Thanksgiving often is considered the unofficial start to the holiday season, and many municipalities will be hosting events celebrating the most wonderful time of the year in the weeks to come. The highlight of these festivities usually is the lighting of a tree and elaborate displays, eliciting feelings of good will and cheer in the hearts of spectators. The Greater Houston area is no exception, and with offerings to be found from the Woodlands to Downtown to Galveston, even Scrooge can find something to enjoy.
23rd Annual TXU Energy Uptown Holiday Lighting
Located on the west side of Houston, the Uptown neighborhood is known for the abundance of highbrow hotels, eateries and retailers in the area, including such destinations as the Galleria. The district also attracts families and local “tourists” every holiday season by adorning streets and buildings with over-sized wreaths, bows and over a half-million lights in the outline of trees and ornaments. These decorations are formally introduced every year in a lighting ceremony on Post Oak Boulevard (which is lined with dozens of Christmas trees) that is attended by thousands and conducted by Santa Clause. The event includes holiday music and appearances by clowns, snowmen and reindeer; the highlight, however, is the fireworks display synchronized to music that ends the celebration. Concession stands will offer treats such as funnel cakes and kettle corn. This year, the event will serve as a fundraiser for Sheltering Arms Senior Services, a nonprofit which advocates for and provides services to seniors in the Houston area. The nonprofit will benefit from the Turkey Trot that morning, which includes 5K, 10K and KidsK runs as well as a post-race party. If you don’t mind a crowd and if your little ones can stand the cold, the Uptown Lighting is a classic Houston event for families seeking the holiday spirit.
: Uptown Houston (Post Oak Boulevard between San Felipe and Westheimer)
Nov. 27, Thursday (Thanksgiving evening)
Turkey Trot at 8 a.m.
Holiday music and concessions at 4 p.m.
Lights and fireworks at 7 p.m.
Free and open to the public
Free at the following locations:
777 Post Oak Boulevard
Four Oaks Place
The GalleriaPost Oak Central
Post Oak Plaza
City of Houston Mayor’s Holiday Celebration
The reflecting pool in front of City Hall in downtown Houston is the scene of another annual lighting ceremony. Nearby Tranquility Park, downtown skyscrapers, such as Philip Johnson’s acclaimed Bank of America building, and even City Hall itself, built in the Art Deco style, create a unique ambience for the traditional lighting of the city’s official holiday tree. The celebration is presided over by Mayor Bill White and includes live musical performances and fireworks. This year’s roster of performers includes Karina Nistal, Kirk Whalum, Lakisha Jones and Roger Creager. Though Downtown does not have the glitzy appeal of Uptown, the Mayor’s celebration is an excellent way to enjoy the city and take in some of the best local musicians. I suggest arriving a little early in order to find free parking in the adjacent blocks.
Houston City Hall (Hermann Square)
Dec. 5, Friday, 5:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Free and open to the public
Underground garages ($6)
Parking meters (free on weekends)
Private lots (from $5 to $20
Seventh Annual Moody Gardens Festival of Lights
Likely Page Break
With Galveston being just a short car-ride away from the Houston metroplex, many Houstonians will spend at least part of the holiday season on the island. Moody Gardens, whose distinctive pyramids can be seen the instant one arrives on the island, offers zoological exhibits, aquariums, amusement rides, dining options, a small beach for children, a paddlewheel boat and hotel rooms to visitors. Every holiday season, the complex is decorated with thousands of lights illustrating dozens of scenes available for viewing for over a month. Admission to the Festival of Lights is separate from that of permanent attractions, which can be added on to your ticket for $5 each. Evening passes including admission to several exhibits are also available for $19. With the abundance of attractions at Moody Gardens, a family can easily spend a whole day here alone, though there a number of things to do throughout Galveston, too, including Dickens on the Strand. And with local businesses still recovering from Hurricane Ike, islanders need tourists now more than ever.
Moody Gardens (City of Galveston)
Nov. 22- Dec. 31, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.
$3.95 for ticket to Festival of Lights
Additional attractions have an additional price
26th Annual Woodlands Lighting of the Doves
Like Galveston, the Woodlands’ proximity to Houston offers locals an economical way to get out of town and enjoy holiday festivities. The appeal of the Woodlands is in the trees the development takes its name from; the community takes pride in its forest-like parks and Lake Woodlands, and the community has thousands of acres devoted as green space. This setting creates a warm environment for holiday activities, which are designed to be enjoyed by families. This year, visitors can stroll through dozens of lighted holiday scenes in Town Green Park, including images of elves, doves, angles and snowmen. Opening night activities include live musical and dance performances (by artists such as Hayes Carll, the McTeggart Irish Dancers and Grupo Batacha), game booths, and a 100-foot long hill covered in fake snow. The lighting ceremony will be presided over by Santa Clause and will conclude with a fireworks display; light displays will be open from dusk to 11 p.m. from opening night until Jan. 5, 2009. The Woodlands will also host several other holiday attractions this season, including International Winter on the Waterway and the opening of an outdoor ice skating rink.
Town Green Park (2099 Lake Robbins Drive, the Woodlands)
Nov. 22, Saturday at 7 p.m.
Daily entrance from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m.
: Free admission to the festival
$3 for snow hill rides
Info: Holiday in the Woodlands