Get Cheery and Bright at These Holiday Festivities in Austin

All might not be calm, but all is surely bright at holiday light displays, festivals, and more.

people performing on stage at the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
Courtesy Armadillo Christmas Bazaar
Courtesy Armadillo Christmas Bazaar

While the Texas winter weather may not send shivers down your spine, the words, “holiday season,” certainly might. The triple-whammy of financial, familial, and travel stress is enough to send anyone into a Santa spiral. However, the perfect, cheerful antidote to the December blues is all the wonderful, festive activities going down in Austin. So, grab some spiked eggnog, don your ugliest Christmas sweater, and dive into the holiday spirit. From stage performances of your favorite holiday characters like Buddy and Charlie Brown to hitting the ice skating rink, there’s plenty to do that will help get you cheer and bright. And don’t forget the true reason for the season: good times with those you love. (Okay, and some festive cocktails don’t hurt.)

Holiday Markets in Austin

December 15–23
Palmer Events Center, $12
We know you start with good intentions when it comes to holiday shopping. However, its understandable if all the Black Friday craziness ends up yielding nothing besides a headache. For those last-minute present purchases, there’s no better place to hit up than the Armadillo Christmas Bazaar. Long-time Austinites have probably already hit up this holiday tradition in years past, and, in 2023, they’re returning to the Palmer with over 200 vendors. While there, not only can you shop through booths-upon-booth of great art from local and national vendors, but also enjoy live music sets, from artists such as Ruthie Foster and THEBROSFRESH.

Ice Skating Rinks in Austin

Various locations
While, in Austin, we may not have the type of weather that allows us to glide on frozen ponds Disney movie-style, there are still options available for those who want to lace up their skates. North Austin’s Chaparral Ice is open daily for public skating so you can go and get your Michelle Kwan on. If you’re willing to drive a little further to get your frost fix in, there’s also the two full-sized ice rinks at Ice & Field at The Crossover in Cedar Park. Finally, there’s the rooftop rink at the flagship Whole Foods on North Lamar, which is often open daily starting in December.

Courtesy of The Paramount Theatre

Holiday Performances and Shows in Austin

November 17–December 21
ZACH Theatre
For those who desire a bit more dialogue in their Navidad narrative, the ZACH’s musical adaptation of the Charles Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, is the perfect option. In this production, the renowned story is paired with new musical numbers, which add up to an evening that will strike the holiday humbug out of any Scrooge.

December 2–23
The Long Center for the Performing Arts
Get your festive spirit on point by sashaying to the Long Center to watch Ballet Austin take on the classic, Tchaikovsky-scored ballet, The Nutcracker. The sugar plum event is made even sweeter by the fact that the dancers are accompanied by live versions of the tunes, performed by the Austin Symphony Orchestra.

December 2
The Paramount Theatre, $29
The classic comic strip characters meld with classical music for three performances where the Austin Music Chamber Center will be playing the tunes from Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas, a.k.a. the music you watched Linus and your other favorites bob their little cartoon bodies around joyously. Alongside the immensely talented pianist Michelle Schumann, bassist Utah Hamrick, and drummer Scott Laningham, there will be a special appearance by Snoopy himself.

December 4
The Paramount Theatre, $36
Spread Christmas cheer for all to hear (and see) by taking part in the Paramount’s annual Elf Pub Run. Don your best Buddy-inspired athletic gear, and get ready to run, jog, or walk .7 miles from the landmark theatre to a Candy Cane Forest pop-up. Once there, the holiday movie magic continues with caroling, a snowball fight, and a costume contest. And, you’d be a cotton-headed ninny muggins to think the day would end without a celebratory beer at a screening of the iconic Will Ferrell film. If cardio makes you an angry elf, you can forgo the trek altogether by hopping on a VIP party bus between locations.

