This article appeared in the November 2017 issue of RIO Magazine, the official magazine of the San Antonio River Walk Association.
Each year from the day after Thanksgiving through the first weekend in January, the Alamo City transforms itself into a winter wonderland for 45 days, deep-thawing even the most avowed Ebinezer Scrooges and affirming that this time of the year truly is the most wonderful.
Ford Holiday River Parade
The 37th Annual Ford Holiday River Parade begins at 7 p.m. sharp on Friday, Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving. This year’s grand marshal is Greater San Antonio resident Cheryl Ladd, famous for her role in the hit TV show, “Charlie’s Angels,” from 1977-1981. Cheryl is also known for her role in Disney’s “Santa Paws 2,” the 2012 film where she and four puppies save Christmas. Ladd remains active in movies, television and theater, and she is an ambassador of Childhelp, a national nonprofit dedicated to the prevention of child abuse.
The theme of this year’s parade, which will be broadcast live on KABB/CW 35 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., is Christmas at the Movies. Twenty-eight illuminated floats will pay homage to vintage and contemporary Christmas movies, including “A Christmas Story,” “Muppet Christmas,” “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and “Charlie Brown Christmas”. South Texas Ford Dealers are the title sponsor of the parade, and Santikos Entertainment and Visit San Antonio are presenting sponsors.
The 2016 parade sold out. Fifty thousand people lined the banks of the 2.5-mile route along the San Antonio River, which begins at El Tropicano Hotel on Lexington and winds its way downtown, passing through the Henry B. González Convention Center, the Shops at Rivercenter and the Arneson River Theatre.
The parade will be syndicated nationally throughout the holiday season, and last year’s parade was viewed on television by more than 1 million people.
River Walk lights
San Antonio may no longer have Joske’s Fantasy Land encompassing the entire fourth floor of the Shops at Rivercenter’s Commerce/Alamo corner, but since 1969, we have had 100,000 twinkle lights hung from more than 200 majestic Bald Cypress trees along our world-renown River Walk.
Five to seven City of San Antonio employees begin hanging the 2,250 strings of lights the day after Labor Day, and it takes them six to eight weeks to complete the process, depending upon the weather. In 2011, the city began using brighter, safer and more energy-efficient LED lights to illuminate the 75- to 100-foot tall trees that grace this downtown linear park. The Paseo del Rio (River Walk) was constructed between 1938 and 1940 and has been enjoyed by millions ever since. In addition to the trees, 30 bridges along the River Walk will also be aglow.
According to the San Antonio River Walk Association, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote, preserve and protect the River Walk, this many strands of lights would stretch from the Alamo to Bulverde, a small town that’s 26 miles north of San Antonio.
Holiday revelers will also enjoy hopping on a river barge to cruise beneath the enchanting lights while learning about some of San Antonio’s fascinating history, or you may simply stroll along the River Walk, taking in the various floating choirs who will serenade you with your favorite holiday songs.
Museum Reach River of Lights
To add to San Antonio’s merriment, the San Antonio River Authority has added lights north of downtown along the Museum Reach of the River Walk since 2012. This year’s River of Lights celebration will kick off on Dec. 2 at 6 p.m. with Santa’s Wonderland on the Brooklyn Avenue Bridge. Enjoy free photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus, holiday music, chocolate and dessert food trucks, and works by artisan vendors.
This year’s event will feature a 30-foot pixel tree created out of lights by San Antonio resident Matt Johnson, the mastermind behind nationally acclaimed holiday light shows. His work, which includes his home, has been featured on ABC’s “The Great Christmas Light Fight” and more.
Businesses along this portion of the River Walk will decorate their river-facing facades, and the public will have the opportunity to select their favorite. Voting for the Deck the River contest ends on Dec. 17 on the San Antonio River Authority website.
Looking for the perfect present?
Zonarte – El Mercado de Aztlan
Saturday, Nov. 18, & Sunday, Nov. 19, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Centro Cultural Aztlan, 1800 Fredericksburg Road, Suite 103
One-of-a-kind gifts made by local artisans will be available at this annual holiday market. You’ll find prints, paintings, sculptures, furniture, jewelry, textiles and more.
International Peace Market
Friday, Nov. 24, & Saturday, Nov. 25, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 26, from noon to 6 p.m.
Esperanza Peace & Justice Center, 922 San Pedro Ave.
2017 marks the 28th year that the Esperanza Peace & Justice Center has hosted its Mercado de Paz, bringing together more than 100 local and international artisans in an open-air market that offers a community-centered alternative. Handmade pottery, clothing, jewelry, textiles and more make one-stop holiday shopping possible. Admission is free.
Small Business Saturday
Saturday, Nov. 25
La Villita & Market Square, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Begin your holiday shopping by exploring local artisan craft shops throughout the La Villita Historic Arts Village and Historic Market Square. You’ll find handcrafted jewelry, clothing and specialty items for each person on your list.
Féria de Santa Cecilia (Dia Del Musico)
Saturday, Nov. 25, & Sunday, Nov. 26
Market Square, noon to 8 p.m.
This festival honoring the patron saint of musicians will provide musical entertainment, food and booths filled with artists’ creations. Market Square will also be dressed for the holidays during this free family event, which also includes the lighting of the Plaza Christmas tree.
Whether this is your first time to experience the beauty of downtown San Antonio during the holidays or your fiftieth, it never gets old.
Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D., author of “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die,” has been blogging about San Antonio at facebook.com/SanAntonioTourist since June of 2010. Her love affair with the Alamo City began at HemisFair in 1968. The River Walk during the holidays is one of Denise’s most favorite things in life. She hopes that everyone gets to experience the magic at least once.