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Fun Things to do at Christmas- Food, Music, Movies and More

Updated on October 26, 2014

There are many things I love about Christmas and the Holiday Season. Even in years that I have the “Bah, humbug” feeling, there are still many things related to the Holidays that I enjoy. There are foods, music, movies, live performances, and local holiday festivals that comprise the things I love about the Christmas Season.

While living in South Carolina, or visiting home, I have been able to enjoy the Christmas decorations at Biltmore House a couple times.

Since I moved to Texas, I’ve gone to a fair number of Hill Country holiday events. I try to make it to Wassailfest in New Braunfels most years, and I’ve been to Santa’s Ranch several times. I’ve seen Trans Siberian Orchestra several times, and A Tuna Christmas several times.

"Christmas House" New Braunfels TX

This house really goes all out with Christmas lights each year, and is a highlight of Wassailfest
This house really goes all out with Christmas lights each year, and is a highlight of Wassailfest | Source
Roasted Turkey
Roasted Turkey | Source
Homemade Baked Macaroni & Cheese
Homemade Baked Macaroni & Cheese | Source

Food Traditions

I love the traditional holiday feasts that I grew up celebrating with my large extended family. We’d have turkey, dressing, noodles, ham, baked macaroni and cheese, pies and fruitcake.

I even enjoy fruitcake! My mom used to make the absolute best fruitcake, but it’s a huge amount of trouble, and in recent years, we have enjoyed the fruitcake made by the Trappist Monks of Assumption Abbey in Ava Missouri.

I also loved my immediate family’s tradition of attending Christmas Eve Candlelight Services together at our small country church, then having a buffet of Mom’s homemade holiday finger foods, then opening our presents one at a time.

Living in San Antonio, I enjoy a new tradition of tamales during the holidays.

Music- George Winston's December

My favorite Holiday music hands down is George Winston’s December. George Winston is a talented musician probably most known as a Windham Hill artist who plays piano in his very distinctive style.

Less known is that he also plays Hawaiian Slack Key guitar.

A friend introduced me to George Winston, and December, in college. I sometimes listened to it every evening after classes before studying. I absolutely love it, listen to it year round, and enjoy every single selection on the CD. I have been fortunate enough to see George Winston perform on two occasions.

Santa and Rudolph
Santa and Rudolph | Source

Santa Claus is Coming to Town

White Christmas

Christmas Movies and Specials

There were many Christmas movies and animated features that I enjoyed while growing up. Most kids and families that I knew carefully marked the dates and times for these holiday classics because there was only one shot to see them. There was no cable TV, VCRs or DVDs then.

I especially loved the animated Santa Claus is Coming to Town, narrated by Fred Astaire, How the Grinch Stole Christmas narrated by Boris Karloff, and Mr. Magoo Christmas Carol voiced b Jim Backus.

My favorite Christmas movie was White Christmas, made before I was born, starring Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Danny Kaye.

The Nutcracker Ballet
The Nutcracker Ballet | Source

Holiday Pops

The Nutcracker Ballet

Christmas Live Shows

Living in San Antonio Texas twice now totaling 8 years, I have seen great performances by the San Antonio Symphony and the Symphony Pops. Among other shows, I have seen Holiday Pops, Handel’s Messiah and A Night in Old Vienna, a New Years Eve tradition.

Each year there are multiple performances of The Nutcracker, including by the Bolshoi Ballet Company. I’ve seen The Nutcracker twice, once in S.C. and once in San Antonio. I haven’t seen the Bolshoi performance yet.

A Tuna Christmas

Going to see A Tuna Christmas has become one of my traditions. I’ve probably seen it four times. It is about a fictional town, Tuna Texas.

I have been fortunate each time to see the originators, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams. This is thanks in no small part to living in Texas.

These two men play all 22 characters, male, female, young, old and “midget”. I could not find a clip with the originators. If you go to YouTube however, you can see them in numerous clips from Greater Tuna.

Trans Siberian Orchestra

I’ve also seen Trans Siberian Orchestra about four times. They are known for their annual holiday shows, and their use of modernized rock versions of classical music like Beethoven. In 1999 they were playing small venues. Now they play to sold out crowds in large arenas.

TSO is the brainchild of Al Pitrelli, who plays guitar, usually a black Gibson Les Paul. Pitrelli’s wife is one of the keyboard players. There are multiple guitarists, a lead violinist, percussionists and a small orchestra.

Typically, the orchestra is rounded out by musicians from the host city symphony. TSO typically donates 10% of the ticket take to the local Food Bank.

Radio City Music Hall Rockettes

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Rockettes Toy Soldier RoutineRockettes Toy Soldier RoutineRadio City Music Hall RockettesRockettes and SantaRockettes and Santa
Rockettes Toy Soldier Routine
Rockettes Toy Soldier Routine | Source
Rockettes Toy Soldier Routine
Rockettes Toy Soldier Routine | Source
Radio City Music Hall Rockettes
Radio City Music Hall Rockettes | Source
Rockettes and Santa
Rockettes and Santa | Source
Rockettes and Santa
Rockettes and Santa | Source

Rockettes Toy Soldier Routine

When I was stationed in Illinois, my brother and I went to Branson Missouri at the beginning of the Holiday Season one year and saw several shows, including The Rockettes in The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

The highlight of the show was the performance of the famous Parade of the Wooden Soldiers. My brother did not realize the soldiers were the Rockettes! Guess it threw him that their legs were covered.

