The lights at night are big and bright at hol­i­day cel­e­bra­tions across state

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Mauri El­bel AUSTIN AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Through the new year, Texas towns big and small glow with the magic of the hol­i­days — mer­ri­ment rang­ing from snow days and lighted Christ­mas parades to Santa vis­its and hol­i­day mar­kets. Here’s your road-trip guide to a lit­tle last-minute Yule­tide fun. AUSTIN The Trail of Lights is a quin­tes­sen­tial Austin ex­pe­ri­ence, dur­ing which Zilker Park near down­town ra­di­ates hol­i­day spirit 7-10 p.m. through Dec. 23. Ac­tiv­i­ties are pep­pered along the trail, in­clud­ing in­ter­ac­tive kids’ ar­eas, live en­ter­tain­ment, photo ops with Santa and din­ing op­tions, such as fun­nel cakes and food-truck fare. More at austin­ BASTROP

Cel­e­brate the sea­son dur­ing down­town’s an­nual Lost Pines Christ­mas — fam­ily-friendly, fun-filled week­ends brim­ming with hol­i­day shop­ping, en­ter­tain­ment, ac­tiv­i­ties and events (Dec. 14-16, Dec. 21-23). And Bastrop’s River of Lights is up dusk till 10 p.m. through Jan. 4. More at lost­pineschrist­ BUDA Take a stroll while sip­ping co­coa and see­ing

Santa at Buda’s Trail of Lights (6-10 p.m., Dec. 14-16 and Dec. 21-23), a free event held at His­toric Stage­coach Park. More at -of-Lights. COL­LEGE STA­TION

A Texas-size Christ­mas un­folds at Santa’s Won­der­land, where snow falls nightly through Dec. 30. Mer­ry­mak­ers can also take hay rides and horse and car­riage rides through the sparkling Trail of Lights; ride on the West Pole Ex­press track­less train; jump in­side a mas­sive snow globe; or brave Santa’s me­chan­i­cal bull. New this year is Frost­bite’s Moun­tain, where you can grab a tube and race down one of eight fu­ri­ously fun snow tub­ing lanes, and the Snow Play­ground. More at san­tas-won­der­ DAL­LAS

Christ­mas is in full bloom through Dec. 31 at the Dal­las Ar­bore­tum and Botan­i­cal Gar­den’s Hol­i­day at the Ar­bore­tum. Stroll through the gar­den to see 25-foot Vic­to­ri­anstyle gaze­bos come to life with ex­trav­a­gant scenes in­spired by “12 Days of Christ­mas”; take in more than 500,000 twin­kling lights; and check out “The Artistry of the Nativity” in the DeGolyer House. You can also see night­time light­ing dis­plays at the Perot Mu­seum and the Dal­las Zoo (through Jan. 6). More at vis­it­dal­ and dal­lasar­bore­ FORT WORTH

Ex­pe­ri­ence Texas’ largest drive-through lights dis­play at the Texas Mo­tor Speed­way’s Gift of Lights through Dec. 30 — or take a spin around Pan­ther Is­land Ice, an out­door skat­ing rink with great views of down­town (through Jan. 14). Find more hol­i­day events “worth” check­ing off your list at fortworth .com/hol­i­day-check­list. GALVE­STON

“Ice Land: Pole to Pole” at Moody Gar­dens brings a skilled team of mas­ter ice carvers to carve 2 mil­lion pounds of ice into ev­ery­thing from po­lar bears and pen­guins to wal­rus and rein­deer (through Jan. 6). Don’t miss the mile-long Fes­ti­val of Lights trail at Moody ei­ther; it has more than 1 mil­lion lights and lighted scenes (through Jan. 6). Else­where, Lanterns and Lights fea­tures a mag­i­cal dis­play of Christ­mas lights and other ar­ti­san pieces through­out Saenger­fest Park down­town (through Jan. 1). You can also splash and surf with Santa at Hol­i­day Splash at Sch­lit­ter­bahn Galve­ston (week­ends through Dec. 30), or run with thou­sands of jolly jog­gers in the Santa Hus­tle Galve­ston 5K and Half Marathon (Dec. 15-16). Find more mer­ri­ment at galve­­i­day magic. GRAPEVINE

In the “Christ­mas Cap­i­tal of Texas,” you can climb aboard the Grapevine Vin­tage Rail­road’s North Pole Ex­press in your Christ­mas jam­mies, take in a hol­i­day concert or movie at the His­toric Palace Theatre or shop for ev­ery­one on your list at the charm­ing lo­cal stores down­town. Need a fes­tive place to rest your head? Great Wolf Lodge’s year­round in­door wa­ter park re­sort trans­forms into Snow­land with a life-size gin­ger­bread house, nightly snow show­ers and other attractions. Or con­sider Gay­lord Texan Re­sort’s Lone Star Christ­mas (through Jan. 1) — it fea­tures 2 mil­lion hol­i­day lights, 2 mil­lion pounds of hand-carved ice, a twos­tory 12-lane snow tub­ing hill, a 6,000-square-foot ice skat­ing rink, more than 30,000 feet of gin­ger­bread for dec­o­rat­ing, 25-foot-tall toy soldiers, minia­ture trains, a new Christ­mas Carousel, Santa and Mrs. Claus and more. More at grapevine­tex­a­s­ christ­mas-cap­i­tal-of-texas. HILL COUN­TRY

