The abetos and tannenbaums are lighted, the River Walk festooned, and homes around town glow brightly with decorations. The season of holiday events is upon San Antonio, with traditions involving saxophones, tubas, Cuban and Spanish boleros, creole jazz, the Nativity, Tchaikovsky, a Siberian songster, and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
The list below details upcoming events, which are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.
Beginning Friday, Dec. 8
Travis Park, various days and times
Its 55-foot-tall fir alight with more than 10,000 LEDs and ornaments, Travis Park is ready to host a bevy of holiday activities. Movies, music, free gift-wrapping, adult beverages, family fun, and much more await. Special events take place Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, with food trucks visiting the park 11 a.m.-2 p.m. every weekday (except the week after Christmas). Check the website for full listings, including Friday’s Eat & Play and Friday Night Lights, Saturday Family Days, and Tuesday movie nights that feature Elf, Frozen, and Home Alone. The health-conscious can take advantage of the Winter Wonderland Health Fair, and the Fitness in the Park Boot Camp. “There is ample parking near Travis Park,” we are assured by the City.
Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, H-E-B Performance Hall or Carlos Alvarez Studio Theatre, various days and times
The Tobin Center presents a full list of holiday performances, including song, dance, tales of intrigue and mystery, and holiday classics. Check the website twice (!) for full events listings and ticket details, including Cirque Dreams Holidaze (Dec. 8-9), Conspirare Christmas (Dec. 10), the aptly named Tommy Emmanuel (Dec. 13-14), the San Antonio Chamber Choir’s jazzy The Mystery of Christmas (Dec. 16-17. Dec. 16 performance is at the McNay Art Museum‘s Leeper Auditorium), another mystery (of the Magi’s Gold) with Sister’s Christmas Catechism (Dec. 19-20), the classic Rankin/Bass animation special Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (Dec. 22-23) comes to the stage as a musical, and A Very Electric Christmas (Dec. 30). For the whole family, the San Antonio Symphony‘s Holiday Pops concert (Dec. 15-17) features a special Family Day Ticket Pack with hands-on crafts, student violin performances, and an audience sing-along.
Friday, Dec. 8
The Charline McCombs Empire Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Two U. S. cities celebrate their Tricentennials next year, San Antonio and New Orleans. The season of “300” gets a jumping jump start with Arts San Antonio’s presentation of the Big Easy’s most famous musical group, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. While upholding jazz tradition, the band has recently charted a new course with original music. For this special show, though, it puts a creole spin on Christmas.
Saturday, Dec. 9
DoSeum-goers will be treated to a most melodic ringing in the ears on Saturday afternoon, with regular museum admission of $12, or $11 online. Later that day, the River City Ringers travel to the Eastside for “A Rhythmic Christmas” at the Carver, a free family event featuring the full handbell choir swinging asymmetrical rhythms and Christmas favorites, like It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year and God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen. After the Carver show, guests can talk to the musicians and experiment with the instruments, according to a Facebook post.
Arneson River Theatre, 7 p.m.
Though Friday’s show has been cancelled due to unusual weather, Saturday’s program is still on, according to the Parks & Recreation department. Take Note, the department’s youth band, will perform “rock and seasonal favorites” on the popular River Walk stage.
Sunday, Dec. 10
Guadalupe Center for the Cultural Arts, Guadalupe Theater, 7 p.m.
This year’s program honors recent Distinction in the Arts awardee Vernon “Spot” Barnett, who will perform with guest saxophonists to include Grammy Award winner Joe Posada, Frank Rodarte, Louis Bustos, John Magaldi, Rene Saenz, Richard Oppenheim, Jay Fort, and John Steamer. George Prado grounds the 35th anniversary program with the house band that includes Henry Brun, who said of the annual tradition, “Musicians and Holiday Saxophones aficionados look forward to this event every year because it’s a family reunion where all are participants in one form or another, a gathering of old friends to celebrate a wonderful season.” Will “Señor Grinch” himself make an appearance?
UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, noon-4 p.m.
Dressed in attire of their respective countries, Ayusa Global Exchange program international students will be on hand to discuss holiday traditions and other aspects of life at home. From 2-3 p.m., members of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church will perform a traditional Pastorela play pitting the devil’s diversions against shepherds on their way to Bethlehem, and the San Antonio Children’s Ballet will perform suites from The Nutcracker at 1 and 3 p.m. The first 100 guests will receive cookbooks from the San Antonio Food Bank, which will accept non-perishable food items. Judging from the food bank’s website, the cookbook recipes promise lively flavors and variety.
Tuesday, Dec. 12 – Sunday, Dec. 17
Born in Siberia, Irving Berlin has warmed the hearts of many with memorable melodies. His 1954 movie musical lives on, as do its indelible holiday songs like Happy Holiday and the Bing Crosby-crooned title tune, called an “anthem for American culture” by PBS.
Thursday, Dec. 14 – Friday, Dec. 15
The season debut of Danielle Campbell Steans’ San Antonio Youth Ballet incorporates over 50 students from San Antonio and nearby communities of Georgetown, Canyon Lake, and Bulverde. Former ballerina Michelle Shaw and her husband, District 2 Councilman Cruz Shaw, join as guest performers. Choreographer Husan Hupoy will bring his Cuban flair to the holiday classic. Tickets available for purchase are $20 for adults, $15 for seniors, students and military, and $10 for children under age 10. A special presentation for youth of a one-hour version runs Friday, Dec. 15, at 10 a.m. Students will receive an exclusive behind-the-scenes preview.
