Getting out to celebrate end-of-year holiday festivities is not only a great way to get in the holiday spirit, it also contributes to the economy of Texas communities and our state as a whole. For some businesses and localities, the support received from seasonal income is felt all year long.
With that in mind, the Texas Comptroller’s office shines a spotlight on a few Lone Star annual festive sales and events to demonstrate that, while you thought you were just out having a good time, your holiday purchases help ensure some of your fellow Texans have a jolly start in the new year ahead.
Two Gran Posadas are taking the stage in San Antonio this holiday season. The posadas (inns) are traditional Mexican Christmas celebrations that retell the biblical story of the Holy Family’s search for Jesus’ birthplace.
On Dec. 22., “Remember the Alamo” becomes “Remember the Maccabees.” The 22nd annual Chanukah on the River celebration represents the festival of lights with a parade of boats along the Riverwalk. Catch a free live concert by the Maccabeats and the lighting of a nine-foot menorah. Attend this free event at the Arneson Theater, located in La Villita in San Antonio.
Dallas does Kwanzaa big with a weekend of celebration and community service each year before the official start of Kwanzaa on Dec. 26. More than just a festival, Dallas Kwanzaafest hosts health screenings, a 5K race for charity, activities for children, as well as shopping and entertainment. The free event will take place in the Automobile Building at Fair Park, Dec. 14-15, and more than 50,000 visitors are expected.
There’s nothing quite like the scent of a fresh and fragrant Christmas tree during the holidays — and the freshest trees available are grown right here in Texas. Texas Christmas trees sold at more than 150 choose-and-cut tree farms generate more than $28 million for the state’s economy, according to the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association (TCTGA). Use the online TCTGA guide to find your nearest Texas Christmas tree farm.
It may be a joke in some circles, but fruitcake is no laughing matter in Corsicana, where the Collin Street Bakery has cranked out more than 50 million tins of the Christmas confection in the last 123 years. Each one is chock-full of native Texas pecans plus tropical fruit grown on company farms in Costa Rica. During a typical fourth quarter, about 400 seasonal employees help the regular staff produce some 800,000 pounds of fruitcake worth around $20 million. It’s one of the city’s largest seasonal employers, paying up to $15/hour. What began as an order fulfillment for a visiting circus is now a global mail-order operation sending treats to almost 200 countries.
The Texas Pecan Growers Association (TPGA) urges you to go nuts this holiday season using its TPGA Holiday Trail Map. Texans really love their pecans — the pecan is not only the state tree but also the official state health nut and the Texas state pie. Most Texas pecan growers offer cracking and shelling upon request, while in-shell pecans are available for those who enjoy a little DIY holiday nutcracking. While Texas pecans are great for snacking just as they are, TPGA’s website features pecan recipes perfect for keeping your holiday feasting merry and bright.
Did you know the Polar Express travels to the North Pole through the Piney Woods of Palestine Texas? The Texas State Railroad’s Polar Express is based on the popular children’s story and Tom Hanks film. The hour-long trip runs through Dec. 28, and features sugar cookies, hot chocolate, carols and book recitations en route, plus a silver sleigh bell from St. Nick. More than 55,000 passengers board annually, spending an estimated $1 million on food and lodging in the area each year.
Why settle for just one star on top of your Christmas tree when you can have the whole Milky Way (and more), courtesy of the McDonald Observatory Star Parties? The observatory welcomes up to 1,000 guests per Star Party. Each visitor receives a guided orientation in an open-air amphitheater and then uses various telescopes to view objects targeted by staff. The McDonald Observatory, part of The University of Texas at Austin, is located 450 miles west of Austin in the Davis Mountains, and features some of the darkest night skies in the continental U.S. Purchasing Star Party program passes online in advance is strongly encouraged. The observatory is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day.