The Hill Coun­try sparkles dur­ing the hol­i­days, and there’s no bet­ter way to ex­pe­ri­ence it than by tak­ing a self-guided evening drive along the Texas Hill Coun­try Christ­mas Light­ing Trail. Stretch­ing north from the city of San Antonio to towns in­clud­ing Bo­erne, Bur­net, Drip­ping Springs, Fred­er­icks­burg, Goldth­waite, Johnson City, Llano, Wim­ber­ley, Mar­ble Falls, Round Moun­tain and New Braun­fels, all set aglow with sparkling lights and daz­zling town squares, court­houses, shops, churches and his­toric sites through New Year’s Day. Wine lovers should hit the Texas Hill Coun­try Wine Trail for the Christ­mas Wine Af­fair (through Dec. 16). Tick­ets ($75/cou­ple and $45/in­di­vid­ual) in­clude a full com­pli­men­tary tast­ing at all 44 par­tic­i­pat­ing winer­ies with a limit of four winer­ies per day and a 15 per­cent dis­count on three bot­tle pur­chases at each win­ery. More at tex­as­wine­trail .com/store/item/2018 -christ­mas-wine-af­fair. LLANO

This lit­tle town lights up dur­ing Starry Starry Nights, which brings unique Christ­mas dis­plays to Badu Park from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly through Dec. 31. Vis­i­tors can stroll along the Llano River en­joy­ing thou­sands of sparkling lights, sip hot cho­co­late and roast marsh­mal­lows each night. On week­ends, bring your wish list and get your pic­ture taken with Santa from 6 to 8 p.m. More at llanos­tar­rystarry MAR­BLE FALLS/ LAKE LBJ

Take a free stroll through the Walk­way of Lights at Lake­side Park along beau­ti­ful Lake Mar­ble Falls, which de­lights vis­i­tors with more than 2 mil­lion lights nightly from 6 to 10 p.m. through Dec. 26. Ad­mis­sion is free, but con­ces­sions and Santa pho­tos are fundrais­ers for lo­cal non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions. More at mar­ble­falls .org/events/2018/walk­way -of-lights. NAT­U­RAL BRIDGE CAV­ERNS Christ­mas at the Cav­erns (Dec. 15-16, Dec. 2223) fills this ge­o­graph­i­cal gem with sea­sonal joy, in­clud­ing Car­ol­ing in the Cav­erns as the sounds of Christ­mas rise from 180 feet be­low; a Christ­mas Camp­fire with sea­sonal games, food, drinks and pho­tos with Santa “Spelunker” Claus; hayrides with lighted scenes and mu­sic; an out­door maze; and other fes­tiv­i­ties. More at nat­u­ral­bridge­cav­erns .com. PALES­TINE and RUSK

Climb aboard the Po­lar Ex­press in your pa­ja­mas to hit the tracks to the North Pole — the quin­tes­sen­tial Christ­mas jour­ney heads out of Pales­tine sta­tion through Dec. 27. Aboard the Po­lar Ex­press at Texas State Rail­road, chil­dren of all ages can look for­ward to a one-onone ex­pe­ri­ence with the cast, con­duc­tors, elves, wait­ers, chefs and Santa Claus. Ticket prices range from $20 to $100 per pas­sen­ger. More at texas stat­erail­ SAN ANTONIO

Fiesta de las Lu­mi­nar­ias lights up the River Walk with more than 2,000 tra­di­tional Mex­i­can lu­mi­nar­ias Dec. 16-18. On Dec. 19, the Pearl com­plex will host its sec­ond an­nual tra­di­tional Posada at Pearl, in­spired by the Mex­i­can and Latin Amer­i­can tra­di­tion of Las Posadas. Thrill seek­ers can get into the hol­i­day spirit with sea­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences at Mor­gan’s Won­der­land (through Dec. 23), SeaWorld San Antonio (through Jan. 6) and Six Flags Fiesta Texas (through Jan. 6). More at vis­it­sanan­to­

Clock­wise from top left: A Texas-size Christ­mas un­folds at Santa’s Won­der­land in Col­lege Sta­tion; Christ­mas car­ol­ing at Nat­u­ral Bridge Cav­erns; carved ice scenes from Moody Gar­dens’ Ice Land dis­play “Pole to Pole”; Fiesta de las Lu­mi­nar­ias lights up San Antonio’s River Walk with more than 2,000 tra­di­tional Mex­i­can lu­mi­nar­ias.

Billy Calzada / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Marvin Pfeif­fer / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Moody Gar­dens

Santa’s Won­der­land

Cour­tesy photo

Pas­sen­gers wear their pa­ja­mas to board the Po­lar Ex­press in Pales­tine.

Galve­ston Is­land CVB

Saenger­fest Park in down­town Galve­ston is dec­o­rated for the hol­i­days.

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