Everything’s bigger in Texas, including the holidays. If you’re looking to escape the shopping hordes for a uniquely Texan ho-ho-hoedown, head for the hills. Celebrating Texas’ rich German heritage, these Hill Country happenings are just around a three-hour drive away from Houston, so you can stay merry and bright all month long. Between markets, music, food, history, hiking, and theater, there’s something on the list for everyone.
Find unique gifts for friends and family on December 3 and 4 with nearly 100 vendors at the Old Gruene Christmas Markets, where you can also sample festival foods and wine. The markets are open both days, but the lighting ceremony takes place at 5 pm on December 3, when Cowboy Kringle rides in on horseback to light the historic town center for the holidays. Photos with Cowboy Kringle are available through December 18.
After the ceremony, head over to the oldest dance hall in Texas for the Gary P. Nunn Birthday Bash. You know Nunn from songs like “London Homesick Blues” and “Home with the Armadillo.” Other big-name artists gracing Gruene Hall this month include Jerry Jeff Walker (December 9 and 10, currently sold out); Bob Schneider (December 17); Ray Wylie Hubbard (December 23); and Pat Green (December 30). Check out the calendar for a full list of events, including swing dance lessons on December 20 and 27, so you can dance off that Christmas feast.
Also famous for its German heritage, Fredericksburg boasts four full weeks of festive fun. With its historic home tours, holiday shopping, ice skating, and wine tasting (preferably not at the same time), nothing will get you in the Christmas spirit quite like Main Street. All activities center around the market square, where you’ll see the 30-foot Christmas tree and 26-foot Christmas pyramid, a traditional German decoration that dates back to the 16th century.
On December 2, over 130 floats, bands, animals and more will participate in the annual Christmas parade that winds through town starting at 6:30 pm. Bring chairs and blankets for first-come, first-serve seating along the main route, or see the floats before the crowds by reserving bleacher seats.
If you’re more into Pinot than parades, Fredericksburg is still the place to be. The 2016 Christmas Wine Affair runs December 2-18. A $40 individual ticket (or $70 for couples) is your passport to over 41 wineries in 17 days, so you can sip to the sounds of Christmas carols and merry-making. Considering the average tasting fee is $15 per person, this is quite the Christmas miracle, so buy tickets and see a list of participating wineries here.
If you just need to get away from it all, seek out the plentiful nature trails and a rich local history of Johnson State Park. Located between Fredericksburg and Johnson City, the park contains over 700 acres and honors former President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Directly across the Pedernales River is the LBJ Ranch. The park is most famous for its spring wildflower display, but for holiday festivities, catch the 47th annual LBJ Tree Lighting on December 18 at 5:30 pm. This Hill Country tradition was started by the former president and includes a German Polka band, carolers, a live nativity, and the lighting of a beautiful native cedar.
You can also visit the nearby Sauer-Beckmann Farmstead to experience a taste of the holidays in the early 1900s. The event is free, but donations to the park are always welcome.
If you’re looking to relive that small-town Trail of Lights experience (and avoid the Zilker traffic), wander down to Wimberley, where 12 acres of Christmas cheer await in the EmilyAnn Theatre & Gardens. Open now until December 29, activities for the whole family include the Jingle Bell Express train; a chance to meet Santa or the visiting Princesses (Elsa, Anna, Rapunzel, to name a few); and the interactive musical garden. You can also enjoy Frito pie, s'mores, and hot cocoa while you challenge friends on the life-sized chess and checker boards.
Founded in 1998 as a memorial to local high school student Emily Ann Rolling, the theater and surrounding grounds celebrate her love for the arts and provide a permanent home to Wimberley High School’s Shakespeare Under the Stars. On Saturdays and Sundays in December, catch performances of A Christmas Carol ($10 admission, $8 kids).
Admission to the Trail of Lights and gardens is free, but donations are welcome. A full list of events, tickets to the show, and parking information can be found here.