As temps cool, pumpkin spice scents the air and Christmas decorations shimmer and shine, it’s time to gather family and friends. The holidays are here!
Wherever in Texas you’re celebrating this season, we’ve got 21 ideas for ways to enjoy this special time of year with loved ones. From frothy nutcrackers to virtual reality space stations, you’ll find it here.
Lightscape | Houston Botanic Garden | Nov. 19-Jan. 2
Get ready to enjoy magical light displays set along a beautifully illuminated path winding through the Houston Botanic Garden. The captivating illuminations — including installations unique to Texas created by local and international artists — dazzles the senses. The trail blends new works with favorites from previous Lightscape installations around the world, such as the Winter Cathedral, an impressive towering arch tunnel sparkling with 100,000 lights.
Potted Potter | The Hobby Center, Houston | Dec. 7-Jan 2
December brings magical fun with Potted Potter: The Unauthorized Harry Experience – A parody by Dan and Jeff, created by two-time Olivier Award-nominated and BBC actors Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner. Making its return to the Hobby Center for Performing Arts December 7 – January 2, Potted Potter is perfect for ages six to Dumbledore (who is very old indeed). No shows Christmas Eve or Christmas Day.
Snow Days | Children’s Museum Houston | Dec. 18-29
Expect 100% chance of snow during real Snow Days. Unwrap the holiday magic, spread the joy and take your family and friends to an exciting holiday experience which includes special events and real snow days! Chase the Museum’s ginormous lights! Fling “snowballs” using a snowball launcher. Cruise down the most diverse neighborhood in town in the “Seasons of Sharing” exhibit!
Dickens on The Strand | Galveston | Dec. 3-5
Brush off your bowlers and prepare your petticoats as Galveston Historical Foundation presents Dickens on The Strand. The annual world-famous Victorian holiday festival is a holiday tradition with great family programming, live entertainment, special events, and more!
The Infinite Virtual Reality Experience | Sawyer Yards, Houston | Dec. 21 – Feb. 20
The American premier of THE INFINITE – the only multi-sensory, interactive virtual reality experience to transport visitors into orbit and onboard the International Space Station — runs Dec. 21, 2021 thru Feb. 20 at Sawyer Yards (2000 Edwards Street, Houston, TX 77007). Tickets from $29.
Based on the Primetime Emmy Award-winning series Space Explorers: The ISS Experience – the largest production ever filmed in space – THE INFINITE utilizes virtual reality, multimedia art, physical objects, soundscapes, and light design to redefine the frontiers of the user experience by allowing would-be space explorers to roam freely inside a life-scale 3D replica of the ISS for 60 minutes.
Holiday at the Arboretum | Dallas Arboretum | Now thru Dec. 31
Holiday at the Arboretum is a favorite Dallas holiday tradition. Stroll the garden to see the 25-foot-tall elaborately decorated Victorian-style gazebos that represent each of the 12 Days of Christmas. In the evenings, the garden comes to life for a beautiful nighttime experience aglow with over one million lights. Enjoy the Christmas Village, visits with Santa Claus, entertainment, shopping, food and beverage options and the dazzling new 50-foot tall Musical Tree with 42,000 lights and holiday tunes. (Both members and non-members are required to reserve tickets in advance.)
SNOWDAY + Santaland | Galleria Dallas | From Nov. 19
SNOWDAY by Baymo, the popular interactive photo adventure returns to the Galleria Dallas for another holiday seasons. The hour-long immersive experience boasts 20+ rooms of themed photo opportunities. And for the very first time, the exhibit will also house Santaland, where kids and those adults young at heart are invited to take daily train trips to the North Pole to meet Kris Kringle.
Western Wonderland | Historic Fort Worth Stockyards | From Nov. 26
Cowboy Santa makes his grand arrival at the Historic Fort Worth Stockyards on Friday, November 26th. Welcome him in his stagecoach following the 11:30am Cattle Drive. Activities to follow his entrance include photos by appointment, cowboy poetry, story time with Mrs. Claus, holiday carolers and more. Photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus story time will continue through the holiday season – a full schedule can be found online.
The day concludes with the kickoff of the Stockyards’ holiday light spectacular with a festive tree lighting outside the Exchange Building and at Hotel Drover at 6:00pm. Through the holiday season, visitors can journey through a district wide Western wonderland. Also, save the date for Christmas in the Stockyards on December 4 from 12-4 pm. Celebrate the 20th Annual Christmas in the Stockyards featuring sounds of the season, strolling holiday entertainment, and a Christmas parade at 4pm.
Scrooge | North Texas Performance Arts | Dec. 8-19
NTPA presents its eleventh annual production of “Scrooge the Musical” December 8-19. The first week of shows will be at Courtyard Theatre in Plano and the second week of shows will be at Rodenbaugh Theatre inside Willow Bend Center of the Arts. This will be the final show of NTPA’s 30th anniversary series.
Espresso Nutcracker | Dallas Black Dance Academy | Dec. 11
With a new twist on a holiday tradition, Dallas Black Dance Academy’s Espresso Nutcracker is jazz-influenced by the music of Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite. The single performance is Saturday, December 11, 7 pm in the Majestic Theatre, located at 1925 Elm Street, Dallas, TX. The performance is also available via live streaming and on-demand.
A Merry Cirque | Coppell Arts Center | Dec. 17-19
A Merry Cirque: A Family Holiday Spectacular, a festive variety show, features seasonal music, slapstick comedy, and legendary circus acts that the whole family will love. Audiences will be on the edge of their seats enjoying thrilling daredevils, electrifying jugglers, mesmerizing acrobats, hilarious clowns, and endearing four-legged performers. A holiday show for the whole family to enjoy! Tickets ($29) here.
