Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
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Texas Holiday Traditions Help Brighten Spirits (and Wallets)

By Ramona Reeves and Jackie Benton Published December 2020

Holiday tourism and events usually make spirits and sales tax revenues bright for Texas’ state and local economies. This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has complicated attendance.

Prairie Lights Drive-Thru Holiday Light Experience

But some Texas communities are committed to safely ensuring their traditions continue for their residents and for the important dollars these end-of-year holiday festivities bring. Meanwhile, classic Texas holiday products are finding safe ways to make sales and haven’t missed a beat.

A Tree-mendous Holiday Celebration

Holiday gatherings might be smaller this year, but there’s big fun to be had when visiting one of the more than 150 choose-and-cut Texas Christmas tree farms, which sell roughly around 150,000 trees during the holiday season. Texas tree farms generate more than $28 million in sales for the Texas economy and have a far-reaching impact, says Stan Reed with the Texas Christmas Tree Growers Association (TCTGA).

“Buying a Christmas tree from a local Texas Christmas tree grower helps support the local community, as farmers buy their supplies and equipment from local vendors to grow the trees,” Reed explains. “Most choose-and-cut farms also hire seasonal help to sell the trees and create environments for families to make lifelong memories.”

Reed says the Christmas tree market has steadily grown over the years, which has encouraged more Texans to explore Christmas tree farming to generate income. He anticipates TCTGA will sell more than 130,000 seedlings this coming January to tree farmers to keep up with the increase in demand for real Texas Christmas trees.

Use the online TCTGA guide to find your nearest Texas Christmas choose-and-cut farm. To learn more about starting your own Texas Christmas tree farm, TCTGA just released its new Grower Handbook.

Ornaments Spelled Capitol T-E-X-A-S

What better to hang on a Texas-grown Christmas tree than a Capitol ornament? Erin Christensen, director of retail at the Texas State Preservation Board, says that in the last weeks of November they’ve shipped ornaments as far as Australia and Scotland. Typically, from September through December 31 her retail team ships around 54,000 to 58,000 ornaments.

The Capitol ornaments are not only one-of-a-kind designs but are part of a program that supports funding for Capitol preservation and educational programs.

“The first ornament in the program appeared in 1996,” says Christensen. “This year is the 25th anniversary and a big year for us.

“We have many customers who are avid collectors. Our warehouse manager corresponds yearly with international customers who are homesick Texans,” she adds. “The loyalty of our customers who support our program is a source of great pride for our retail team.”

Christensen stresses that online ordering is the best way to purchase and receive an ornament. Annual holiday ornaments are priced at $22, with lighted holiday ornaments retailing for $35. Online orders, which ship directly from the warehouse, are available 24/7. Austin-area residents can purchase ornaments at the Texas State History Museum store, open Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

No Stopping Cleburne’s Whistle Stop Christmas

Last year’s annual Whistle Stop Christmas tree lighting ceremony drew a crowd of more than 1,500 to Hulen Park in Cleburne, Texas. The event looks a little different this year, as the tree lighting ceremony will be modified to ensure the safety of the community and volunteers.

“Our mayor, Scott Cain, often says, ‘Our goal as a community is to thrive, not just survive,’” says Cleburne Chamber of Commerce President Tara Janszen. “As a chamber and community, we’ve tried our hardest to continue as many events as possible, as long as we could do them safely. More than ever, we felt our community needed to continue our annual Whistle Stop Christmas tradition to provide hope and excitement for the holiday season.”

The Cleburne Chamber of Commerce will offer a mix of virtual and socially distanced in-person events for this year’s Whistle Stop Christmas with the theme, “The Magic of Christmas.” The tree lighting will be filmed in advance and posted on the Whistle Stop Christmas Facebook page for all to enjoy throughout the holiday season. Other related events and family activities will adhere to strict social distancing measures. Visit the Whistle Stop Christmas website for the latest information.

Where Santa’s Sled Is a Boat

Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce takes a different approach to holiday lights. Shari Sweeney, vice president of Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce, says thousands of spectators visit the community outside Houston for the annual Christmas Boat Lane Parade on Clear Lake, held this year on Dec. 12 at 6 p.m.

