This article appeared in the December 2017 issue of RIO Magazine, the official magazine of the San Antonio River Walk Association.
For many, the final month of the calendar year isn’t all about shopping for presents, holiday parties and over-the-top food and drink. Instead, it’s a time to reflect on what gives life meaning. Fortunately for San Antonio’s visitors and residents, getting in touch with your spiritual side is easily accomplished.
San Fernando Cathedral
Founded in 1731 by 15 families originally from Spain’s Canary Islands, San Fernando Cathedral is in in the heart of downtown San Antonio, and it is the oldest cathedral sanctuary in the nation. It provides a quiet—and beautiful—refuge in the center of a bustling city from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. Upon entering, your eyes will be drawn to the multi-tiered retablo behind the altar. It is covered in fifteen thousand 24-karat gold leaf sheets and features the New Testament writers Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
On Monday, Dec. 11, San Fernando will host a Serenata (Serenade) to Our Lady of Guadalupe from 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. followed by a Midnight Mass given by Archbishop Gustavo García-Siller. Throughout the course of the evening, well-known performers serenade a portrait of Mary, patroness of the Americas, and lay roses at her feet.
KWEX, Channel 41 (Channel 8 on cable), will broadcast the Serenata and the Mass. Both will also stream live on Catholic Television San Antonio’s Facebook page. From 10 p.m. until 10:30 p.m., the broadcast is local. At 10:30 p.m., the broadcast goes international, featuring San Fernando Cathedral in San Antonio; St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City; and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
The Cathedral is packed during the serenade, and patrons line up hours ahead of time to secure a seat. For those who would like a sneak preview, the musicians and singers begin practicing around 6 p.m.
On Sunday, Dec. 17, La Gran Posada, a reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for an inn (una posada), begins at Milam Park at 6 p.m. and processes through Market Square, City Hall, and the Bexar County Courthouse before the couple finds shelter at San Fernando Cathedral around 7:15 p.m. There, Mary and Joseph will be greeted by the Cathedral’s Mariachi Choir.
According to Fr. David García, rector of San Fernando Cathedral from 1995 to 2008, the first Gran Posada took place soon after the founding of San Fernando. Almost 300 years later, the pilgrimage continues, and it is a much-loved tradition of San Antonio’s heritage.
Last but certainly not least, the Cathedral will host its annual Midnight Mass on Sunday, Dec. 24. Starting at 11 p.m., attendees will enjoy a Christmas Carol Singalong with the Cathedral’s Classic Choir and the Archdiocesan Choir. The singalong and Mass will also stream live on Catholic Television San Antonio’s Facebook page.
Rick McLaughlin, director of Music for San Fernando, believes that the epicenter of Christmas is the Cathedral’s Midnight Mass. Over the years, he’s noticed that people who are out and about in downtown San Antonio, enjoying the lights along the River Walk, wander into the Cathedral and seem entranced. McLaughlin said their journey reminds him of Mary and Joseph’s search to find a welcoming sanctuary.
Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias
Starting at dusk on the weekends of Dec. 1-3, Dec. 8-10, and Dec. 15-17, visitors to the San Antonio River Walk will be enchanted by more than 2,000 luminarias, traditional Mexican Christmas lanterns, along a 3-mile stretch of the San Antonio River.
The original luminarias were candles set in sand inside a small paper bag. With the help of technology, the flame doesn’t go out these days. The luminarias provide a peaceful addition to the brightly colored twinkle lights along the river.
Make sure your singing voice is in fine form so that you may participate in the Ford Holiday Boat Caroling. Angel wings are optional.
Chanukah on the River
Chabad Lubavitch of South Texas will present their 20th Annual Chanukah on the River on Sunday, Dec. 17, from 4 p.m. to 6:15 p.m. at the Arneson River Theatre.
This event began in 1998 as a hopeful dream and conversation between Rabbis Chaim Block and Yossi Marrus. The first event began with forty people and one river barge. It is now one of the largest Jewish events in the State of Texas.
For $6 per person, visitors may enjoy an Interactive Chanukah Cruise Experience from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. that departs from the Arneson. From 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., guests will enjoy a concert by Moshav, an Israeli-American rock group, and a menorah lighting. The menorah is a candelabra that is lit on the eight nights of Chanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, representing light, wisdom and divine inspiration.
Close to one thousand people attend this annual event that celebrates religious freedom, unity and pride.
For even more ideas of fun things to do and see in San Antonio, visit Barnes & Noble, The Twig, Half Price Books on 410 across from North Star Mall and on Broadway near downtown, San Antonio Museum of Art gift store, and Fiesta on Main to purchase “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die” by yours truly. Please like my Facebook page to stay in the loop on every San Antonio Tourist post.
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. San Antonio 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.