The holiday season traditionally kicks off the day after Thanksgiving, and that’s no different in San Antonio, where the River Walk, normally lit by those big Texas stars, bursts into its brightest display of the year, ushering in a month’s worth of festive special events that have an authentic Alamo City feel.
Holiday River Parade & Lighting Ceremony
The winding river becomes a glittering ribbon of light and color when the annual Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Ceremony officially heralds the Paseo del Rio’s holiday festivities. That Friday evening, the faces of children and adults alike beam when the switch is thrown, turning on more than 122,000 twinkling lights strung in the tall cypress trees, outlining hotels and restaurants, and creating a magical canopy over the River Walk. The lights continue to shine through New Year’s Day.
An hourlong parade follows with decorated, illuminated floats cruising along the River Walk in one of the country’s only nighttime river parades. Celebrities, bands and lavishly-costumed participants entertain the crowd viewing from reserved seats at the Arneson River Theatre.
That same day, the switch is thrown on the lights encircling a huge Christmas tree in historic Alamo Plaza. Families love to snap photographs at the site, where the lights burn bright through New Year’s.
Music fills the air as Holiday Boat Caroling winds through the River Walk throughout the season. School, church, corporate and civic choral groups sing traditional holiday carols on barges that cruise the river. Bell choirs, folk groups and Latino ensembles add to the eclectic mix, and visitors from all over the world often join in from along the River Walk for a charming impromptu sing-along.
2008 Date: 7:00 p.m. on November 28, 2008 at the River Walk
Fiesta de Las Luminarias
One of San Antonio’s most beloved and centuries-old traditions is to line walkways with luminarias – warmly-glowing candles set in sand-filled bags. They symbolically mark the “lighting of the way” for the Holy Family. The Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias along the River Walk uses more than 6,000 luminarias to create an unforgettable scene of peace and serenity along the river’s lush banks at dusk on weekends in December.
2008 Dates: Weekends for December 5 - 21, 2008
Latin Holiday Music
The annual weeklong Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza runs from the end of November through the first week of December, and ranks as the largest and longest-running Latin music event of its kind in Texas. Student mariachis serenade revelers on the River Walk, a brightly-colored mariachi-inspired art exhibit dazzles the eyes, and mariachi groups and vocalists compete to see who’s the best singer, guitar picker or trumpeter. Capping off the festival is a concert featuring the world-renowned Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan.
2008 Dates: November 30 - December 6, 2008
The pageantry and traditional celebration of the Christmas spirit pervade Market Square, the nation’s largest Mexican market, for Fiestas Navidenas throughout the month of December. At San Fernando Cathedral, the nation’s oldest cathedral sanctuary, parishioners re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in an event called La Gran Posada. Bring pets to be blessed, then shop for authentic finds such as indigenous Mexican pottery and jewelry at the mercado.
You also can enjoy the holiday lights with a stroll along the River Walk, a carriage ride or a trip on a river cruiser, or get a bird’s-eye perspective from high up with Alamo City Helicopter.
Light the Way at Incarnate Word
Several miles north of downtown, the sprawling, tree-studded campus of the University of the Incarnate Word glitters with a million twinkling lights during its annual Light the Way celebration. This San Antonio-style holiday tradition began more than 20 years ago as a way to unite the community in the spirit of the holiday season. Visitors can take a driving tour of campus; the lights stay on through the first week of the new year.
2008 Dates: 7:30 - 8:30 p.m. on November 22, 2008
Holiday Fun at Area Theme Parks
San Antonio’s renowned theme parks get in the holiday spirit with special events, too. Santa joins Shamu at SeaWorld San Antonio’s Holiday Celebration. Lights transform the park into an illuminated village, while Shamu dons Santa’s red cap and puts on a Christmas show with holiday music and lighting. It’s the most wonderful time of year at Six Flags Fiesta Texas Holiday in the Park, an annual extravaganza with light displays, holiday-themed shows, food and caroling. In nearby New Braunfels, Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort celebrates a Hill Country Christmas with more than a million lights transforming the park into a winter wonderland with real snow, ice skating, sledding and holiday food.
New Year's Eve
Ring in the New Year with San Antonio’s biggest New Year’s Eve party downtown when fireworks pop, flash, and sparkle at midnight from the 750-foot-tall Tower of the Americas at Celebrate San Antonio! Musical entertainment, 50 food and beverage booths, an HEB children’s area in La Villita, carnival games and more make a memorable start of another year of fun, San Antonio-style!
December 31st on Alamo St, between Durango and Market
More on Holiday fun in San Antonio
Information and article courtesy San Antonio Convention & Visitors Bureau