Celebrating the Holidays with Small Towns in Central Texas Hill Country

Christmas is right around the corner and people are going over and beyond to celebrate this holiday season after a long two years filled with isolation. For small towns in the Texas Hill Country, this means taking part in a variety of local festivities and spots to take the whole family. From small-town traditions to city-wide attractions, counties all across Central Texas have special events all throughout December. Check out some of the most popular celebrations below.

Created by Lacey Wright using StoryMap

Finding joy where it was once overlooked

Since the COVID-19 pandemic prevented all celebrations last Christmas, people are finding joy in celebrating with the security the vaccine has presented to the public. Masks and social distancing are recommended at most places, especially if taking place indoors, but hardly enforced. Thankfully, even if you want to continue social distancing while celebrating the holidays, many light shows are drive-thru, so you don’t have to leave your car.

Nostalgic drive-in movie experiences around San Marcos, TX

On the topic of not needing to leave your car to celebrate this holiday season, these drive-in movie theaters are both adding Christmas movies to their showings this December. 

Doc’s Drive-In Theater in Buda, TX

Doc’s is playing Christmas movies all December! You can check out their schedule here. They offer snacks, treats, and a full menu of things!

1540 Satterwhite Rd Buda, Texas 78610

Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theater in New Braunfels, TX

Stars & Stripes plays current movies and blasts from the past as well. During December, they’ll also be playing Christmas movies occasionally. They also offer tasty treats at a 50’s cafe on-site.

1178 Kroesche Ln., New Braunfels, TX 78130

San Marcos Holiday Events

In the college town San Marcos, located 30 miles south of Austin, TX, the holiday events begin promptly after Thanksgiving. Hannakuh, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an 8-day tradition celebrated in the Jewish culture. This year Nov. 29th marks the first day of Hannakuh and Dec. 6th is the last.

Created by Lacey Wright on Visme

During the warm months, San Marcos is known for the beautiful San Marcos River that flows throughout the city. When winter comes around, the town is known for a magical holiday event that takes place for two weekends in December called Sights & Sounds of Christmas. This year, the weekends that the festival will be taking place are Dec. 2nd-4th and Dec. 9th-11th.  Carnival rides, food vendors, and live performances are all offered amongst the light attractions at the holiday festival.

Sights & Sounds of Christmas

As a non-profit organization, Sights & Sounds San Marcos relies on volunteers to make the magic happen and bring the festival vision to life. Without the help of the community, the festival wouldn’t be able to keep up with the increasing size and demand for the festival in this college town. Texas State junior Riley Thompson, 20, volunteered to work at the festival for the first weekend of the 2021 festival season.

“This was my second time volunteering so I chose to participate in the KidZone this time around,” said Thompson. “The festival is a magical, fascinating experience, and to get to share it with people who are just there to bring the Christmas spirit to everyone who comes; It’s really special to be a part of something like that.”

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Unsilent Night San Marcos

On Wednesday, Dec. 1st, San Marcos participated in an event called Unsilent Night, an event celebrated in cities all over the nation since 1992. The tradition is to get a gathering of people together with boomboxes to create a moving sound sculpture as the group strolls through the local downtown streets.    

The group was organized and brought to life with the joint efforts of Texas State Honors College, Texas State University Graduate College, Sustainable San Marcos, and MoveSM. One of the event’s attendees was Logan Charles, 22, a Texas State University senior who decorated his bike with Christmas lights for the event.

“It was really cool to come together with a group of strangers, and to have such good energy and laughs with everyone, I had more fun than I even expected to,” said Charles.

Putting the ‘Unity’ in Community

Buda, Texas, a town between San Marcos and Austin, celebrated their 41st annual Budafest festival, where the whole town comes together to celebrate the holidays and shop from local craft vendors and artists. Since 1980, the town of Buda has been putting on this local favorite tradition. Families from surrounding towns flock to Buda during this special Christmas event.

This is Buda’s first Budafest celebration since 2018. The festival was canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19, and it was canceled in 2019 due to construction in the downtown area where the festival is usually held. Julie Woods, 27, from Kyle, Texas has been going to Budafest since 2015. She remembers when they added the Reindog Parade to the festivities in 2017 and how much it meant to her and her 4-year-old cocker spaniel Cinnamon.

“We get such a kick out of all the costumes people think of. Everyone gets so creative, it’s tough competition around here!” said Woods.

Favorite attractions at Budafest

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Central Texas Christmas Festivals for 2021

Audio story produced by Lacey Wright on SoundCloud

Which festival shines the brightest?

Light shows are a Christmastime classic. If you want to get the most out of your experience, it might be worth it to go to the place with the most lights. When it comes to ticket prices, you might think the most lights = the highest cost, but that’s not necessarily true.

Ticket costs for the events shown in “Lights, Camera, Action”

  • Sights & Sounds – $5 nightly admission, $15 for 6 day pass
  • Lights Spectacular – Free, carriage rides for sale starting at $15/person
  • Santa’s Ranch – $35 per vehicle
  • Trail of Lights GA: prices start at $30 per vehicle, Dash Passes: $65 per vehicle
  • Old West Christmas Fest – $10
Created by Lacey Wright on Canva

College students looking forward to the winter break

I spoke with Texas State University students Hiram Infante and Grace Adams about what it looks like to be a college student at the end of the fall semester preparing for the winter break. They talk about Christmas decorating with friends, being back on campus after 3 semesters of virtual learning, and working multiple jobs to keep up with bills.

Youtube video filmed, edited, and produced by Lacey Wright

Giving back this holiday season

With the national toy shortages and price increases affecting the amount Christmas toy donations this year, local donation centers are asking for extra help this holiday season. 

San Marcos Blue Santa

San Marcos’ largest holiday toy giveaway, Blue Santa, is in need of money donations to ensure they can reach as many kids in need as possible. Toy donations aren’t being accepted this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. All donation funds are used to purchase toys. Learn more about donating to Blue Santa here

Hays County Brown Santa

This Hays county non-profit is asking for money, canned food, and toy donations for local families. The location for San Marcos is Hays County Sheriff’s Office (1307 Uhland Road) and they will be taking wrapped gift drop-offs until Dec. 13th. For more information and additional locations for drop-offs throughout Hays county, go here

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