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 pop up on the streets of downtown and sell festive gifts. Plus, aromas from traditional holiday foods such as tamales and empanadas can be found as you walk the streets of the city.

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 at dusk on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from December 1-17, 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 Boat Caroling. From December 1-22, more than 185 choral groups ring in the holidays by singing traditional carols on river boats. The eclectic mix of participants includes bell choirs, folk groups and Latino ensembles.

Need more reasons to spend your 2017 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.)

23rd Annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza — (November 26 – December 2, 2017) 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

SeaWorld’s Christmas Celebration® — (November 18 – December 31, 2017) SeaWorld San Antonio is decking the halls for its annual Christmas Celebration, a magical holiday program offered on scheduled operating days in November & December 2017. 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

Ford Holiday River Parade — (November 24, 2017) 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.,

A Wonderland Christmas — (November 24, 2017 – December 23, 2017) 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 24 – December 16, 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.

Zoo Lights - Holiday Nights — (November 17, 2017 – December 31, 2017) Spend the holidays at San Antonio Zoo® during Zoo Lights while strolling under an array of twinkling lights and sipping hot cocoa. Plus, decorate cookies with Mrs. Claus and even roast s'mores by Christmas Tree Lake. Get into the holiday spirit during our electric dance music inspired light show set to an exciting soundtrack that will make you feel like you’re at a dance party. Don’t forget to visit Santa to tell him what's on your Christmas wish list and ride a camel! 6:00 p.m. San Antonio Zoo

Six Flags Fiesta Texas Holiday in the Park — (November 18, 2017 – January 7, 2018) 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,

Holidays in Bloom — (November 24, 2017 – December 31, 2017) 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.

Light the Way — (November 18, 2017 – January 5, 2018) The University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) has been hosting Light the Way annually on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, kicking off the holiday season in San Antonio for the past 30 years. The event features entertainment for all ages, including student performers from members of the UIW Brainpower Connection, Incarnate Word High School, St. Anthony Catholic High School and St. Peter Prince of the Apostles School, guest performance from famous Tejano singer Patsy Torres and a visit from our special friend from the North Pole. The evening culminates with the official flip of the switch, illuminating the entire campus with nearly one million twinkling lights. The lights turn on nightly.

Music for Your Eyes–Holiday! — 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.

Ford Holiday Boat Caroling — (December 1 – 22, 2017 at 6:15 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.) During the Christmas season, four to five boats are used to rotate caroling groups who perform live Christmas carols along the 2 ½ miles of downtown River Walk. 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.

Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias — (December 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, 2017) Experience the holiday serenity of the River Walk as you stroll along the lush banks of the San Antonio River guided by more than 2,000 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:

Christmas at the Caverns — (December 1-23, 2017)Returning to Natural Bridge Caverns for the 2017 holiday season, Christmas at the Caverns combines the sights and sounds of the holidays with its underground world of natural beauty and amazement. Enjoy shopping, refreshments, and a family photo op in front of a 30-ft tall decorated Christmas tree. Experience the incredible sounds of Caroling in the Caverns and several other unique holiday attractions, such as the Hill Country Hayride, the AMAZEn’ Reindeer Roundup, and the Christmas Village. For general ticket information, show times, and directions, visit:

Museum Shop Holiday Fair and San Antonio Potters Guild Clay & Art Festival — (December 2, 2017) The San Antonio Museum of Art’s annual Holiday Fair is a one-stop shop for unique finds from local artisans including Uncommon Covers, O’Day Designs, and Patty Castillo. In addition, more than 30 vendors will showcase their handmade creations of clay, glass, fiber, and print at the Clay and Art Festival. Enjoy a holiday art-making activity from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. San Antonio Museum of Art, 10:30 a.m.–5:00 p.m.,

Santa’s Railroad Wonderland — (December 9, 10, 16, 17, 23, 2017) 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. Gates open at 5:30. Event begins at 6:00 p.m. and ends at 9:00 p.m.

Super Saturday: South Texas Holiday Traditions — (December 9, 2017) 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.,

La Tamalada at the Witte Museum — (December 9, 2017) 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.,

Sunday Masa - A Holiday Tamale Extravaganza! — (December 10, 2017) Featuring 20+ San Antonio tamale vendors (all samples $1-$3), plus purchase your holiday tamales in bulk from your favorite vendors! "Made in SA Holiday Market" sponsored by San Antonio Magazine is the perfect spot to shop for holiday gifts from local vendors.The Pan Dulce Pavilion is where you can enjoy fresh Mexican sweet breads from local bakeries. Alamo Beer Company, 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.,

La Serenata — (December 11, 17, 2017) 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 17, 2017) 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)

Family Film Fest: Holiday Double Feature — (December 27 and 28, 2017) Family film double feature takes place consecutively on Wednesday & Thursday December 27 & 28 at 1 pm. Stay warm with two chances to enjoy the classic film The Nightmare Before Christmas the week after the holidays. Learn about stop-motion animation on a tour of the exhibition Behind the Screen: Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas and enjoy popcorn and hot cocoa as you visit Christmas Town. McNay Art Museum, 1:00 p.m. - 2:30 p.m.,

25th Annual Valero Alamo Bowl — (December 28, 2017) 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 seven of its 16 games. Alamodome,

Celebrate San Antonio — (December 31, 2017 – January 1, 2018) 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 Cesar Chavez and Market streets; La Villita and HemisFair Park, Free, 5:00 p.m. - 1:00 a.m., Free.

Winter Wonderland – (TBD) The DoSeum is transformed into a magical winter wonderland. A reverse Santa’s engineering workshop and a Multicultural holiday celebration will kick off the month of activities, which includes specialized workshops, Santa appearances and an interactive snowscape in the Special Exhibits Gallery. The DoSeum, More details will follow as the season approaches.

The Nutcracker – (November 24 – 26, 30, December 1 – 3, 2017) Local ballet performers fill the stage to the delight of many in this magical performance for the whole family. Held at the Tobin center, this performance attracts many audiences, locals and tourists alike.

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

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