A 50-foot Christmas tree hangs from a crane at Travis Park.
A 50-foot Christmas tree hangs from a crane at Travis Park. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

A handful of visitors and locals watched Wednesday morning as a crane lifted a 50-foot blue spruce from a flat-bed truck and placed it in the center of Travis Park downtown. An 18-foot tree is slated for installation on Alamo Plaza on Nov. 26.

The 34th annual H-E-B Christmas Tree traveled more than 1,500 miles over three days to San Antonio from a family’s yard in northern Michigan on a flat bed semi-truck, said H-E-B Public Affairs Manager Julie Bedingfield.

This is the second year that the City and local grocery company’s longstanding Christmas tree lighting celebration the day after Thanksgiving will take place in Travis Park, where City officials say there is more room for holiday programming. Alamo Plaza, the traditional location for the festivities that is slated for a massive redevelopment in the coming years, saw protests of the location switch last year in the form of dozens of small trees placed on landscaping and rogue lighting ceremonies. The tree also stands on a pedestal where a monument honoring fallen Confederate soldiers was removed in September last year after heated public debate and protest.

“Moving the tree to Travis Park last year was not meant to end tradition, but rather to carry on the tradition of the H-E-B Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony with added and enhanced programming that wasn’t possible in Alamo Plaza due to space constraints,” said John Jacks, director of the City’s Center City Development & Operations Department. “The move to Travis Park created an action-packed holiday season with holiday activities and entertainment, and we will continue to offer exciting programming for all ages this year in Travis Park.”

The City asked H-E-B to donate a second tree for the plaza this year, Bedingfield said.

“It’s really an honor for H-E-B to be a part of this and to be a part of [a] family tradition year after year,” she said.

About 10,000 red and white lights will be added to the tree over the next few days, Bedingfield said, along with ornaments, some of which were custom-made to honor the City’s 300th anniversary. The official tree-lighting ceremony is set for Friday, Nov. 23. The celebration starts at 3 p.m. with music and family-friendly holiday activities, and the lighting ceremony will start at 6 p.m.

Throughout December, the City will host several free events in Travis Park, which itself will feature 250,000 holiday lights, such as “holiday movies, photos with Santa, caroling, face painting, food trucks, and more,” Jacks said.

Meanwhile, Alamo Plaza will be decorated with holiday lights by the City so people can take photos with trees there, too, he said.

Typically, Bedingfield said, the Christmas tree comes from California. This year, however, the task of finding the ideal tree was given to H-E-B’s Texas Backyard team, which found the “perfect tree” next to a family’s home near the Great Lakes, she said. The Backyard team is responsible for sourcing gardening tools, supplies, plants, and other backyard essentials for H-E-B’s garden departments.

“These brokers, that’s kind of how they do it,” she said. “They find the perfect tree and then if it’s on a farm they go that route, if it’s in someone’s yard, they have a conversation [about purchasing it]. For this family … [the tree] was certainly part of their family tradition but they were kind of excited to plant a new tree.”

This 50-foot Blue Spruce tree, seen here at a home in Michigan, traveled more than 1,500 miles to downtown San Antonio to become H-E-B's official Christmas tree in Travis Park.
This 50-foot blue spruce tree, seen here at a home in Michigan, traveled more than 1,500 miles to downtown San Antonio to become H-E-B’s official Christmas tree in Travis Park. Credit: Courtesy / H-E-B

Lewis and Sally Betker, along with their dogs Dixie and Puck, drove the tree to San Antonio and watched as it was hauled off the truck with a large crane and workers sawed its trunk base to fit the square-holed container at the center of the park. The Betkers operate L. E. Betker & Son Trucking out of Michigan and Tennessee.

“It’s a seasonal thing,” Lewis Betker said as Dixie, still a puppy, tried to play tug-of-war with her leash. “I’ll go to Dallas [from Michigan] once or twice and we do quite a few of these. … [Blue spruce] won’t last in the Texas heat.”

They brought three other smaller trees with them on the truck; one for the Alamo, one for employees at H-E-B’s headquarters on South Flores Street, and another for the neighboring Commander’s House Adult and Senior Center.

It’s unclear how the Alamo Plaza redevelopment project will impact holiday celebrations, but construction in the plaza is not likely to start in earnest until 2020.

As for future celebrations, Bedingfield said, “that’s completely up to the City … [H-E-B is] here to do what makes the most sense.”

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. Contact her at iris@sareport.org