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Written by Jane Kellogg Murray

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 The weekend lights up with holiday events galore—a lighted boat parade in Rockport, a historic Christmas at Lubbock's Candlelight at the Ranch, and Austin's annual favorite, Trail of Lights, debut this weekend.

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While it may be challenging to have a true "White Christmas" in the Lone Star State, at least you can experience a cool one this weekend, with events like Galveston's Dickens on The Strand, Natural Bridge Caverns' annual underground Christmas at the Caverns, and Frost Fest in Palestine.

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There's so much to be thankful for this weekend—including Holiday Wonder, a new, family-friendly holiday lights display in Dallas; San Antonio's Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza, the largest and longest-running mariachi music festival in Texas; and Galveston's Brewmasters Craft Beer Festival, rescheduled to this weekend after Hurricane Harvey.

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From its humble beginnings in 1932 as a cattle showcase, the Houston Rodeo (Feb. 27-March 18) has evolved into a 20-day bonanza filled with the usual rodeo offerings like bull riding and steer roping, but with the addition of amusement park rides, deep-fried treats, shopping, and big-name headliners—this year, two-time Grammy winner Garth Brooks performs on opening night. The event ropes in big-city folk with a spirited parade featuring marching bands and floats through downtown Houston on Feb. 24.

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Rock climbers from all over the world will head to Hueco Tanks State Park and Historic Site in El Paso Feb. 16-18 to dangle from the rocky hills during its 25th annual Hueco Rock Rodeo, an outdoor bouldering competition. Participants climb without the use of traditional gear—that means no ropes and harnesses—as they scale the sides of the park’s enormous boulders by gripping on to naturally occurring holes and ledges. If you prefer your feet firmly on the ground, the event features several non-bouldering events, including a dance party, a food truck circus, and tons of outdoors and fitness vendors.

 

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Since starting in 1975 as a way for homesick Brazilians studying at the University of Texas at Austin to get a taste of home, Carnaval Brasileiro—which will be held this year on Feb. 18—has recreated the joyous, rowdy, and energetic street parades that Rio de Janeiro is famous for. The main event of the evening is a performance by Maracatú Texas, in which dancers and musicians stage a roving musical theater production. Austin’s Carnaval Brasileiro has become the largest indoor carnaval celebration in the United States, with 4,000 attendees packing into the Palmer Events Center to get lost in the intoxicating rhythms of samba drums.

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Can’t make it east to Louisiana for the wild, raucous Mardi Gras festivities? The Cowboy Mardi Gras bash in BanderaFeb. 1-3, features the traditions you know and love—like zydeco bands; Cajun food; and plenty of purple, green, and gold beaded necklaces—but with a distinct twist that only the Cowboy Capital of the World can provide. The 13th annual event is a great excuse to don your mask and boots for three days of dining, dancing, and merriment. Eat to your hearts’ content at the gumbo cookoff, dress your canine to the nines for the dog costume contest, and cheer on floats as they make their way down the parade route.

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For five days in January, in the recuperative lull between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, San Antonio hosts a smashing soiree that both raises money for children’s charities and celebrates the craft cocktail movement. Founded by Mark Bohanon (whose namesake steakhouse may be the swankiest spot in San Antonio to sip a daiquiri) and the late Sasha Petraske (the New York bartender widely credited with kick-starting the modern cocktail revival), the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (Jan. 10-14) makes it easy to duck in for a quick nip of cocktail culture or stay for a weekend-long eye-opener. The conference sells individual tickets to seminars, tastings, and events, so you can join in on a little, or a lot.

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Even if winter doesn’t bring snow to the Texas Gulf Coast, Edna’s Brackenridge Park will on Jan. 20 for the eighth annual Brackenridge Winter Carnival and Snow Day. Every year, the city hosts a day of winter wonder for residents who wouldn’t normally get to experience the icy thrill of the season. The forecast predicts 80,000 pounds of snow—enough to make plenty of snowballs, snowmen, and snow angels in the park’s two snow play areas. Additionally, guests can experience two snow slides (a 30-foot slide provides sledding experience for kids of all ages, but the younger crowd can also enjoy a tamer 20-foot slide), carnival games, inflatables, a s’more-making station, face painting, hayrides, and concessions. Camp on-site the night before for half-off admission.

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For 82 years straight, the residents of Jones County have been kicking up their heels in holiday celebration at the Texas Cowboys’ Christmas Ball in Anson, held this year Dec. 14-16. Modeled after an 1885 dance at the Star Hotel in Anson, the traditional event so inspired country-western musician Michael Martin Murphey that he developed an annual Cowboy Christmas tour, now in its 23rd year, that carries the holiday tradition to performance halls across Texas. This December, Murphey will play six Cowboy Christmas shows in Texas—plus two more in Oklahoma and Colorado—including the Anson ball Dec. 16.

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For more than 25 years, the annual Christmas in Goliad festival has ushered in the holiday season with holiday performances, shopping, and the arrival of good ole St. Nick. During the first weekend in December, Dec. 1-2, this tiny town of fewer than 2,000 people will double in size with visitors from across the United States who have traveled to Goliad to partake in the food, music, and celebration. The celebration has come a long way from its first year in 1983: The lighted parade that was once over in minutes has grown into an hour-long occasion with more than 70 entries. More events have been added over the years, including a living Nativity scene and Presidio La Bahía’s 21st century adaptation of the ancient trade fair. Goliad may be a small town, but for a quarter century, the people have proven that it sure has big Christmas spirit.

 

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’Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the zoo, not a creature was stirring—not even the black howler monkeys, sea lions, and kangaroos. Every winter, the Houston Zoo and its more than 6,000 animals get that festive feeling when the park undergoes its annual holiday makeover: Zoo Lights. During this Houston tradition (Nov. 18-Jan. 14, closed Christmas Eve and Christmas), staff will flip the switch and illuminate more than 2 million lights—a 15-mile display of eco-friendly LED lighting presented by TXU Energy. Visitors can enjoy festive carols, hot chocolate, and Holly Berry: a 1958 Cadillac with a lightshow set to music. Last year ushered in a new tradition: a 33-foot-tall Christmas tree adorned with colorful decorations—the ideal backdrop for holiday selfies.

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