Yes Virginia, there are Christmas traditions in Austin. While we’re not your ideal place for a White Christmas, we know how to celebrate the season. The Christmas spirit is alive at dozens of unique family-friendly events this month, and none of them involve a shopping mall.
From informal neighborhood strolls to the return of an bright Austin tradition, here’s a sampling of the many ways to add some fun, authentic Austin experiences to your holiday season.
Holiday Sing Along and Downtown Stroll: December 1
Your city can’t be dubbed The Live Music Capital of The World without going all out on Christmas caroling. Sponsored by the Austin Downtown Alliance and KUT, the Holiday Sing Along and Downtown Stroll kicks off the annual Capitol Christmas Tree lighting. After caroling led by KUT’s John Aielli, stroll down Congress Avenue and soak in the new lighting display, and well as family-friendly music, art, food and shopping.
Twelve Days of the Driskill: December 5-16
Before dragging the kids to the mall for photos with Santa, consider the charm of a photo with the jolly old elf in a place that’s been around since 1886. The historic Driskill Hotel does Christmas right, starting with the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony on the 5th. The remaining 11 days feature events such as choir performances, breakfast with Santa, a fruitcake exchange and even awkward family photos complete with ugly sweaters. The 1886 Cafe & Bakery and Driskill Bar will also offer festive libations that certainly won’t be found at the local food court.
37th Street Christmas Lights: Throughout December
Every neighborhood has that one person that goes a little overboard with the holiday lights. 37th Street is an entire neighborhood of those kinds of people. It’s an electric explosion of lights wrapped around homes, trees, fences, light poles and entire lawns. Even though many homes along the street are forgoing decking their halls, 37th street is an attraction worth seeing. Bringing sunglasses isn’t a bad idea either.
Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker: December 8 - 23
Long before we met Buddy the Elf or George Bailey, Tchaikovsky gave us a Christmas story full of humor, drama and dance. It may not have quotable lines, but The Nutcracker is still an entertaining story for families. Ballet Austin’s 50th Anniversary production of The Nutcracker will feature the sugar plumb fairies, soldiers and Mouse King that you remember, with surprise appearances by Austin personalities. With music performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra, The Nutcracker is a timeless classic that’s worth seeing on stage. Take a TV break. You’ve seen A Christmas Story enough.
Trail of Lights: December 16 - 23
It really didn’t feel like Christmas without the Trail of Lights these past two years. There’s something special about an experience that brings people from across the region together. The off-model renditions of animated characters and odd displays (admit it... you don’t know what that weird ice-palace looking thing is either) winds through Zilker Park and wraps up underneath the Zilker Tree. The Trail of Lights is an admittedly weird way to celebrate the season, which truly makes it the signature and must-do Austin family-friendly holiday event.