Friday, Dec. 15
Lila Cockrell Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
Ticket prices vary, $29-$99
Billed as “an ode to San Antonio’s diverse heritage,” the Fiesta Navidad brings together the Ballet Folklorico Mexicano De Carlos Moreno with the Mariachi Divas all-female ensemble. In its 50th year, the Ballet Folklorico combines dance forms from all over Mexico, including the indigenous rhythms of Tarascan Indian dances from central Mexico and norteño-style polkas. The Mariachi Divas group was founded in 1999 by Cindy Shea, a student of Latin Jazz legend Arturo Sandoval. Tickets available here.
Before Dec. 16
The interfaith charity SAMMinistries advocates for San Antonio’s homeless population. This holiday season, kids (of all ages!) are encouraged to donate gifts for the less fortunate, one of three ways: by bringing an unwrapped gift to the SAMMExpress Donation Station before Dec. 16, by giving their own money, or by shopping for SAMM via Amazon. Doing so will “help your child learn the true magic of the giving season,” according to the SAMM website.
Saturday, Dec. 16
Arneson River Theater, noon
Ophicleide, sudraphone or sousaphone, anyone? But seriously, “all tuba, euphonium, and baritone horn players are invited to participate in the Thirty-Ninth Annual TubaMeister Christmas,” according to the Tuba Meisters website, along with a recommendation: “Use of sousaphones is encouraged for tuba players.” German and Mexican musical heritage cross paths at the polka and the norteño, and Christmas is celebrated throughout Europe and Latin America. Whether or not you yourself oompah, the whole family might enjoy the spectacle of more than 150 expected participants emphasizing the low end of holiday tunes.
Carver Community Cultural Center, Jo Long Theatre, 8 p.m. $25
A good way to put away your tristezas and slow the tempo of your holiday season, bolero music goes way beyond Ravel’s Boléro. Laredo native José Rubén De León pays tribute to classic boleros from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Mexico, accompanied by father-and-son jazz duo George and Aaron Prado. Study up on this musical form that dates back to the late 18th century, changed time signatures in Cuba, and remains popular today, then sit back and enjoy this master performance.
San Antonio Natatorium, 1-3 p.m.
In the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animation special, misfit elf Hermey and Yukon Cornelius discover a boat that can’t float and a bird that can’t fly (or swim). But did you know elves can swim? And that you can swim with them? Visit the natatorium for activities in and out of the pool, photos with Santa and, to warm up, an ugly sweater contest. Bring your own sweaters, and your own swimsuits!
Saturday, Dec. 16 – Sunday, Dec. 17
Guadalupe Theater, 7 p.m., $10
This version of the pastorela, written by Hiedi Cabral, adds a Mexican folklorico and flamenco flair featuring the Guadalupe Dance Academy. Company members play Mary, Joseph, Lucifer and the archangel, while the Academy’s youngest performers join in as townspeople and shepherds, who resist devilish distraction from their sacred mission.
Sunday, Dec. 17
Thomas Jefferson High School, 3 p.m.
The new all-volunteer orchestra presents a program of kid-friendly music from Harry Potter, The Nutcracker, seasonal carols, and Wizards of Winter by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The event is free, but attendees are asked to bring a food donation to present at the door, to benefit the San Antonio Food Bank.
Beginning Monday, Dec. 18
Various Community Centers, $3.00 per child per day (online registration)
Community centers throughout the city offer activities for kids during the holiday break, with sports and fitness, holiday-themed crafts and games on the agenda. Lunch and snacks included. Schedules vary widely, check the website for the community center listing near you and be sure to register online.
Monday, Dec. 18
Pearl, 6 – 7:30 p.m.
For the third year in a row, Pearl lights the row of menorah candles in honor of the annual Jewish holiday honoring the Maccabees. Young & Jewish San Antonio partners with the Pearl to light the menorah each evening through the eight-day holiday.
Tuesday, Dec. 19
Ticket prices vary, $13-$17
Tchaikovsky’s original Nutcracker Suite has been “Klezmer-ized,” complete with dancing dreidels and singing sufganiot. “We get to sing the piccolo line and clarinet line of melodies you’ve had in your head forever but that have been wordless for hundreds of years,” said cast member Susan Gundunas in a news release about the admittedly “kitschy, schmaltzy” adaptation. The foolish residents of folkloric Chelm tell tales of Jewish perseverance in their silly style, lending traditional humor to serious subjects. This musical movie will be shown at more than 350 theaters nationwide on one night only, at three San Antonio locations.
Pearl, 6:30 – 9 p.m.
“Children are encouraged to dress as angels and shepherds,” says the Pearl, to join in for a traditional pre-Christmas posada involving four stops along throughout the redeveloped brewery complex. Guests may join parish members of Mission Concepción, accompanied by Mariachi Mexica, to become peregrinos seeking accommodations along with Mary and Joseph. The community-inclusive event promises crafts, buñuelos, tamales, Mexican hot chocolate, and piñatas, with a sing-along led by Father David Garcia.
Thursday, Dec. 21 – Saturday, Dec. 23
Lila Cockrell Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Ticket prices vary, $29-$99
Called “the most widely attended ballet in America,” by Arts San Antonio, The Nutcracker brings together the San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet and the Mejia Ballet International from Fort Worth. New Mejia prima ballerina Natalia Magnicaballi, a native of Buenos Aires, stars in this production. “You will find a lot of kids on stage as part of the production,” Magnicaballi says on the Arts San Antonio website, making it a great opportunity to introduce the little ones in the family to the arts.”