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San Antonio Holidays Bring Luminarias, Tamales, River Walk Caroling and More

Eva Aivaliotis |

The holiday season in San Antonio is an especially magical time, with an array of activities and events. In this cultural, diverse and historic city, visitors can relax with a cup of Mexican hot chocolate while beautifully decorated river barges glide along the River Walk. Bazaars and markets sell festive gifts.  Plus, there is a popular tamale festival among San Antonians that provides the most delicious treats of all.

Thousands of lights adorn the River Walk while many cultural festivities promise an extraordinary getaway. Along the river, approximately 200 trees are decorated with twinkling lights and about 20 street bridges are colorfully illuminated with various patterns.

The River Walk is also home to the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias. This centuries-old tradition takes place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from December 4-20, when the River Walk is lined with several thousand luminarias (small paper lanterns) to symbolically light the way for the Holy Family. Another River Walk favorite is the Ford Holiday River Boat Caroling. From December 2-20, more than 185 choirs ring in the holidays by singing traditional carols on cruising barges. The eclectic mix of participants includes bell choirs, folk groups and Latino ensembles.

Need more reasons to spend your 2016 holiday season in San Antonio?  Here are just some of our many festivities that will be sure to get you in the spirit of the season:

(Note: Event details are subject to change.)

Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza — (November 27 – December 3, 2016) A week-long mariachi music festival that draws the world’s top mariachi artists. The Extravaganza is the largest and longest-running mariachi music festival in Texas, and is known for presenting world-class artists. Various locations, for location and ticket pricing call 210.225.3353 or visit www.mariachimusic.com.

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration® — SeaWorld San Antonio is decking the halls for its annual Christmas Celebration, a magical holiday program offered on scheduled operating days in November & December 2016. Enjoy stunning live shows in our wintery, watery wonderland. Immerse your family in the spirit of the season, sip hot cocoa as you stroll through a sea of sparkling Christmas lights, and share laughs with a jolly Texas Santa Claus. For exact dates and ticket information, visit https://seaworldparks.com/en/seaworld-sanantonio/christmas?from=Top_Nav

Ford Holiday River Parade — (November 25, 2016) The city’s holiday festivities kick off the day after Thanksgiving, when a switch is flipped to illuminate the River Walk’s holiday display and kick off the Ford Holiday River Parade. Some 150,000 patrons will line the riverbanks to experience the sounds and colors of the season with an entourage of radiant floats. The parade goes on, rain or shine. River Walk, 7 p.m. – 9 p.m., www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/events

A Wonderland Christmas — (November 25, 2016 – December 23, 2016) The world’s first theme park designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment, Morgan’s Wonderland will host “A Wonderland Christmas” on Friday and Saturday evenings, November 25 – December 17, plus December 18-23.  Enjoy a winter wonderland—sparkling lights, carolers, Santa Claus and the 25-acre park’s popular wheelchair-accessible rides and other attractions. Morgan’s Wonderland, 4:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m., www.morganswonderland.com

Zoo Lights - Holiday Nights — (November 19, 2016 – January 1, 2017) See the Zoo in a whole new LIGHT! Wild colors, exotic decorations and intricate animal patterns twinkle in the night to create the kind of holidays only found in nature! This year the San Antonio Zoo shines bright as thousands of lights create an immersion of traditional and unexpected color combinations. A festive soundscape will underscore a journey of light, iconic visuals, experiential displays, festive entertainment and delicious dining to create a holiday celebration that is truly unique and memorable. San Antonio Zoo, http://www.sazoo-aq.org/zoo_lights/

Six Flags Fiesta Texas Holiday in the Park — (November 19, 2016 – January 1, 2016) It's the most wonderful time of the year as Six Flags Fiesta Texas celebrates Holiday in the Park. Experience the park transformed into a winter wonderland. Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Evenings, www.sixflags.com/fiestatexas

Holidays in Bloom — (November 25, 2016 – December 31, 2016) Beginning November 25 you’re invited to experience Holidays in Bloom at the San Antonio Botanical Garden.  It’s your chance to step away from the holiday whirlwind of traffic and malls and enjoy the season in nature. Guests will find many a spot to capture a memory at the Garden, with picturesque backgrounds for family photographs. Open Year Round 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. http://www.sabot.org/

Music for Your Eyes–Holiday! — (December 8, 2016) Guests visiting Villa Finale will see beautiful sights and be treated to unique sounds during our special tour, Music for Your Eyes.  This evening experience highlights the music machines in the museum’s collection with demonstrations of unique music boxes, antique turntables and more.  During this seasonal version of the tour, museum staff will share comical and little-known holiday anecdotes about the pieces, their inventors, songs played and Christmas traditions around the world.  The tour ends with a fifteen-minute concert of traditional holiday songs played on Mr. Mathis’s automated 1921 Bechstein-Welte reproducing piano, located inside one of the home’s lavish parlors.  Guests will be treated to a glass of champagne as they sit back to enjoy the beautiful music of the season!  Space is limited. More details will follow as the season approaches. http://villafinale.org/

