A float enters to the Arneson River Theater during the Holiday River Parade. Photo by Scott Ball.
A float enters to the Arneson River Theater during the Holiday River Parade. Photo by Scott Ball.

San Antonio celebrates the holiday season with lots of lights, parades, food and events for families throughout the city. Whether you’re looking to give back to the community or experience the City’s seasonal traditions, there’s something for every family to enjoy.

Holiday Special on the Blue Route: VIA will modify their Blue Circulator Route from Blue Star to the Pearl this season, in an effort to avoid the downtown holiday traffic. The temporary route will allow holiday-themed buses to travel down Augusta Street, Brooklyn Avenue, and Broadway to The Pearl area. VIA will offer the Holiday Special on the Blue route from Friday, Nov. 27, 2015- Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016.

Silver Bells in the City at Main Plaza, Saturday, Dec. 5: The free event offers live musical entertainment and a tree lighting ceremony. Lights will also illuminate the façades of San Fernando Cathedral and Bexar County Courthouse. Video art of San Antonio: The Saga will also be projected during the event. The event takes place between 4:00 p.m.- 9:00 p.m. at Main Plaza.

The Museum Reach River of Lights, Saturday, Dec. 5: The San Antonio River Authority will kick off the “River of Lights” event with a new “Deck the River” holiday contest, featuring festive barges from local businesses and organizations along the Museum Reach. Attendees can expect to see Santa and Mrs. Claus and live music from St. Mary’s University, St. Phillip’s College, Central Catholic High School and DJ Steven Lee Moya. The event can be viewed from participating locations including: El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel, Paramour, River House Apartments, San Antonio Museum of Art, Wyndam Riverwalk Garden Hotel and VFW Post 76. The event starts at 510 Brooklyn Ave., from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Click here to vote for the barge contest between Dec.1-Dec. 5.

Winter Wonderland, Dec. 5–31: The DoSeum proves that the holidays are a great learning opportunity through public programs that offer multiculural holiday celebrations and a chance to reverse engineer in Santa’s Workshop. Free with museum admission.

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Holidays in Bloom, Nov. 27- Dec. 31: The San Antonio Botanical Garden offers visitors beautiful views of Texas nature and the perfect background for holiday card portraits. Free with garden admission.

Zoo Lights Holiday Nights Nov. 27- Jan. 3: This first-year event will feature thousands of bright lights throughout areas of the zoo. Admission also includes a cookie decorating session with Mrs. Claus, a ride on the zoo’s carousel and train and several stops for hot chocolate. Admission to Zoo Lights costs $10.25 for members and $12.25 for non-members. Zoo Lights opens to the public nightly from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. Closed on Dec. 24- 25.

Christmas Concert at Trinity University, Friday, Dec. 4: The San Antonio community is invited to enjoy the festive sounds of the Trinity University Music Department during this free holiday tradition. The event will include performances by student a capella groups, sing-alongs to “Jingle Bells” and “Joy to the World,”and classic songs such as “Gloria” from Vivaldi’s Gloria in D. The concert will take place inside Laurie Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. The concert does not require tickets or reservations, seating is first-come, first served.

Noel de Papel, Saturday, Dec. 5: Celebrate and shop local art at the inaugural Noel de Papel, an art fair, market and holiday merinda hosted by San Anto Cultural Arts. The free event offers attendees a chance to view and buy diverse works of art on paper. Profits will support SACA’s youth arts programs. The event takes place between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. at 2120 El Paso Street.

Menorah Lighting at Pearl, Wednesday,Dec. 9: Young & Jewish San Antonio (YJSA) has helped create a new holiday tradition in San Antonio– the Chanukah Menorah lighting celebration at the Pearl. Attendees can check out Indie Rock band Tera Ferna’s take on classic Chanukah songs. Green Vegetarian Cuisine will offer kosher favorites, including falafel burritos for $8, and traditional jelly donuts for $4. The Menorah at Pearl will be lit each successive evening of Chanukah. The event is free to the public, and runs from 6 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.

Jazz, TX Holiday Big Band Show at Pearl Stables, Thursday, Dec. 10: Check out the music behind the Pearl’s newest venue, Jazz, TX, before it officially opens in Spring 2016. Venue owner Doc Watkins will lead his 16-piece orchestra to play holiday classics such as “Winter Wonderland” and  “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Attendees can also purchase beer, cocktails and wine from the bar onsite. The event takes place at 8:00 p.m., doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $25, plus fees. Click here  to purchase.

Brent "Doc" Watkins performs with a South Texas Jazz ensemble at the Esquire Tavern. Photo by Kody Melton.
Brent “Doc” Watkins performs with a South Texas Jazz ensemble at the Esquire Tavern. Photo by Kody Melton.

Alamo Heights High School Choir Presents Madrigal Dinner, Dec. 11-12: The Alamo Heights Choir will travel back to medieval times during the Sixth Annual Madrigal Dinner. Lords and ladies can expect a traditional feast inside the castle auditorium, complete with ye olde carol performances. The event takes place from 6:00 p.m.-8:30 pm on Friday and Saturday, at Alamo Heights High School Auditorium. Tickets cost $25 per person, ages 10 and up. Email madrigaldinnerahhs@gmail.com to purchase tickets.