December 7–9
The Continental Club, $15–$20
There’s certainly no more Austin way to celebrate the holidays than catching some local live music at a legendary venue. And that is exactly what is going down at The Continental Club for their multi-night music event, Keep Austin Cheer’d. Taking the stage amongst the retro-inspired, vintage holiday decor are hometown favorites like TC Superstar, THEBROSFRESH, The Past Lives, and Lady Dan. Bringing some Christmas care to the mix is the fact that the whole event is a benefit for Austin non-profit, Casa Marianella, which works to provide services and housing to displaced migrants within our community.

hoilday lights of Candyland display
Courtesy of Trail of Lights

Holiday Lights in Austin

December 8–23
Zilker Park, $25
Nothing says “it’s December again” like some over-the-top displays of all-out festive lights. And, lucky for you, the Austin Trail of Lights — celebrating its 59th anniversary this winter — is here to deliver all the illuminated holiday spirit you can handle. Nominated as one of USA Today’s “10 Best Public Displays of Holiday Lights” in the whole freaking country, this set-up of over 2-million bulbs has got it all: large-scale tunnels, ridiculously big Santa Clauses, and tributes to the city, like Longhorn-themed guitars, that will appeal to the “Texas forever” in all of us.

November 24–December 30
Circuit of the Americas, $40
Score bonus points with your sister and brother-in-law by taking the toddlers off their hands for a night by bringing the little ones to Circuit of the Americas’ Peppermint Parkway. Not only can you get the essential holiday picture with Santa, both you and the kiddos will be enchanted by various festive “lands” to explore, such as the Twinkle Tunnel, a display of bright, dancing lights that will have you really feeling the Mariah Carey on the ride home. There’s also an opportunity to parade your vehicle down their world-famous 3.41 mile FIA-grade track, all but guaranteeing that coveted favorite aunt or uncle status.

November 9–January 6
Mozart’s Coffee Roasters, $40
Jump start your December with a straight shot of holiday cheer by checking out the legendary Christmas Light Show at Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. There is no better way to kick the jingle-bell spirit into overdrive than grabbing a hot chocolate and cookie at this full-out, long-standing city tradition that features a musically-coordinated display. You can even pre-book a table near the spectacular, so you can take in the show at its most Santa-supreme level.

Yippee Ki Yay in drink form. | Courtesy of Miracle

Holiday Food and Drink Events in Austin

November 16–December 27
The Eleanor, $15 and up
Before you take out the holiday string lights and fake plastic wreaths for a day of decorating, why not pre-game for St. Nick with a drink? There’s no better place to celebrate unwrapping your ornaments from their protective bubble-wrap than the Miracle on 5th Street Pop-Up cocktail bar at The Eleanor. Expect multi-rooms and multi-levels of over-the-top Christmas decorations and enough green and red lights to rival the Griswolds. Not to mention delicious libations, including the whiskey-based Snowball Old Fashioned, that will make you feel the warm-and fuzzy spirit of the holidays

December 1–30
Hotel Van Zandt
There’s no better way to get in the holiday spirit than getting into some holiday-inspired spirits, and The Lodge at Hotel Van Zandt is here to deliver the cheer. Take their elevator up the fourth floor to be instantly transported to Aspen-inspired ski digs, featuring a rooftop deck with outdoor igloos perfect for some seasonal cuddles with your sweetheart. The hotel’s restaurant, Geraldine’s, will be providing specialty cocktails and grub to get you further into the theme, and the holiday music and movies playing in the backyard will only further the Yuletide vibes.

Lala’s Little Nugget
The tagline “It’s Christmas all year round” isn’t an exaggeration at Lala’s Little Nugget, a quaint Noel-loving bar in North Austin. This place has got it all: a snow room, stockings hanging from the ceiling, the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, a Christmas Elvis painting, and Santa memorabilia up the wazoo. ‘Tis the season to be jolly (or melancholy), so be sure to sip on the Love Child with strawberry-infused Dripping Springs gin, elderflower liqueur, lemon juice, and champagne. Or keep it traditional with Grandma’s Boozy Eggnog. Bottom line is, you’ll want to get lost at this North Pole in Central Texas.

The Muppets’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ | Disney/Jim Henson Studios

Holiday Movies in Austin

December 10–14
The Paramount Theatre, $11
Up the usual dinner-and-a-movie stereotypical night-out by taking your crush or your crew to a Christmas movie on the big screen at the Paramount Theatre. The Paramount is iconic: from its landmark, lit marquee to velvet curtains to neoclassical balconies, you’ll for sure get points for a scenic pick. The movies the theater is highlighting this year are just as classic as its settings: two musical favorites, White Christmas and The Muppet Christmas Carol, and two modern-day seasonal offshoots, Home Alone and Die Hard.

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Molly Moltzen is a writer living in Austin, TX. You can find her on Instagram at @molsquared.