San Antonians love the Christmas holiday season and start celebrating it from Thanksgiving Day in late November. Kick off the winter vacation in San Antonio’s River Walk, where 200,000 holiday lights hang from stone bridges, graceful tree limbs and the outlines of lamp-posts, shops and hotels. City streets and driveways are lined with hundreds of luminarias, little lanterns containing glowing candles. Riverside stores fill their windows with lavish displays, and Alamo Plaza is outfitted with an oversize Christmas tree, all welcoming the arrival of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
San Antonio’s theme parks take advantage of the city’s fascination with holiday festivals, decorating their amusements with twinkling lights, Santa Claus displays and holiday trees. SeaWorld San Antonio dresses Shamu, its performing orca, in Santa’s red and white cap for a winter show featuring holiday lights and music. Holiday-themed concerts and rides, Christmas cookies and hot chocolate are part of the celebration at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. And in nearby New Braunfels the Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort trucks in snow and ice equipment to help winter visitors get in the spirit of the season with sledding and ice-skating.
On New Year’s Eve, live music, Latin American folk dancing and food booths line the streets around La Villita, San Antonio’s old town, and HemisFair Park, site of the 1968 World’s Fair. Multiple stages fill the air with Latin, American and German music. Don’t return to your winter hotel in San Antonio before midnight. The evening finishes with a night sky blazing with fireworks, a psychedelic backdrop to the 750-foot Tower of the Americas.
Come in out of the crisp winter air and warm up over a bowl of hot chili, a Tex-Mex menu favorite. There’s no single way to make chili, and comparing the bowls from one restaurant to another is half the fun. Whether the dish includes tender chunks of beef or a mix of vegetables, sizzling hot peppers or mild beans, a creamy white base or a tomato broth, San Antonio’s chili will satisfy your appetite and warm you up. Look for the best chili at authentic Mexican restaurants Mi Tierra at Market Square, Casa Rio on the River Walk or Tomatillos near Brackenridge Park.
Celebrate the holiday season with Latin American music festivals. Hundreds of mariachi bands and soloists meet in the Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza for a week each November, competing for music awards and participating in mariachi workshops. Throughout December, Market Square is the site for Fiestas Navideñas, a month-long festival with Mexican crafts and Latin-influenced Christmas music. Check out the Mariachi Mass held every Sunday at Mission San José. Always festive, the weekly service features authentic holiday music in December.
A million twinkling lights usher in the holidays at Light the Way, a Christmas tradition at San Antonio’s University of the Incarnate Word. Walk or drive through a campus of reindeer, crèches, university buildings and gardens, all outlined in tiny white lights.