Chanukah on the River, Sunday, Dec. 13: Float along the San Antonio River Walk and La Villita on a special Menorah river cruise. Other event activities include a “Chanukah Wonderland” carnival, crafts and live music leading up to the Menorah lighting. Admission for the Menorah river cruise costs $5 per person, and $6 per person for the carnival. The event runs from 1:00 p.m.–4:15 p.m.

“Elf” Screening at the H-E-B Cinema on the Plaza, Sunday, Dec. 13: Holiday movie fans can enjoy this instant classic on the big screen, free of charge. Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs and blankets, but no outside food or drinks are allowed. Concessions and full bar service will be available on-site. The movie will begin screening at 8:00 p.m. at the Tobin Center.

Mejia Ballet International’s The Nutcracker at Lila Cockrell Theatre, Dec. 18-20: The beloved children’s story comes to life under the direction of Paul Mejia, the founder of Mejia Ballet International and a former principal dancer under George Balanchine at New York City Ballet. Performance times will vary with date. Tickets cost between $29–110.

Los Pastores at Mission San José, Saturday, Dec. 19: This play has entertained families since 1947, showing the shepherds’ journey to worship baby Jesus and the obstacles along the way.  The free event starts at 7:00 p.m.

Past Events

(This story has been updated to reflect that some events on this list have already occurred.)

Light the Way 2015, Saturday, Nov. 21: Nearly one million lights will illuminate the University of the Incarnate Word during this event, which has become one of the most beloved holiday traditions in San Antonio. The program features several local performers including Tejano superstar and UIW alumna Patsy Torres, and culminates with a walk to Dubuis Lawn for complimentary hot chocolate. The event starts at 7.30 p.m., at the Gayle and Tom Benson Stadium.

Handel’s Messiah, A Community Sing-Along, Saturday, Nov. 28: Take part in this classic Christmas performance with professional soloists, an orchestra and hundreds of attendees. The event starts at 7:00 p.m. at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre. Tickets cost $15.

Travis Park Holiday LightingFriday, Nov. 27: Centro San Antonio presents this year’s Holiday Lighting in Travis Park. The park will host an artisan’s market, live ice sculpting, live music and dance performances and free hot chocolate. The Park will illuminate 250,000 lights at 8:15 p.m., while families enjoy food and activities. The event takes place between 6:00 p.m.- to 10:30 p.m. in Travis Park.

The 31st Annual H-E-B Tree Lighting Celebration: Friday, Nov. 27: The family-friendly event offers free activities like cookie decorating stations, a photo booth, holiday crafts, storytelling and live music performances. Santa Claus will make an appearance when the tree is lit at 6:20 p.m.

“H-E-B’s gift to the city is this beautiful 55-foot, white fir Christmas tree,” said Julie Bedingfield, H-E-B Public Affairs. This year’s tree will be decorated with a ‘San Antonio Spurs’ theme. “We just wanted to give the city a theme that resonates with the local Spurs family but also something for visitors that come to the City during the holiday season as well.”

The H-E-B celebration runs from from 3:00 p.m.- 6:30 p.m. in Alamo Plaza.

The 34th Annual Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Festival, Friday, Nov. 27: Watch the River Walk fill with light and spectacular floats during this local holiday tradition. Former City Mayor Julian Castro will serve as the 2015 Grand Marshal for the one-hour parade, which includes music, costumes and celebrities. This year’s event will also introduce the limited-edition 2015 River Walk snowflake ornament. The collectibles can be purchased for $10 during the parade.

“I think we’re really thrilled with the way online ticket sales are headed this year, and people should not wait until the day of the event,” said Paula Schechter, Director of Marketing & Public Relations for the Paseo del Rio Association. “We won’t be selling available tickets on the day of the event at La Villita like we were last year, so don’t wait.” (Click here to purchase event tickets).

To avoid traffic and parking fees, VIA will offer Park & ride services to Holiday Parade attendees from the Crossroads Park and Ride. Downtown service begins at 5 p.m., and return service continues until 11 p.m. The Parade floats start at Arneson Theater at 7 p.m. and lasts one hour.  

The Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Dinner,Thursday, Nov. 26: The annual dinner serves more than 24,000 senior citizens and needy individuals on Thanksgiving. Thousands of local families and individuals volunteer to help with transportation services, meals, security and cleanup needed for the  event. The unique event brings music, food and games to residents who are usually unable to celebrate this time of year. Individuals and families can click here to volunteer for the event. The Dinner is hosted at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, times TBA.

The Great Turkey ChallengeThursday, Nov. 26 : The San Antonio Food Bank feeds thousands of Texas families every week, but the holidays are still a lean time of year for many San Antonians. The Great Turkey Challenge gives participants a chance to burn calories before the big meal, and the Food Bank uses every $15 to buy a turkey dinner for families in need. Online registration costs $35 until Nov. 24 at midnight, when it increases to $40. Children under 12 run free. Click here to register for the race.  The 5K Run/Walk will meet at The Commander’s House. Check in begins at 6:30 a.m. and starts at 8:30 a.m.

*Top Image: A float enters to the Arneson River Theater during the Holiday River Parade. Photo by Scott Ball.  

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Lea Thompson is a Texas native who has lived in Houston, Austin and San Antonio. She enjoys exploring new food and culture events. Follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter or Culture Spoon.