San Antonio is one of the prettiest spots in the world to spend the holidays, with Christmas lights glittering off the River Walk, fiestas bursting with color, and the annual lighting of the Christmas tree in Alamo Plaza getting everyone into the spirit right after Thanksgiving.

The 30th Annual H-E-B Tree Lighting Celebration, San Antonio’s free community celebration, will begin at 3 p.m. Friday, Nov. 28.

The 55-foot white fir Christmas tree is H-E-B’s annual gift to the city. This year’s tree will honor and celebrate the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts located in downtown San Antonio.

The H-E-B Christmas Tree at Alamo Plaza. Photo by Jaime Solis
The H-E-B Christmas Tree at Alamo Plaza. Photo by Jaime Solis

More than 10,000 LED, environmentally friendly lights and handmade ornaments depicting musical instruments in honor of the Tobin will dazzle spectators as the Youth Orchestras of San Antonio and the Ballet San Antonio showcase selections from “The Nutcracker.”

The Ballet SA’s show opens Friday night. Arts San Antonio will present the Mejia Ballet International and San Antonio Metropolitan Ballet performance of “The Nutcracker” Dec. 19-21 at the Lila Cockrell Theatre.

Santa Claus is slated to arrive in a horse-drawn carriage and will light the tree with a merry “Ho Ho” to officially kick off the holiday season.

Following right in the sleigh’s hoof steps will be the Ford Holiday River Parade, also known as the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias, on the River Walk.

For more than 30 years, this spectacular one-hour parade has featured illuminated floats with celebrities, bands, and lavishly costumed participants. This year’s event is themed “Holiday Celebrations Around the World” and will be held from 7-9 p.m. Nov. 28, rain or shine. You’ll see more than a million lights illuminating the River Walk trees and bridges in one of the country’s only nighttime river parades. VIA will be offering Park and Ride Service from the Crossroads location starting at 5 p.m. To order will-call tickets, visit the website or call the Paseo del Rio Association at (210) 227-4262.

The Holiday Lighting at Travis Park brings a new event to downtown San Antonio Tuesday, Nov. 25. Beginning at 6 p.m. with the Amor y Arte Market, students from the Henry Ford Academy and the Alameda School of Art and Design will participate in the festivities, which will include apple cider and hot chocolate, along with Christmas Caroling SA carolers circulating the park at 7 p.m. The winner of a social media contest will switch on the lights at about 8:15 p.m. Join the inaugural celebration at Travis Park with other San Antonians. The ceremony will finish at 10 p.m. Enter to flip the switch here.

Helping Those In Need

The San Antonio Food Bank:

Despite the festive spirit of the holidays, hunger and homelessness continue to be a problem in San Antonio. The San Antonio Food Bank’s kitchen at Haven for Hope needs weekday volunteers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner shifts. Turn hungry holidays into happy holidays by ordering holiday cards from the Food Bank to send to family, friends, coworkers, colleagues, and clients, which help to put food on the tables of families in need.

H-E-B’s Feast of Sharing:

An annual free dinner that takes place every Saturday before Christmas at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Halls A and B. The meals and event are free and open to the public regardless of income. Many people who are struggling to buy a full meal on their own take advantage of the program. This year’s program will be held from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Dec. 20. at the Convention Center at 200 N. Market St.

Family Service Association of San Antonio:

The agency will match needy families and seniors needing help for the holidays with donations and people who are looking to support the less fortunate. The Christmas programs provide necessities including toiletries, warm clothing, pots and pans, free food, and toys. For more information, call (210) 299-2400.

Elf Louise Christmas Project:

This nonprofit organization accepts monetary donations and donations of new toys to provide to the needy and struggling. For more information, call (210) 224-1843.

A fiery dragon lights up the landscape at the Don Strange Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Photo by Matt Garcia.
A fiery dragon lights up the landscape at the Don Strange Ranch in the Texas Hill Country. Photo by Matt Garcia


Don Strange Ranch:

If you’d like to enjoy the holidays in the beautiful Texas Hill Country, visit the Don Strange Ranch, where two million lights in various holiday configurations will adorn the ranch land, bringing holiday to life along two miles of the scenic ranch.

The ranch is usually reserved for private events but will open to the public for “Christmas Light Fest,” enabling everyone to enjoy the dazzling drive-thru display each evening beginning Thursday, Nov. 27, and continuing through the holiday season to Saturday, Jan. 3.

Ranch visitors will enter the ranch and drive through a two-mile loop to view a professionally designed and installed light show featuring a lighted tunnel, reindeer and other Christmas scenery. They might even glimpse some real longhorn cattle if they keep their eyes open.

Money from ticket sales will supports nonprofits including Hill Country Daily Bread Ministries, Kingdom for Kids, and the Children’s Bereavement Center of South Texas.

The ranch is located north of Boerne off IH-10 in Waring, Texas. Tickets are $20 per car. For more information, visit Tourists can print off a coupon for a donation to their choice of charity by clicking on the coupon link.

