Note: Last updated December 2017.
If I were to write Texas weather a letter, it would begin with:
As Katy Perry would say, “you’re hot and you’re cold,” you’re jeans then you’re shorts, umbrella or scarf? Boots or flip-flops?
Though it feels like a very confused motley of summer and autumn here in Austin, it’s my pleasure to inform you that it’s nearly wintertime! Recognized for its snow-white landscapes and frosty cold temperatures, winter is a time celebrated across all cultures and religions.
Persians celebrate Shabeh Yalda (“Yalda night”), the longest night of the year, an ancient Zoroastrian tradition celebrating the arrival of winter, renewal of the sun, and victory of light over darkness. Buddhists reflect on Bodhi, the day Siddhartha Gautama achieved enlightenment, earning the name Buddha, meaning the “enlightened one.” For Christians, the winter brings cheer and patience, as they celebrate Advent, the time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus, leading to Christmas. Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, is observed for eight days across all nations, commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. African Americans celebrate the festival Kwanzaa, the celebration of life with the seven principles and symbols. In all richness of cultures, we find unity in celebrating the wintertime for all it symbolizes.
As for me, the wintertime marks the transition from light sweaters to layers engulfed by my North Face, the preference change from iced coffee to extra-hot Americanos with steamed soy, and Mahogany Teakwood candles over my summer favorite, Palm Leaves. While I spend most of my winter back home in Houston, or traveling to destinations around the world, I love the few weeks of winter that I spend in Austin while I’m in school. Though as I’m caught up in preparation for finals, it’s easy to miss out on all the holiday spirit Austin has to offer. As a sophomore now, I’ve learned from my experiences and plan to maximize my winter holiday festivities, starting by making this list of some of the top winter-holiday things to do in Austin. Enjoy!
- Ice Skating at Whole Foods in Downtown (Nov 27 – Jan 7*) – even if you’ve never ice skated before, all the fun of making memories with your friends will be worth the few times you slip and fall on the freezing cold ice! For just $5, you’re given music, the perfect backdrop for pictures, a magical view of Downtown Austin’s beautiful skyline, and even the option to buy a cup of hot cocoa. Unfortunately, I missed this opportunity last year, though this year I certainly plan on going!
(P.S. I will gladly be the Thumper to your Bambi if we go ice skating)
- Santa’s Ranch (Nov 3 – Dec 31*) – from the warmth of your car, get a group of friends together and drive through a winding country road decorated in Christmas lights and displays, complimented by homemade kettle corn or hot cocoa.
- Elgin Christmas Tree Farm (Nov 24 – Dec 18*) – fields of Christmas trees make for the best holiday pictures, and what better way to bring the holiday spirit than the refreshing scent of evergreens in the open air. Plus, there’s even a little animal farm for visiting, hayrides, and a maze! (P.S. you can take the perfect holiday Instagram picture here! I know I will)
- 37th Street – much like the Heights in Houston, 37th St. is an Austin tradition. From all the research I’ve done, the reputation these lights have made beg the qualifier, “Keep Austin Weird.” Quirky lights in a quirky little-big city.
- Trail of Lights (Dec 9 – 23*) – whether it be with a group of friends or a first date for a budding romance, the Trail of Lights in Zilker Park is one of my personal favorite traditions. The home of ACL, Zilker provides the perfect wintery backdrop as you walk through the pathways of flickering lights, under the starry skies. My first time at the Trail of Lights was with a group of friends during my freshman year, after we finished studying for finals (for the night), we took the bus to the lights then walked all the way back to campus!
- Capitol Christmas tree lighting (Dec 2*) – just a short walk away from campus, the Capitol celebrates the holidays with their annual Christmas tree lighting. With live music, entertainment, and free food, Austin’s Congress Ave. turns into a holiday getaway with a noble cause. While you’re there, spread the holiday spirit and support the City of Austin by bringing by canned goods for donation to the Capitol Area Food Bank.
- Mozart’s Lights – it’s a fair statement to say that if you’re a student at UT, you’ve seen the Christmas lights at Mozart’s at least once in your four years here. Mozart’s is the perfect place to go with friends, order hot chocolate, coffee, or tea, and sit by the lake, admire the lights, and talk for hours. I absolutely love Mozart’s, and during the holidays, it packs a just a little extra charm.
Whichever holiday tradition you celebrate, be sure to check out some of the beautiful sights Austin has to offer. As you can see by this list, I really love Christmas lights and walking under the stars. And hey, if it’s not too cold, bring a blanket to a South lawn, pour some hot tea in a thermos, bring some speakers and stargaze with friends! I truly hope this list helped get you in the holiday spirit, just as it’s making me excited as I write it!