Gridlocked traffic entering downtown didn't stop festive families from making their way into the center of San Antonio Friday night for the 34th annual H-E-B Christmas Tree Lighting and the Ford Holiday River Parade.
In Travis Park, 50,000 red and white lights adorning a 50-foot blue spruce flashed on for the first time during the H-E-B Christmas Tree Lighting, counted down by Santa Claus. This year's theme for the tree was San Antonio's Tricentennial, so the branches of the tree also were decorated with large "300" logos.
"We are bigger and better this year, just like our city," Mayor Ron Nirenberg told the crowd gathered at the park. "But remember, it's still a city that smiles back at you. We are still a place of love and compassion and of saying 'Merry Christmas.'"
Amid the red and white glow was a solitary purple ornament placed to promote awareness of premature births. H-E-B officials announced a $5,000 donation to the March of Dimes.
Following the lighting ceremony, crowds gathered along the San Antonio River Walk and along the bridges over the river to watch as another flip of the switch illuminated the River Walk with countless streams of Christmas lights. That kicked off the Ford Holiday River Parade, which featured brightly lit holiday floats sparkling as they made their way down the river.
The lights will be on for all to enjoy until the end of the year.