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Houston holiday happenings: things to do in December



While it's all but guaranteed Houston will not get a White Christmas (in fact, Santa very well could get welcomed by 80-degree weather), the city certainly knows how to celebrate the season. The zoo lights up at night, as do some of Houston's best museums, historic homes, and baseball fields. The performing arts scene downtown gets an infusion of holiday cheer and things get a little chilly in Discovery Green thanks to an annual outdoor ice skating rink. 

Downtown isn't the only place to get in on the holiday action either. Neighborhoods and suburbs around the greater Houston area put on seasonal festivals. The hip Heights neighborhood hosts Holiday on 19th Street, while Tomball puts on a traditional German-style Christmas market. There's even a place where families can go cut down their tree for decorating at home 

If you find yourself in Houston during the holidays, be sure to check out some of these attractions and events. You may not even need to bundle up!


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The open-air German Christmas Market & Festival in Tomball, Texas (just outside of Houston) features three stages of live music, strolling holiday carolers and more than 200 street vendors selling arts, crafts and German heritage items. Admission, parking and shuttle service are all free.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Get a taste of a European-style Christmas market (including German food) without leaving the Houston area.

Lydia's expert tip: Not all merchants accept credit cards (most do), so it's a good idea to bring some cash. If you forget, there's an ATM on the festival grounds.

Read more about Tomball German Christmas Market →


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Houston Heights


Adults looking for a bit of holiday fun this season shouldn't miss Holiday on 19th Street, a one-day event in the hip Heights neighborhood that includes live music, cocktails while you shop and a snow machine (this may be the only chance to see and touch the mysterious white stuff in Houston).

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: While you don't need an excuse to peruse the quirky shops of 19th Street, Yale St & Shephard St, this is a pretty good one!

Lydia's expert tip: The event always takes place on a Friday evening in December, though it sometimes has to be rescheduled due to weather.

Read more about Holiday on 19th Street →




La Marque, south of Houston, is the scene for one of the city's best holiday lights displays. This 20-acre lantern festival features 100 themed displays in eight themed areas - think a Christmas village, Houston's skyline and larger-than-life dinosaurs. The event, which runs for 52 days, also includes nightly acrobatic performances, carnival rides, Chinese arts and crafts and photos with Santa.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This lantern festival is quite unlike other holiday lights displays in the Houston area and shows off the city's multiculturalism.

Lydia's expert tip: Leave early on weekdays or visit on the weekends to beat rush hour traffic on the way to La Marque. Crowds tend to diminish after Christmas.

Read more about Magical Winter Lights →


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Constellation Field, home to the Sugar Land Skeeters, hosts one of Houston's biggest and brightest holiday events. Sugar Land Holiday Lights has more than 3 million bulbs across eight themed areas, along with a holiday market, seasonal food vendors, holiday movie screenings and appearances by Santa. There's a special Lights & Leashes night for pet owners to bring their furry friends, as well as a sensory-friendly night.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For visitors and residents in southwest Houston, this is one of the best family friendly holiday events.

Lydia's expert tip: Bring cash for food, carnival rides and photos with Santa.

Read more about Sugar Land Holiday Lights →




Houston may have an average high of a balmy 63 degrees in December, but that doesn't stop Houstonians from hitting the ice. Throughout the winter season, the Kinder Lake boat basin in Discovery Green in downtown transforms into an outdoor skating rink. Proceeds go toward the Discovery Green Conservancy that helps maintain the park and fund free activities throughout the year.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is one of the only places in H-Town where you can get a true feeling of winter, even on the warmest of winter days.

Lydia's expert tip: Houston residents who get their electricity from Green Mountain Energy get $2 off with copy of their current electrical bill.

Read more about Discovery Green Park →




Bayou Bend is stunning any time of year, but it's extra special during the holidays when the historic estate puts on Christmas Village at Bayou Bend. Thousands of lights illuminate the 14-acre estate, along with a handcrafted model train and 15-foot Christmas tree. Santa's often on hand for photos, carolers roam the grounds, and the estate hosts a range of rather unique seasonal activities â€" everything from sledding down a faux-snow slide to tossing cotton snowballs (hey, this is Houston after all). House tours take on a theatrical note this time of year.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: Bayou Bend puts up some of the prettiest lights in town, and it's free for kids under 4 years of age.

Lydia's expert tip: The holiday themed tour of the first floor of the house is well worth the upgrade; it's immersive theater put on by the folks at Alley Theatre.

Read more about Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens →


Old Time Christmas Tree Farm
Photo courtesy of iStock / AlexanderShaw


If you're in the market for a fresh, Texas-grown Christmas tree this holiday season, plan to spend a day at the Old Time Christmas Tree Farm in Cypress. Visitors are provided with saws and measuring sticks for selecting and cutting a fresh tree, which lasts longer and sheds fewer needles. In the fall, the farm also operates a pumpkin patch.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: There's nothing like the smell of a freshly cut Christmas tree to set the mood for the holiday season.

Lydia's expert tip: The tree farm provides saws and measuring sticks, so no need to bring your own.

Read more about Old Time Christmas Tree Farm →


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Theatre District


During the holidays, Stanton Welch's production of The Nutcracker takes to the stage at the Wortham Theater Center in downtown Houston. The entire company of the Houston Ballet takes to the stage, alongside students from the Houston Ballet Academy, to bring to life this holiday tale. It's a great introduction to ballet, especially for kids.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: The Nutcracker is a quintessential holiday favorite and a yearly tradition for many families.

Lydia's expert tip: Weekend matinee performances throughout December are perfect for families.

Read more about Houston Ballet →


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Medical Center


During this beloved annual event at the Houston Zoo, visitors can stroll through the grounds illuminated by hundreds of thousands of eco-friendly LED lights. Have a chat with Candy the Zoo Lights Zebra, take a selfie in a giant ice throne, share your wish list with Santa and experience a bit of snowfall â€" a rarity in Houston.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: This is one of the nation's best holiday lights displays and a longstanding Houston favorite, especially with families.

Lydia's expert tip: Take an Uber or Lyft, as parking is often a nightmare during the event.

Read more about Zoo Lights →


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Meet Lydia Schrandt

Lydia, Senior Photo Editor and Readers' Choice Production Manager for USA TODAY 10Best, has traveled to more than 40 countries in Europe, Asia and North and South America, and has lived in...  More About Lydia

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