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The Lights are Bright on Christmas Night

During the holiday season, the stars at night — no matter how big and bright — have some competition, deep in the heart of Texas.

Towns all through the Hill Country adorn themselves with millions of twinkling lights and folks don their mittens and scarves to walk down Main Street, hot chocolate in hand. There are special celebrations all month long, with entertainment and parades. Santa seems to spend a disproportionate amount of time in the Lone Star State, and you can probably catch him hanging around most weekends. And while you’re out getting merry, you can also get a lot of your holiday shopping done — there are special sales at many of the local stores, and most will be staying open extra late.

So skip the mall, and visit one of the many small towns that make Central Texas such a warm, welcoming place to live.


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Bright Lights, Small Town

You may not need the big city to enjoy the perfect Christmas this year. Loads of smaller Hill Country whistle-stops put on dazzling light displays and host special events, giving you a chance to escape mall hassles and traffic terrors to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere of an enchanting town square.


The Old Blanco County Courthouse will be the center of the holiday festivities, beginning with the annual lighting ceremony on November 25th at 6:00 pm. Santa and Mrs. Claus will be in attendance, and shops will be open late so you can follow in the master’s footsteps, picking out the perfect presents.

The Bindseil Park trail of lights will be open until January 2nd, so you can stroll around whenever you’re passing through town. But there will be several special events throughout the month of December, so you should try to time your visit to get as much out of it as you can. The Starlight Symphony will perform seasonal music on December 5th at 7:30. The Annual Christmas Market day will be held December 10th, and you can catch the Christmas Parade and Evening on the Square festivities that night. Community choirs and local musicians will perform on December 3rd, 4th and 11th.

Johnson City

Johnson City will celebrate 22 years of Lights Spectacular. Homes, businesses and churches add their brilliance to the more than 100,000 lights covering the Blanco County Courthouse. Saturday and Sunday evenings, beginning November 25th, the Courthouse will be transformed into a market for shimmering ornaments and Christmas crafts, courtesy of the Johnson City Garden Club, with a big ceremony to kick things off. Stick around — the next evening (the 26th) will include the Lighted Hooves and Wheels Parade with Clickety Cloggers. Hayrides will be offered each Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, weather permitting, and carriage rides will be available throughout the season.

Make sure to stop by the Pedernales Electric Co-Op, where over a million lights outline a magical illuminated forest. Just across the street at the LBJ National Historical Park, you’ll want to stop in for A Timeless Christmas in Johnson City. Each Saturday from November 26th to December 17th, LBJ’s boyhood home will be decorated as it was in the 1920s, before President Johnson’s efforts brought electricity to this rural area and countless others. On December 10th, you’ll also be able to see what a frontier Christmas looked like during the middle of the 19th century. Visit with the trail cook at his chuck wagon, and see the cabin that Johnson’s grandparents called “home,” decorated as it would have been 150 years ago.


Fredericksburg may just be the Christmas Capital of the Hill Country. With some of the best events and seasonal shopping around (more than 150 stores!), it’s a perfect place for Santa’s helpers to scratch gifts off their lists. But more than that, it’s a great place to dive into the German heritage that wends its way through Central Texas. Main Street will be festooned with thousands of lights surrounding the 26-foot tall Christmas Pyramid, a German-themed Christmas tree and an old-fashioned outdoor ice skating rink.

The season opens on November 25th with the lighting ceremony, followed by the Christmas Parade, St. Nikolausmarkt, Kinderfest and Christmas Home Tour the following weekend (December 2-3). Weekends between December 9th and 18th, you can also see Inspecting Carol at the Fredericksburg Theater Company.


The holidays are a great time to visit “One of America’s Ten Best Small Towns,” according to Travel Holiday Magazine. The town will be decked out in holiday finery, and the town’s shops and art galleries will be open late through much of the season. Wimberly lights up on November 25th at 6 pm, coinciding, fortunately, with Santa’s arrival. But stick around until November 26th, and catch the opening of the EmilyAnn Theatre and Gardens 2011 Trail of Lights. Eight acres of lighted displays will feature live entertainment, the Jingle Bell Express train ride, regular visits from our favorite North Pole resident, and gallons of hot chocolate. You can also catch the town’s lighted Christmas Parade on December 3rd.

Marble Falls

The shores of Lake Marble Falls will transform into a lighted Christmas sculpture garden for the holiday season. More than 130 individual pieces festoon the Walkway of Lights, a self-guided tour that is the annual gift of hundreds of residents. Over two million individual lights cover the area, running from November 18th to January 1st, 6 to 10 pm each evening. Santa will be making appearances each weekend, so come with your wish list in hand. The Walkway is just steps from the shops and restaurants of Wimberley, so you can cross off items on your Christmas list as you get into the holiday spirit.


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A Festival of Lights

The sun goes to bed earlier as the year comes to a close, so it’s easy to see how Christmas lights became an integral part of the winter holidays. But how did we get from trees festooned with a few candles to whole parks covered in millions of twinkling electric lights?

  • Christmas lights became part of the annual tradition as far back as the 17th century, when candles were adhered to the branches of trees with melted wax.
  • The Christmas tree goes even further back, to 16th century Germany and Eastern Europe.
  • It was during the reign of Queen Victoria that the lighted tree became fashionable, spreading from England to Australia and North America. Her diaries record a Christmas from her thirteenth year, when her decorations included two trees covered with lights and ornaments made of sugar.  
  • The candles carried some level of risk, of course, so the invention of electricity enabled a safer holiday, and led to the widespread use of illumination as ornamentation.
  • The inventor of the incandescent light bulb, Sir Joseph Swan, provided miniature lights for the costumes of fairies in the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta Iolanthe. The miniature lights have been called “fairy lights” in the United Kingdom ever since.
  • Edward H. Johnson, a vice president at Edison Electric Light Company, had special bulbs made for the Christmas tree at his home on Fifth Avenue in New York City, creating the first electrically illuminated tree.
  • The first White House Christmas tree with electric lights was erected in 1895 for President Grover Cleveland.