said. This year things are different because of the pandemic. Fewer people will be gathering, but they’ll still celebrate.

Another couple visiting Travis Park called Martinez over to take their picture in front of the H-E-B tree. He struggled with the phone camera settings, and Cantu traded him the cellphone for Hazel. Hazel continued to wiggle toward the tree, eyes locked intently on the lights. She was likely trying to climb onto the tree, Martinez said, as she’s just as focused on their tree at home in Floresville.

“She tries to go touch it. She’s constantly trying to get on it,” he said with a laugh.

Hazel kept her gaze on the Christmas tree even when her family posed for a photo in front of it.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.