Close-In Family Getaway

San Antonio becomes a winter wonderland during the holiday season.

By Shelley Seale

Always festive—and a favorite Texas spot to visit during the holiday season—the San Antonio River Walk will be brighter than ever this December. More than 200 trees will each be draped with thousands of lights, and some 20 stone bridges will be colorfully illuminated in various patterns. In total, the River Walk will be dressed with 1.8 million holiday lights—a stunning sight for the city’s many holiday visitors. It’s all part of the city’s plan to switch from incandescent to more eco-friendly LED lighting. These lights will use half the electricity as the 122,000 incandescent lights of previous years, with the added benefit of not increasing light pollution—good news for area stargazers. “I’m confident that it’ll be a great transition for our city,” Mayor Julián Castro says.

Each winter holiday season, the River Walk is home to Fiesta de las Luminarias. This centuries-old tradition will take place Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Dec. 16, when the River Walk is lined with 6,000 luminarias (small paper lanterns) to symbolically light the way for the Holy Family. Another River Walk favorite is the tradition of the holiday boat carolers. More than 185 choirs ring in the holidays by singing traditional carols on cruising barges. The eclectic mix of participants includes bell choirs, folk groups and Latino ensembles.

During December, the pageantry and traditional celebration of the Christmas spirit pervade Market Square, the nation’s largest Mexican market. At San Fernando Cathedral, the nation’s oldest cathedral sanctuary, parishioners re-enact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in an event called La Gran Posada. Participants can bring pets to be blessed, then shop for authentic finds such as indigenous Mexican pottery and jewelry at the Mercado. Outside the stunning River Walk, where it’s easy to spend hours strolling and enjoying the restaurants and shops amidst the holiday atmosphere, San Antonio offers a multitude of other exciting ways to add to your winter wonderland visit.

Take in a Holiday Classic

The San Antonio Symphony and Ballet San Antonio have collaborated to perform one of the season’s most classic traditions: The Nutcracker. Inspired by Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable score, this celebrated rendition of the timeless children’s tale features some of San Antonio’s best local children’s talent, in addition to Ballet San Antonio’s professional artists. It’s part of Ballet San Antonio’s signature arts-outreach and education program, Learning That Moves You. Serving more than 30,000 area youth since 2005, the initiative aims to provide children of all socioeconomic backgrounds access to dance through ballet classes, in-school demonstrations and special student performances of The Nutcracker at discounted rates.

Hecho A Mano

Through Dec. 2, Guadalupe Gallery, 723 S. Brazos St.

This made-by-hand fine-arts-andcrafts market has a long tradition, currently in its 26th year, of artists selling their own original work, including ceramics, jewelry, woodwork, fiber arts, furniture, clothing and more.

“Hecho A Mano offers a unique arts-and-crafts shopping experience with a selection of bestsellers and a showcase of never-been- seen items,” says Patty Ortiz, executive director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. “The goal is to offer an array of handcrafted items that encompass both traditional and cutting-edge styles.”

Ice Skate Outdoors—in Texas!

At the Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort in Northwest San Antonio, guests can actually go ice skating on an outdoor “pond.” Using a very cool technologically advanced synthetic iceless apparatus, the Westin’s Plaza San Saba has opened Frost, its annual Winter Wonderland filled with the lights and sounds of the season. The cost is $10 for a 45-minute skating session, with skate rental included. Just because we live in Texas doesn’t mean we have to miss out on that charming fantasy brought to life in many movies of ice skating outdoors in winter. Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort also has a lot of other fun offerings for the holidays, including the North Pole at the Westin Kids Club, where children can create seasonal arts and crafts in an elves’ play land; and the Magik Theatre, which is currently showing Pirates’ Holiday: Buccaneers in Toyland. There are also walking tours with a singing cowboy, carolers and a magical snow fall; and Santa’s Village filled with cookie decorating, visits with Santa and wooden toy building. All of these activities are open to the public; you don’t have to be a guest of the resort to participate, but it sure does make a fantastic place to stay.

Six Flags Fiesta Texas Holiday in the Park

Through Jan. 6, 17000 I-10 West

Six Flags Fiesta Texas transforms in to a winter wonderland, with thousands of colorful lights twinkling throughout the park, carolers performing classic yuletide favorites and personalized meet and greets with Santa and his helpers.

Jingle Bell Run/Walk

Dec. 15, River Walk from Lonestar Boulevard to Loop 410

The San Antonio Jingle Bell Run/Walk is a fun, festive event for the whole family, featuring live music, food, a health fair, a kids’ zone, a doggie zone, the Chipped 5K run and 1-mile walk, prizes and Zumba.

Santa’s Railroad Wonderland

Fridays and Saturdays in December, 11731 Wetmore Road This extravaganza of Christmas activities is pulling into the station at the Texas Transportation Museum. Guests can enjoy nighttime train and hayrides, as well as visits from Choo Choo Claus. Just about every part of the 40-acre site is decorated, from the historic depot and the trains, to scale model-railroad layouts. The Nutcracker photo courtesy of the San Antonio Ballet; Aphrodite photo courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

Gaze at a Goddess

If you want to meet one of the most powerful and revered women in the history of humankind, hop on over to the San Antonio Museum of Art, where an exciting Aphrodite and the Gods of Love exhibit is showing through February. Aphrodite was the patroness of brides, seafarers and warriors; agent of political harmony; adulterous seductress; and mother to mischievous Eros. Known to the Romans as Venus, the goddess is the epitome of female desirability and a favorite subject in ancient art. This groundbreaking exhibition at SAMA reveals this most popular goddess in her various roles, including that of instigator of the Trojan War. Walking through the exhibit on tour with curator Jessica Powers, the ancient stories of lust, love and betrayal sound as if they were born of the latest reality television show or a soap opera.

“Nothing much has changed,” agrees Powers, who is the Gilbert M. Denman Jr. curator of art of the Ancient Mediterranean World. “All the same things were going on in ancient Greece and Rome. The only difference is they didn’t have iPhones to talk about it.”

Powers adds the exhibit is not the coffee-tablebook version of the goddess of love and sex.

“The Greeks had a much more complex view. I think visual arts from any culture stimulate us to think about the human experience,” she says. “And, of course, they can make us think about ourselves and reconsider why we do the things we do. We’re still thinking and worrying about the same things that concerned the ancient Greeks: government and politics, wars in the Middle East, religion, sickness and health.”

Where to Stay

Downtown: Hotel Valencia Riverwalk enjoys an unbeatable location right on the River Walk, with the feel of a boutique hotel. Valencia will celebrate the winter holidays with various guest packages that feature exclusive shopping excursions and specials. Other guest packages include elements designed to inspire romance and embrace love during the season., 866.842.0100. Farther Out: The Westin La Cantera Hill Country Resort is a great place for families and is right next door to Six Flags Fiesta Texas. The resort offers several holiday packages and has extensive special activities and events. Mention the rate code “HCHPKG” when booking for a $25 nightly credit., 800.937.8461.


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