Lightscape | San Antonio Botanical Garden | Nov. 19–Jan. 2
First premiering to sold out crowds in the U.K. and then Chicago, Lightscape shines spectacularly throughout the San Antonio Botanical Garden’s 38 acres. It’s a must for this season! You’ll be enchanted by magical light displays set along a beautifully illuminated one-mile path winding through the Botanical Garden. In addition to the lighted trail, guests will have an opportunity to enjoy festive food and drinks, including roasting s’mores. This exciting event routinely sells out in other cities, so buy your tickets early
Jazz Festival Christmas Concert | Balcones Heights | Dec. 3
Headliner at the free concert is Slim Man, whose birth name is Timothy Camponeschi. A singer, songwriter, bassist, producer, cook and teacher, his charm and style have made him a crowd favorite. He will be performing for the 13th time for the jazz festival, dating back to 1999. He has recorded 12 CDs and was named Best Jazz Vocalist at the acclaimed Coachella Music Awards in 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Christmas at the Caverns | Natural Bridge Caverns | Dec. 4-23
Christmas at the Caverns returns for its 8th year for 10 nights to Natural Bridge Caverns. Filled with carols in the caverns, a stunning walk-through light stroll, giant Christmas tree, and, of course, Spelunker Claus, this year’s event is bigger than ever. Tip: Cavern temperature is 70°F. Light outdoor clothing/comfortable walking shoes recommended.
The Nutcracker | Children’s Ballet of San Antonio | Dec 10-11
From Snow Queens and Sugarplum Fairies to dashing princes and dancing mice, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker has been a part of family holiday traditions for decades. This year, the Children’s Ballet of San Antonio will take the magic to whole new level, combining this timeless classic with immersive and interactive elements, wrapping several cherished holiday traditions into one entertaining and exciting event. And with a condensed 1.5 hour performance, even the tiniest attendees will be captivated.
Pinkmas | Museum of Ice Cream Austin, The Domain | Nov. 18-Jan. 9
The magical immersive experience of Pinkmas features festive drink specials at the cafe, including a gingerbread milkshake, Pinktini, and a Sprinkle Pool sundae. Additionally, expect a variety of celebratory activities such as a “winter-fied” game of I Spy, sing-alongs to holiday favorites, candy cane hunts, educational information about holiday celebrations from around the world and more. Plus, in the spirit of the holidays, there will be a special donation opportunity. Any guests that bring a toy to be donated to Toys for Tots will receive a complimentary ice cream scoop at the cafe. Tickets start at $44.
Fortlandia | Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center | Now thru Jan. 30
For a fun and creative family day, take the kids to Fortlandia, the recently opened wilderness exhibit at Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Kids will love exploring the different paths, where a new fort is to be found down each and every turn. The exhibit consists of six forts and an immersive light installation called silvana by Ben Busche of brut deluxe, making its North American debut.
One fort that stands out is the Critter Cafe, designed by Jodi Bade to look like a cafe food truck. It is adorable to watch the kids play and pretend to run this cute, animal-serving cafe. One of the most impressive parts of this fort is that it is built almost entirely from salvaged materials. Walking through Fortlandia will make you wish you were a kid again!
Bonus: The Wildflower Center’s winter tradition of Luminations is back Dec 2-Jan 30 with faves such as the selfie-ready glowing ring-swings, plus new features including an immersive light maze. Stroll through the naturally beautiful Texas Arboretum among thousands of luminarias, enjoy festive food and drink, and see Fortlandia and the native tree collection in a new way. Reservations strongly recommended)
Peppermint Parkway | Circuit of The Americas (COTA) | Nov. 26-Dec. 26
The drive-thru event Peppermint Parkway returns to COTA this winter for another year of holiday magic and a spectacular, one-mile display of lights, music. New this year—-guests can visit two brand-new villages, get involved with an interactive Rockette-style dance performance, ride in an open-air shuttle through the Parkway, and much more. Ticket packages start at $35.
Austin Trail of Lights | Zilker Park, Austin | Nov. 27-Dec. 31
The 57th annual Austin Trail of Lights is returning to Zilker Park November 27 – December 31, 2021 as a drive-thru event.
The most beloved, and longest-running, holiday tradition of its kind in Texas’ capital city, Austin Trail of Lights welcomes hundreds of thousands of guests from Central Texas and around the world each year for its displays of lights. The annual event in Zilker Park celebrates the unique spirit and people that make Austin the place so many love to call home. Tickets here.
“All is Bright – Holidays at the Paramount” | Paramount Theatre | Nov. 30-Dec. 31
The Paramount Theatre invites you to celebrate the season in the decked-out halls of the theatre with a full slate of holiday programming that promises something for everyone. The forecast even includes snow in Texas, where a little theatre magic envelops patrons in “snow flurries” around the marquee at all holiday film screenings. Just steps from both the State Capitol and Austin’s lively downtown dining and nightlife, you’ll find live holiday music, classic theatre, yuletide drag, a pub run full of beer & cheer, your fave festive films, and a New Year’s Eve party with Bob Schneider. Tickets and schedule here.
Celebrate the Holigays | Austin’s Gay Men’s Chorus | Dec. 3-5
The Austin Gay Men’s Chorus is kicking off the holiday season by returning to the stage for its Celebrate the Holigays concert at St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, 606 W 15th Street, Austin, 78701. An array of musical styles, ranging from Broadway to Gospel, will fill St. Martin’s with holiday spirit during the concert.Tickets ($20 to $45) here.
Cover photo courtesy Lightscape at San Antonio Botanical Garden
Julie Tereshchuk is the Editor-in-Chief of Texas Lifestyle Magazine, and loves celebrating the holidays.