Fun Things to do at Christmas- Food, Music, Movies and More
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
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 Claus is Coming to Town
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
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 RockettesClick thumbnail to view full-size
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 HolidaysClick thumbnail to view full-size
Local San Antonio Area Christmas Traditions and Attractions
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
New Braunfels Annual Christmas Lighting
Wassailfest 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 PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Santa's Ranch Christmas Light Park
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.
Natural Bridge CavernsClick thumbnail to view full-size
History of Natural Bridge Caverns
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
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.
Christmas Lights in Texas
- Christmas Lights in Arlington, Texas from johnb0127
Christmas lights are a big tradition in America. Almost every house around Christmas time has them lighting up the whole neighborhood. With this light tradition come a few over achievers, or those who go...
- Best Christmas Lights in Texas from KCC Big Country
37th Street in Austin, Texas Christmas light displays are abundant around Texas from neighborhoods that create their own magical wonderland to huge commercial displays with millions of lights set to music....
- Texas Hill Country Christmas Lighting Trail from blue dog
Graceful and stately, this historic limestone home in Fredericksburg provides a classic Christmas compositions for the watchful photographer. One of the more festive seasonal events in the Texas hill country...