San Antonio Riverwalk during the Holidays

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Riverwalk with lightsRiverwalk with lightsRiverwalk with lights.  Photo from lights downtown.  Alamo in the background
Riverwalk with lights
Riverwalk with lights | Source
Riverwalk with lights
Riverwalk with lights | Source
Riverwalk with lights.  Photo from
Riverwalk with lights. Photo from | Source
Christmas lights downtown.  Alamo in the background
Christmas lights downtown. Alamo in the background | Source

Local San Antonio Area Christmas Traditions and Attractions

One of the great perks of seeing Tuna or the Symphony at San Antonio’s beautiful Majestic Theater is going down on the Riverwalk after the show.

The huge trees along the Riverwalk, including magnificent cypress trees, are draped in Christmas lights throughout the season. Immediately after Thanksgiving is the Christmas River Parade and Fiesta de las Luminarias, the lighting of the Riverwalk.

New Braunfels Courthouse Draped in Lights

The court house draped in vertical white lights is one of my favorite sights
The court house draped in vertical white lights is one of my favorite sights | Source

New Braunfels Annual Christmas Lighting

Huisache Grill's Chicken Tortilla Soup
Huisache Grill's Chicken Tortilla Soup | Source
Penne Pasta with Shrimp and Artichokes
Penne Pasta with Shrimp and Artichokes | Source

Wassailfest New Braunfels

My favorite local area holiday tradition is Wassailfest, held the first Thursday of each December beginning at 6 p.m. in the historic downtown area of New Braunfels.

I think I have been at least 7 of 12 years that I’ve lived in Texas. The shops are all open, and the shop keepers compete for votes for best wassail, which is like warm mulled cider. Some are “leaded” but most are non-alcoholic. Revelers enjoy browsing the shops and sampling the hot fruity, spiced wassail.

I especially love the draping of vertical lines of white lights covering the courthouse.

There is often live music, and always food booths. The food lines are quite long, so I opt to make reservations each year at the Huisache Grill, one of my favorite restaurants, in a renovated old train station.

Huisache has a diverse menu, being particularly known for their Chicken Tortilla Soup, and great wine list.

Santa's Ranch, My Brother's Photos

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Santa's Ranch Christmas Light Park

Santa's Ranch

Another local attraction is Santa’s Ranch, off of Interstate 35 near San Marcos Texas. There are over 100 religious and secular displays done in over 1 million lights, which you enjoy from your drive through in your vehicle.

I’ve visited Santa’s Ranch three or four times. Pricing is per vehicle, and usually there are specified days where you get a discount for Food Bank donation.

San Marcos Sights and Sounds of Christmas

Sights & Sounds of Christmas San Marcos

Each year San Marcos Texas has the Sights and Sounds of Christmas celebration the first Thursday through Saturday of December. There is a carnival area, plenty of food booths, and holiday lights. Visit “Old Bethlehem” with marketplace and live nativity, and the Children’s Area with crafts, carrousel, and train.

I have only been to this event once, but still remember the “campfire biscuits” cooked in a wrought iron Dutch oven pot over a campfire.

Some years I brave the crowds and do a little holiday shopping at the Prime Outlets and Tanger Outlets near San Marcos.

Natural Bridge Caverns

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Natural Bridge CavernsNatural Bridge CavernsNatural Bridge CavernsNatural Bridge Caverns.  Photo from
Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns | Source
Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns | Source
Natural Bridge Caverns
Natural Bridge Caverns | Source
Natural Bridge Caverns.  Photo from
Natural Bridge Caverns. Photo from | Source

History of Natural Bridge Caverns

For a truly unique Texas Christmas experience, try Caroling in the Caverns at Natural Bridge Caverns. There are multiple ensembles of musicians and choirs performing classic Christmas music.

Be warned however that the caverns are warm and humid! I had only been to cool caves previously, and assumed all caves were a chilly 60 or so degrees. I went to these caverns layered in a turtleneck and festive heavy sweater. I shed my sweater but was still uncomfortably warm.

Carolina Traditions and Attractions

In addition to the Christmas Eve Candlelight Services, there was always an annual church Christmas Program. This was usually the Sunday evening before Christmas, or sometimes two weeks before Christmas. The program usually consisted of a reenactment of the nativity story and performance by the Children’s Choir.

Another fond memory of growing up in my small S.C. hometown was the annual Christmas Parade. This is still held in early December and features floats from local organizations and the area junior high and high school marching bands, Smokey the Bear, and Santa.

Candlelight Tour Biltmore House Ashville NC

Biltmore Behind the Scenes Tour

Biltmore House

Years ago I went to Biltmore House in Ashville N.C. during the holidays for their Candlelight Tour. Several years ago my brother and I met our folks in Asheville for a couple days to return to Biltmore for an evening Candlelight Tour. Theses tours are dimly lit, so if you’ve never been to Biltmore House before, you might feel like you’re missing out somewhat.

I still highly recommend this experience. There are countless Christmas trees throughout the mansion, with multiple trees in some rooms. There are also ensembles and choirs throughout the house.

Finish up with a trip to the winery. We did the Candlelight Tour in the evening and took the Behind the Scenes Tour the next day. We ate lunch at one of the restaurants on the estate, which was fantastic.

Christmas at Riverbanks Zoo

One year I took my cousin’s girls to the Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia S.C. for an evening tour. The Zoo was decorated in lights for Christmas, but in an interesting and unique way, such as lights in the shape of a monkey in a tree near the monkey enclosures.

Of course Santa was on hand to discuss Christmas wishes with the young ones. I’m sure many zoos around the world offer special events for the holidays, which I would recommend trying.

There are many ways to make the Christmas Holidays memorable and special. I feel very fortunate to have done such a variety of things to create Christmas memories with family and friends.


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