15 Perfect Ways To Have A Very Merry Christmas In Austin

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It’s December and we know what’s on your mind. Starting now until December 25th, you’ll be thinking about what to gift your loved ones, how to stay positive if the season brings bittersweet memories, and where to find the best holiday eats and drinks. Here in Texas’ Capitol city, there are more than a million ways to make the holidays special — but these 15 activities are Christmas in Austin’s best and brightest do’s:

15) Show off your ice skating moves at Whole Foods Downtown

Whole Foods’ rooftop ice skating rink in 2013. Video: YouTube user Adrian Moseley.

You might not get to do much “real” outdoor ice skating in Austin, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have any opportunities to lace up your skates and harness your inner Michelle Kwan. Chapparal Ice, for one, is a great year-round ice skating destination, and the temporary holiday setup at Omni Barton Creek Resort is quite impressive, to say the least — but without a doubt, the most “Austin” ice skating opportunity is found at Whole Foods’ flagship store on Lamar. Grab hot food or drinks on the lower level and then head on up to the rooftop plaza to enjoy holiday music and some good old-fashioned wintry fun with neighbors.

525 N Lamar Blvd. 512-476-1206. Tickets $10. Open daily through January 11, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Website.

14) Buy locally-made treasures at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

The 2011 Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Video: YouTube User Brandon Fuller.

This December 16 through 24, head down to the Palmer Events Center on Barton Springs Road for the shopping extravaganza of your life: the 39th Annual Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Featuring more than 160 fine art and artisan vendors, the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar basically ensures that you’ll find epic (if not quirky) Christmas presents for friends and family members — and all while savoring cold beer and great food. Expect to hear a heck of a lot of live music too; this year’s Bazaar is hosting 28 native bands and musicians, including some pretty big names like Ruthie Foster, Ray Wylie Hubbard,Carolyn Wonderland, Shiny Ribs, and Mayeux and Broussard. Check the music schedule to see when your favorite band is up!

900 Barton Springs Rd. 512-447-1605. Day pass $7, kids 12 and under free. Open daily 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Website.

13) Lovingly decorate a cedar tree on Loop 360

Austinites usually start decorating the trees in mid-November. Video: YouTube user KXAN.

Let’s admit it: we Austinites get a little crazy with our holiday decorating. Take the 37th Street Christmas spectacle for example. Our 1.25-mile Trail of Lights in Zilker Park. Mozart’s 15-minute synchronized lights display. Well, for years, we’ve been channeling our powers of festivity into decorating the cedar trees that line the northwesterly section of Loop 360. If you haven’t ever participated, this is the year for you to discover your inner elf! Pack a box full of ornaments, garland, and an especially weird object or two and head out to Loop 360 to take part in this vibrant Austin tradition.

The catch: after New Years, come back and un-decorate or someone else will have to!

12) Ooh and ahh over the biggest Christmas tree in town

zilker holiday christmas tree seasons greetings lights tallest capitol domain

Speaking of Christmas trees… standing beneath the 155-foot Zilker Holiday Tree and spinning around while looking up is a sacred Austin tradition that you shouldn’t skip this season. The massive tree is a whopping 380 feet wide, so plenty of folks can perform their annual spins at once, with plenty of room to fall down in the dizzying aftermath. As you pay your yearly dues, keep in mind that the Zilker Holiday Tree is the biggest Christmas tree in Austin. Now that’s a sight worth seeing.

2100 Barton Springs Rd. 512-970-8891. Mon-Thurs free, Fri-Sat $3 per person. Open daily Dec 7-21, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Website.

11) Drink your weight in hot cocoa

hot chocolate cocoa holy cacao mozart's coffee roasters halcyon caffe medici

Apple cider and eggnog are entirely different, but they do have two things in common. First, they’re both Christmastime beverages, bringing on the holiday cheer with every sip. And second, both of them pale in comparison to hot chocolate in terms of glorious deliciousness. Admittedly, that last statement is biased. But seriously, you can find some killer hot cocoa in Austin and December is the perfect time to guzzle gallons of it!

10) Have the Mozart’s Coffee Roasters holiday experience

Mozart’s 2013 Holiday Light Show. Video: YouTube user Josh Drewien.

If you’ve been in Austin for any period of time, you know that Mozart’s Coffee Roasters has quite the holiday reputation. Every year, the coffee shop and bakery rigs their Lake Austin Blvd storefront with over 150,000 Christmas lights set to popular tunes, including the Texas Fight Song and the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s infamous “Wizards in Winter.” The show, which runs every hour beginning at 6 p.m. until closing time, is even better when coupled with Mozart’s delicious hot chocolate and coffees. Seriously, don’t miss this.

3826 Lake Austin Blvd. 512-477-2900. Free. Light show runs 6 p.m. to 1 a.m. most nights through January 1. Website.

9) Walk through the Austin Trail of Lights

The 2013 Austin Trail of Lights. Video: YouTube user Austin TrailofLights.

Forget walking: you’ll want to skip through this amazing lights display. With over 1.25 miles of Christmas lights, festive sculpture arrangements, live music, 30+ food trailers, photo opportunities with Santa, and one gigantic Christmas tree, the Austin Trail of Lights is an absolute must-have holiday experience. Generally attracting more than 425,000 people (which is more than ACL, F1, and SXSW draw individually) over its 15 nights of operation, the Trail has been a community fixture since 1965. This year marks the event’s 50th anniversary, so it’s sure to be a big one.

2100 Barton Springs Rd. 512-970-8891. Mon-Thurs free, Fri-Sat $3 per person. Open daily Dec 7-21, 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Website.