Texans continue the medieval English tradition of “wassailing” with several celebrations dedicated to this hot mulled beverage of spiced cider or wine. New Braunfels’ Wassailfest 2019, La Grange’s Schmeckenfest Wassail Tasting, Denton’s Wassail Weekend and San Marcos’ 2019 Wine and Wassail Walk all happen the first week of December. With all this wassailing going on, it isn’t surprising the Comptroller’s office reported mixed beverage gross receipts of $657 million in December 2018, up 5.3 percent from December 2017.
Palo Duro Canyon State Park is featured as this year’s Texas State Parks ornament, with an image of The Lighthouse, a standout feature of the park and its signature red-orange rocks. The 2019 ornament is $19.95, plus tax and shipping, and is on sale now. Revenue from the sale of these ornaments directly supports the mission of the Texas State Park system.
The Texas Capitol Ornament program helps preserve our state history by preserving our statehouse. This year’s ornament commemorates the Lone Star Locomotive that carried Texas Sunset Red Granite from Burnet County to Austin to build the Capitol. More than 1.3 million ornaments have been sold since the program began in 1996. Since then, it’s raised more than $10 million to support Capitol projects. The 2016 ornament has been the biggest seller, with $1.1 million in sales. Buy the ornaments online or in the Texas Capitol gift shops; there’s even a 20 percent discount on merchandise if you shop Nov. 29-Dec. 8.
Everything’s grande in the Valley, including one of the largest Christmas light displays in Texas. Beginning Dec. 1, the Hidalgo Festival of Lights features multiple events and attractions including three miles of illuminated displays viewable by auto, mini-train or trolley (dinner packages available); a synthetic ice rink; Santa’s cottage; Christmas tree-lighting ceremony; parade; carnival; artisan market and a free concert by “the king of the accordion,” Ramon Ayala. Close to 800,000 people are expected to attend the festival through Dec. 30.
New Braunfels’ German heritage is front and center at the third annual Christkindlmarkt Dec. 6-7 at Bavarian Halle at Schlitterbahn Resort.* Enjoy a mug of Glühwein, shop for gifts and holiday décor (where else will you find an Advent windmill?) and revel in the music at this family-friendly free event inspired by German open-air markets. Christkindlmarkt had 3,000 visitors its first year, and organizers expect up to 30,000 this year. Some 80 vendors (about twice as many as in 2018) are anticipated.
*Note: The recent fire on the Wurstfest grounds on Nov. 15 has not affected Christkindlmarkt, which will go on as planned.
Dickens on the Strand, Galveston’s world-famous Victorian holiday festival, returns to the island Dec. 6-8 with Galveston’s Strand National Historic Landmark District serving as the backdrop for the annual event. The buildings on the Strand historic district represent the style and timeframe that Charles Dickens wrote about and make for a unique experience. The Galveston Historical Foundation, which organizes the festival, welcomed more than 35,000 guests last year and estimates the one-weekend event had an economic impact of more than $5 million in the community.
New York’s Macy’s Parade may be more well known, but McAllen knows something about parades, too. The city boasts the largest illuminated holiday and helium balloon parade in Texas. On Dec. 7, an expected crowd of 250,000 will fill downtown and a 13,000-seat stadium to view floats, balloons, marching bands and several celebrities. In 2018, the McAllen Holiday Parade’s total economic impact was $13.4 million; it supported more than 150 jobs paying $3.6 million in wages and generated more than $850,000 in tax revenue.
Texas citrus makes the holidays sweet! The annual tradition of mailing holiday-themed gift boxes full of Texas citrus fruit began in 1929 and continues to this day. Texas A&M University lists the industry’s total state economic impact at $468 million annually. There are about 600 citrus growers in the commercial citrus zone in the three counties of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, comprising around 30,000 total acres. The famous Texas Red grapefruit, the official state fruit, makes up 70 percent of the citrus industry, with oranges at 30 percent. That’s something to celebrate, and the city of Mission kicks the New Year into high gear with its 83rd Annual Texas Citrus Festival on Jan. 18-25.