Dazzling Downtown

By Julie Catalano  ::  Photography courtesy of Visit San Antonio

The holidays in San Antonio are a magical time, overflowing with the sights and sounds of popular traditions, a reverence for history and a celebration at every turn. This year, take some time to enjoy the wonders of the season in the heart of the city. 

It all kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, November 24, with three very special events:

• The City of San Antonio ushers in the holidays with the 33rd Annual Tree Lighting Celebration, this year at its new location in Travis Park as part of the annual Holiday Lighting in Travis Park from 3:00 to 8:00pm. The 55-foot tree will feature 10,000 LED lights and custom ornaments, surrounded by stately trees ablaze with 250,000 lights on East Travis Street. Admission is free, with live music, photos with Santa, a Holiday Artisan Alley, food trucks, a screening of the film Frozen and free hot chocolate for all. www.travisparksa.com

• Another switch gets flipped that same day, as the spectacle of 100,000 glittering lights draped over 200 trees and 20 street bridges on the famed San Antonio River Walk means the holidays have officially begun. The River Walk lights remain on from dusk until dawn every day until January 7.  www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com

• That evening, the highly-anticipated Ford Holiday River Parade winds its way down the San Antonio River Walk in a 2.5-mile night parade filled with lights, decorated floats and music from 6:00 to 9:00pm. This year’s theme is “Christmas at the Movies,” with floats and costumed riders depicting holiday movie classics. For information on tickets and details on free viewing areas, visit www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com.

Other events throughout the holiday season:

Ford Holiday Boat Caroling, December 1-22, 6:15 to 9:30pm. More than 185 schools, churches, businesses and civic choral groups fill the night air with the joyous sound of caroling from boats all along the 2.5-mile River Walk. Free. www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com

The Nutcracker Ballet, November 24-26, 30, December 1-3. A classic that is practically synonymous with the holidays, this lavish production by Ballet San Antonio at the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is an enchanting adventure for all ages, featuring a Nutcracker doll that comes to life, dancing snowflakes and a showcase of dancing treats in the Land of Sweets presented by the Sugar Plum Fairy. www.tobincenter.org

White Christmas, December 12-17. A glorious stage musical based on the 1954 movie starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney and Vera-Ellen, the national touring show tells the story of a song-and-dance team putting on a show at a picturesque Vermont Inn and falling for a stunning sister act. Filled with dancing, laughs and memorable songs set against the backdrop of the magnificent Majestic Theatre. www.majesticempire.com

La Serenata, December 11, 17, 10:00 to 11:30pm. The Serenata (Serenade) is a special celebration honoring the Virgin Mary on the eve of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe, held every year at San Fernando Cathedral. Local artists perform traditional and contemporary music and dance, in genres as varied as mariachis, Norteño music and Mexican indigenous dances. Midnight mass follows La Serenata. A jumbotron broadcasting the performances will be located in front of the cathedral. Free. www.sfcathedral.org

La Gran Posada, December 17, 6:15pm. One of the oldest Christmas traditions dating back to colonial times, this is the poignant reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter through historic downtown. The procession begins at Milam Park across from Market Square and ends at San Fernando Cathedral, where carols are sung and children break open piñatas. Free.

OPEN San Antonio, December 8-10, December 15-17. Finish off (or start) your holiday shopping at the popular OPEN Holiday Market on Houston Street, an initiative of the Center City Development and Operations Department in partnership with property owners and retailers. The program activates vacant properties by introducing new, creative and temporary retail locations, creating a vibrant, engaging urban space. The shops will be open Fridays from 4:00 to 8:00pm; Saturdays from 11:00am to 8:00pm; and Sundays from 12:00 to 6:00pm. Free. www.opensanantonio.com

25th Annual Valero Alamo Bowl, December 28. One of the most popular bowls in the country, the Alamo Bowl is a post-season collegiate bowl game featuring the #2 Pac-12 Conference team (after the Rose Bowl) and the #3 Big 12 team (after the Fiesta and Cotton Bowls). Played every year at the Alamodome, the Alamo Bowl has produced some of the most-watched bowl games in ESPN history. www.alamobowl.com 

(Not) Just Another New Year’s Eve

This December 31 will be one for the record books with two extravaganzas ringing in 2018 — a familiar favorite and a once-in-a-lifetime experience, both downtown. Happy New Year and Happy Birthday San Antonio!

Celebrate San Antonio, 5:00pm to 1:00am. With live music on three stages, food booths, carnival games, rides and the biggest free fireworks display in the state, this longstanding public party has become a beloved tradition for Alamo City revelers. Sponsored by San Antonio City Parks and Recreation, the party is on South Alamo between Cesar Chavez and Market Streets, at La Villita and HemisFair Park. Free. www.saparksfoundation.org

Celebrate 300, 6:00pm to 12:30am. Hosted by the Tricentennial Commission and the City of San Antonio, this HemisFair Park festivity kicks off the beginning of San Antonio’s 300th birthday year. Entertainment includes a free outdoor concert at Civic Park, roaming performers, art installations, food courts and the grand finale — a midnight fireworks show choreographed to music. Yanaguana Garden and Playground will have games, pop-up performances and children’s food menu items for kids of all ages. General admission is free and VIP concert packages are available. www.sanantonio300.org

For more information about these events and others, www.visitsanantonio.com.

For holiday happenings a little closer to home, Boerne’s annual holiday traditions do not disappoint.

18th Annual Dickens On Main

November 24-25, 4:00 to 10:00pm each night

The holiday season kicks-off with a Hill Country Christmas event of epic proportions. Be a part of the magic as Boerne’s Main Street, known as the Hill Country Mile, transforms into a vintage Christmas experience, complete with great shopping, visits with Santa Claus, children’s craft activities, unique vendors, food trucks, snow on Main Street, ice sculpting, music, theatrical performances and an amazing 60-foot ice slide for sledding. www.dickensonmain.com

Weihnachts Parade 2017

December 2, 6:00pm

The Weihnachts Parade is a longstanding holiday tradition in Boerne. In fact, this year marks the 31st anniversary of the parade. Themed “A Lonestar Christmas” for 2017, the parade includes up to 100 lit entries traveling down Boerne’s Main Street. December 3 has been saved as a back-up date if weather forces the parade to be postponed. www.ci.boerne.txus

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