Sweeney says, “The 59-year-old event focuses attention on our marine and tourism community at an off-peak time of year. Our local cities see visitors for parade weekend, which helps sales tax revenue, especially in Kemah, and many of our hotels in League City house visitors and boaters for the weekend.”

Spectators watch the brightly lit parade of power boats and sailboats from hundreds of anchored vessels and multiple viewing areas on land. Many wait all day, and in doing so, patronize local businesses.

Unlike many festivals and events around the country, COVID hasn’t affected the parade because of the nature of the event. Held outdoors on individual vessels, Sweeney says “the viewing locations can monitor their adherence to COVID guidelines.”

Visitors on land can watch from Kemah Boardwalk, both sides of Kemah/Seabrook Channel, Nassau Bay Lagoon, South Shore Harbour Marina, Clear Lake Shores and Davis Road Canal/Constellation Pointe.

More than 60 lavishly decorated boats are expected to appear in this year’s parade. The Clear Lake Area Chamber of Commerce uses proceeds from this event to support its annual budget.

Friday Night Lights, and Then Some, in Grand Prairie

Prairie Lights, hosted by the city of Grand Prairie’s Parks and Recreation Department, also offers a mix of virtual and socially distanced events this year. The drive-thru light display features five million lights along two miles of paths and is Grand Prairie’s gift to the community, according to Kelly Eddlemon, marketing supervisor for the Grand Prairie Parks, Arts and Recreation Department.

“We’re always proud and excited on Thanksgiving night when we open to the public, but we’re even more excited this year, when families need something fun, exciting and familiar to look forward to this holiday season — all from the safety of their own vehicles,” Eddlemon says.

Like many festivities this time of year, the economic focus is on keeping ticket prices down through sponsorships. While Prairie Lights’ walk-through holiday village is closed due to pandemic concerns, the city will continue with a virtual edition of its annual Prairie Lights 5K Run/Walk, which supports scholarships and program fees that help disadvantaged community members access Parks, Arts and Recreation Department programming.

“If you’re planning to visit [the drive-thru],” Eddlemon says, “don’t forget to bring your mask (in case you need to interact with gate personnel or access the park’s restroom facility), as well as your banking card/credit card for purchase of drive-thru concessions.”

Visitors to Prairie Lights are encouraged to pre-purchase tickets online ($30 per vehicle, covering up to eight passengers) and must remain in their cars while visiting. Prairie Lights is located in Grand Prairie’s Lynn Creek Park at 5610 Lake Ridge Parkway and runs from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Eve.

Going Nuts for the Holidays

Texans are seriously nuts about their pecans — and with all the stress of 2020, Berdoll’s Candy & Gift Company’s pecan products provide a bit of normal in these not-so-normal times. Pecan lovers can get their pecan fix 24/7/365 with their choice of full-size pecan pies, chocolate pecans, honey glazed pecans and pecan halves dispensed from the pecan pie vending machines located on the front porch of the Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Shop at 2626 Hwy. 71 West in Cedar Creek or 3652 Bee Caves Road in Austin.

In-store sales are coming back around since the pandemic’s first wave in March, says owner Jennifer Berdoll-Wammack, while sales for the vending machines have doubled. “We check the machines every morning to restock and then check and restock in the evenings. We used to check them just once a day when we closed.”

Orders are on the rise for shipping and contactless porch pick-up, too. “I think people are being very generous in giving this year,” says Berdoll-Wammack. “People are very sad and hurt and having bad days, and their friends are sending them something from us with a note saying, ‘Thinking of you.’ And a lot of companies that normally send holiday gifts to just their clients are including their employees this year, in appreciation for the work they’ve been doing.”

Pro tip: If visiting the vending machine or store in Cedar Creek, be sure to take a selfie with Berdoll’s mascot: Ms. Pearl the 14-foot squirrel and her pecan.

Holiday Support Matters

Not only is safely participating in holiday festivities a great way to get out of the house or lighten your mood, it also contributes to the economies of Texas communities and our state. For some businesses and localities, the financial support received from seasonal income in 2020 is a gift from fellow Texans that will be felt all through 2021. FN.