Ford Holiday Boat Caroling — (November 30, 2016 – December 18, 2016 at 9:30 p.m.) Throughout the 2 ½ miles in the downtown area of the River Walk four or five boats float on the river each night carrying a different group each hour performing live Christmas Carols. More than 185 schools, churches, companies, and civic choral groups participate each year. Joyous caroling fills the evening air along the San Antonio River Walk. The public is invited to stroll on the banks of the river or sit outdoors on a restaurant patio to enjoy the caroling. www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/events

Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias — (December 2-4, 9-11, 15-18, 2016) Experience the holiday serenity of the River Walk as you stroll along the lush banks of the San Antonio River guided by more than 6,000 Luminarias. Warmly glowing lights in sand-filled bags line the walkways to symbolically mark the "lighting of the way" for the Holy Family. River Walk, at dusk, for more date info visit: www.thesanantonioriverwalk.com/events

Santa’s Railroad Wonderland — (December 3, 4, 10, 11, 17, 18, 2016) Santa's Railroad Wonderland is an extravaganza of Christmas activities including nighttime train rides.  Just about every part of our 40-acre site is decorated, from the historic depot, the trains, the garden railroad, our three other scale model railroad layouts and everything else in between.  We have our own character, Choo Choo Claus.  Bring your camera and make your own Christmas memories.  Our event has been bringing joy to thousands of families for 17 years. http://www.txtransportationmuseum.org/event-santas-railroad-wonderland.php

Tamales! At Pearl — (December 3, 2016) Pearl Brewery, the city's newest culinary star, celebrates the beloved San Antonio holiday tradition of tamales. Sample dozens of tamales, from traditional to dessert, from more than 30 vendors.  Plus enjoy live music and a children’s craft area. Pearl, tamale prices vary, 11 a.m. – 5 p.m., www.atpearl.com

Time Travel Saturday: South Texas Holiday Traditions — (December 10, 2016) Imagine the holidays in South Texas during the 19th century. Visit the Log Cabins to drift back into the 19th century when they were keeping the old world traditions alive in their new homes in Texas! Create homemade holiday gifts such as candles, ornaments, mulled cider spices bags and more! Witte Museum, Noon – 4 p.m., www.wittemuseum.org

La Tamalada at the Witte Museum — (December 10, 2016) It’s a delicious San Antonio holiday tradition—ever wonder how tamales are made? The La Tamalada workshop lets visitors make and flavor their own half-dozen tamales. Witte Museum, 11 a.m. – 1 p.m., www.wittemuseum.org

La Serenata — (December 11, 2016) San Fernando Cathedral will host the annual Serenata a la Virgen de Guadalupe. The Serenata is a special celebration honoring the Virgin Mary on the eve of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The focal point of the Cathedral’s celebration will be traditional and contemporary music and dance performed by local artists. The Serenata brings together performers as varied as Mariachis, Norteño music and Mexican indigenous dances. There is a Mass at midnight following La Serenata. San Fernando Cathedral, Free,    10 p.m. - 11:30 p.m.   

La Gran Posada — (December 18, 2016) La Gran Posada is the reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter through historic downtown. It is one of the oldest Christmas Traditions dating back to colonial times. It will begin at Milam Park (across from Market Square), then make its way to the Cathedral where the large crowd is welcomed with festive singing and a party. The journey symbolizes the trials that Mary and Joseph endured before finding a place to stay where Jesus could be born. At the end of the long journey, Christmas carols (villancicos) will be sung and children will break open piñatas. Milam Park to San Fernando Cathedral, Free, 6:15 p.m. (after mass)

24th Annual Valero Alamo Bowl — (December 29, 2016) Major college football comes to the Alamodome in San Antonio. The Valero Alamo Bowl is an annual 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). The Bowl has quickly become one of the most popular bowls in the country, producing some of the most-watched bowl games in ESPN history while selling out four of the last six years. Alamodome, 8:00 p.m., www.alamobowl.com

Celebrate San Antonio — (December 31, 2016 – January 1, 2017) Ring in the New Year San Antonio style! Enjoy spectacular fireworks, live music on multiple stages, food booths, family activities and more. South Alamo between Durango and Market streets; La Villita and HemisFair Park, Free, 5:00 p.m. - 1:00 a.m., www.saparksfoundation.org/celebrate_sa.html

For more details and to discover the many events in San Antonio, go to visitsanantonio.com.

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