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Written by Jane Kellogg Murray

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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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Blend the holiday spirit with a tropical getaway to Galveston’s Moody Gardens as it unveils its annual chilly spectacle, Ice Land, Nov. 11-Jan. 7. A team of expert ice carvers from Harbin, China, travel to the Texas island each fall to spend more than a month creating sculptures and works of art from two million pounds of ice to fit the year’s theme. This year, expect to see frozen versions of a Rainforest Holiday—including playful monkeys, exotic birds, and flitting butterflies—as you walk through a colorful maze of equatorial delights. Gloves, scarves, and hats are necessary accessories (parkas are provided for all guests) as the space is kept at a bone-chilling 9 degrees Fahrenheit. While it may be a challenge to have a true White Christmas in the Lone Star State, you can at least experience a cold one.

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Jingle all the way to weekend fun at these events happening across the state—including winter-themed activities in The Woodlands, Wimberley, San Antonio, Tomball, Arlington, Houston, and Austin.

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The holidays are already in full swing with new seasonal favorites returning—including Holidays at the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Gardens, Ice Land at Moody Gardens in Galveston, and a Lone Star Christmas complete with ice slides and sculptures at the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine.

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November means it's finally time for the holiday season to begin—and with it, events full of holiday spirit. Get your holiday shopping done early this weekend at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, in Tyler during the city's annual Rose City Christmas, or at the Galleria Dallas as it unveils its iconic 95-foot Christmas tree.

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Head to Galveston's Island Oktoberbest, a haunted version of the Texas Zoo in Victoria, or the final weekend of Six Flags Over Texas' Fright Fest—no one will think twice if you spend all of Halloween weekend in costume. 

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Still haven't ironed out your weekend plans? We have plenty of fun event ideas that can take your mind to someplace new.

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