Morgan’s Wonderland:

Discover a winter wonderland with thrilling rides and exciting family entertainment, along with tasty treats and iceless skating, at the third-annual Christmas Celebration at Morgan’s Wonderland at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. Watch the “Majesty of Christmas” Holiday Spectacular, celebrate with the Looney Tunes, and meet Santa at his castle as part of the festivities. Visit for details.

Christmas at the Caverns:

The Natural Bridge Caverns celebrate the holidays in unique style with thousands of lights, holiday attractions, two underground shows, “Caroling in the Caverns” and “Journey to Bethlehem.” Come out to a musical light show, a 30-foot decorated tree, a maze, hay rides, s’mores, zip lines, shopping, and more. Festivities are scheduled from Nov. 28-Dec. 23.

Christmas Bird Count for Kids at the Mitchell Lake Audubon Center:

If you’re looking for something fun for your kids to do over their holiday break, and you’d like to learn a few bird calls, venture down to Mitchell Lake Jan. 3. Modeled after the Audubon’s more intensive Christmas Bird Count for adults, this program offers a Binocular Boot Camp, introduction to bird identification and field guide use, with more than two hours on the trails at Mitchell Lake counting as many cool birds as possible.

Entrance to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Photo credit: Mitchell Lake Audubon Center.
Entrance to Mitchell Lake Audubon Center. Photo courtesy of Mitchell Lake Audubon Center.

At the end of the morning, all sightings will be entered into eBird for scientific research. Bring a bag lunch and join the fun. Event is from 8 a.m. to noon at 10750 Pleasanton Rd., 78221. Visit for details.

Around San Antonio

Tamales at Pearl:

Since 2010, Tamales! Holiday Festival at Pearl has established itself as one of San Antonio’s top holiday events. Located along the River Walk, Tamales at the Pearl offers delicious tamales from more than 40 vendors, live music, and plenty of fun for the whole family. This festive event is the perfect way to celebrate the holidays and rich San Antonio culture. It is scheduled from noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6. The event is free and open to the public, and no ticket is necessary.

La Tamalada and Time Travel Saturday:

South Texas Holiday Traditions at the Witte Museum from 1o a.m.-5 p.m. Dec. 13 Make and flavor your own half-dozen tamales at La Tamalada workshop. Join in on holiday fun afterward with Tiem Travel Saturday: South Texas Holiday Traditions.

Fiesta Navidad Mariachi Los Camperos de Nati Cano from Mexico:

Spice up the holiday season with a concert dedicated to the late Nati Cano (1933-2014). This celebration of his life and music has existed for 50 years and features demanding musical arrangements. The ensemble is composed of the finest musicians from Mexico and the U.S. who have performed for nationwide audiences. Performance will be at 7:30 p.m. December 11 at the Aztec Theater. Purchase tickets at ARTS San Antonio’s website here.

Hands on Chanukah:

Enjoy latkes, crafts, and menorah lighting at sundown from 3-6 p.m. at Barshop JCC, 12500 N.W. Military Highway.

Free Sunday at ITC:

Free admission to the Institute of Texan Cultures for December’s free Second Sunday, Dec. 14. The Institute is partnering with Our Lady of Guadalupe Church for “Los Pastores,” a classic play depicting the passage of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. Families can participate in a workshop with the troupe from Our Lady of Guadalupe, with information on the significance of the play, learning the songs and making costumes. Each child who attends will receive a copy of “Rosita’s Christmas Wish” by Mary Ann Smothers Bruni. The Institute is located at 801 E. Cesar E. Chavez Blvd. The event will be held from 1-3 p.m.

UTSA's Institute of Texan Cultures. Photo by Brantley Hightower.
UTSA’s Institute of Texan Cultures. Photo by Brantley Hightower.

Healthy Holidays Family Day:

The San Antonio Food Bank will be hosting a day devoted to nutrition and wellness at the Institute of Texan Cultures from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13. It will offer crafts, cooking demonstrations, family activities and nutrition and wellness education. In partnership with the Food Bank, the museum will present health and wellness tips for the holiday season.

The Alamo Heights Chamber of Commerce Parade:

Watch as H-E-B Santa, characters from your favorite cartoons and holiday classics strut down Broadway Street in Alamo Heights. The parade will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, beginning at Cambridge Elementary School and ending at the Stewart Center.

Ringing in 2015

Celebrate San Antonio: Ring in the new year San Antonio-style. Enjoy spectacular fireworks, live music on multiple stages, food booths, family activities, more. The celebration will be held on Alamo Street between Market and Cesar Chavez Boulevard. Visit the San Antonio Parks and Recreation website, which organizes the event, for more details.

*Featured/top image: Ornaments on the Alamo Plaza Christmas tree. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Katherine Nickas was born in San Antonio near Fort Sam Houston but grew up in southern Indiana. In 2007, she began working for Indiana AgriNews where she covered topics ranging from corn and soybean production...