8) Buy a real Christmas tree from a local farm

christmas tree cedar farm

Instead of setting up an artificial tree this year, try this: load the family into the van, drive out to an actual Christmas tree farm, and select a real tree to adorn your home this holiday season. As long as no one in your home has a cedar allergy, decorating your living room with a real tree can be quite the fulfilling adventure. There are five local farms within reasonable driving distance of Austin. Elgin CHRISTmas Tree Farm, located just 30 minutes east, has been providing Austinites with beautiful trees since 1984, and The Texas Christmas Trees Growers Association has four other awesome farms in the greater Austin area: Bill’s Trees in Georgetown, Coupland Christmas Tree Farm in Hutto, and Evergreen Farms Christmas Trees and Circle B in Elgin.

Just remember: when you’re ready to take your tree down, don’t just throw it away. Be a good little greenie and recycle.

7) Carol down Congress Avenue

The 2013 Holiday Sing-Along and Downtown Stroll. Video: YouTube user Renee Moreno.

At 6 p.m. on December 6, festive Austinites will gather in front of the Texas Capitol Building to participate in yet another beloved city tradition: Austin’s annual Holiday Sing-Along and Downtown Stroll. The event, which is coordinated and run by the Downtown Austin Alliance, KUT 90.5 and KUTX 98.9, begins with Christmas caroling at 6 p.m., followed by the lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree, photos with Santa, live music from ASPVA and Invincible Czars (9th & Congress, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.), extended hours and fun activities at many downtown businesses, a farmers market, and lots more. You’ll even have the opportunity to donate canned goods to families in need. Now don’t that just beat all?

1100 Congress Ave. 512-469-0476. Free. Event starts at 6 p.m. Website.

6) Be Santa for a kid who’s got it rough

operation blue santa christmas holiday austin police department

Your Christmas in Austin would be grossly incomplete without gift-giving. Through the Austin Police Department’s Operation Blue Santa campaign, you can give gifts to folks who really need them: kids who may not get presents otherwise. With help from the Austin Fire Department, Austin Energy, Austin Water Utilities, the Texas National Guard, and a ton of other local businesses, organizations, and individual Austinites, APD provides roughly 5,000 families in the greater Austin area with full Christmas meals and presents for every little one. To make a difference through Operation Blue Santa, you can drop off unwrapped toys at any of these locations or adopt a family by filling out an online sponsorship application. The deadline is December 17!

4101 S. Industrial Dr, Suite 260. 512-974-2583. Website.

5) Infuse your holiday with weird on 37th Street

The 37th Street Christmas lights look different every year. Video: YouTube user Yogaduke.

There’s really nothing else like 37th Street’s annual Christmas spectacle. You’ll just have to see it for yourself.

4) Appreciate a holiday classic: The Nutcracker

Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker has been running for 52 years! Video: Vimeo user Ballet Austin.

For a perfect holiday in Austin, we recommend not only experiencing your fair share of caroling, hot cocoa, and lights displays, but also watching classic theatrical performances like The Nutcracker. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy, then you’re in luck. Thanks to Ballet Austin and The Long Center, we have an epic rendition of the timeless show right here in Austin — and in its 52nd year, no less! Find out more about The Nutcracker here.

701 W. Riverside Dr. 512-457-5100. Dec 6-23 — show dates and times vary. Tickets start at $15. Buy Tickets. Website.

3) De-Scroogeify yourself at A Christmas Carol

A dress rehearsal in late November. Video: YouTube user ZACHTheatre.

Another feel-good holiday classic that made it onto our must-see list is A Christmas Carol, a brand new musical based on that Dickens story about crotchety old Ebeneezer Scrooge that we all know so well. But this isn’t your ordinary musical — the show’s director, Dave Steakley, has actually managed to infuse the musical with reinvented rock songs in the spirit of Baz Luhrman’s Moulin Rouge. If that isn’t totally and utterly magical, then we don’t know what is. Find out more about A Christmas Carol here.

1510 Toomey Rd. 512-476-0541. Nov 26 – Dec 28 — show dates and times vary. Buy Tickets. Website.

2) Pelt your friends with snowballs at Hill Country Galleria

snow snowball fight hill country galleria mall outdoor shopping fake faux snow real

It may not snow for real this season, but that doesn’t mean you can’t challenge your posse to an epic snowball fight or build a hipster snowman. Every December weekend before Christmas, Hill Country Galleria hosts a snow day for the whole city. That’s right — they actually haul in truckloads of REAL snow and pile it in the street between the mall’s Amphitheater and the Bee Cave Public Library for all to enjoy. How can your Christmas in Austin be perfect without a snow day?

12700 Hill Country Blvd. 512-263-0001. Free. Open Dec 6, Dec 14, and Dec 20 from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. Website.

1) Ride a train to the North Pole and back

Take a ride on the North Pole Flyer! Video: YouTube user TourTexasVideo.

Bet you didn’t know that you can take a train to the North Pole from Austin! It’s true — from now until December 21, the Austin Steam Train Association’s transforms its vintage train into “The North Pole Flyer.” For $42-47, you can ride the train to Bertram and back with Mr. and Mrs. Claus, enjoying delicious Christmas cookies and hot chocolate, listening to the Christmas Story, and spending quality time with loved ones along the way. It’s not exactly the North Pole, but this train is so festive it might as well be a sleigh pulled by flying reindeer!

401 E Whitestone Blvd, Ste C-100 (Cedar Park). 512-477-8468. Tickets $42-47 — sold out online, call for availability. Website.

From live performances to charity and real Christmas trees to fake snow, every one of these fifteen seasonal activities is guaranteed to grant you a wonderful Christmas in Austin. Here’s to happy holidays for you and yours, and a nifty New Years too!

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