River Parade Kicks Off Host of Holiday Festivities in San Antonio

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A full house at the Arneson River Theatre look on as floats pass by.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Spectators at the Arneson River Theatre cheer as a float in the 2016 Ford Holiday River Parade passes by.

About 100 miles of tinsel, parade festooning, and Christmas lights will adorn parade floats and the San Antonio River Walk’s bridges Friday at the 38th annual Ford Holiday River Parade.

This year, 29 floats will meander down the river, all decorated according to this year’s theme, “Christmas in San Antonio.” Before the parade, the city will celebrate the lighting of the H-E-B Christmas Tree at Travis Park (see other holiday events below).

It’s the largest holiday river parade yet, said Paula Schechter, marketing director for the San Antonio River Walk Association, which organizes the parade.

Tina Sturchio, who decorates floats for all of the River Walk Association’s parades, estimated that this year’s holiday parade took 18 days of preparation and decorating.

“I took Sunday off, that’s it,” she said. “I’m exhausted.”

Every year, the holiday parade brings San Antonio organizations downtown and onto the river on sponsored floats. Both local and national businesses work with parade organizers to pick float designs.

For example, representatives from Longhorn Steakhouse will ride on a “Cowboy Christmas”-themed float this year; three children and two staffers from the Children’s Rehabilitation Institute of TeletonUSA (CRIT) will ride Krispy Kreme’s donut-decorated float, resplendent in costumes created by the University of the Incarnate Word’s fashion department; and the Mariachi Mass at San Fernando promises to bring musical entertainment to the parade.

As soon as the parade floats are broken down and stored away, the association starts thinking about the next year’s parade, Schechter said.

“I don’t think anyone understands the effort that goes into planning this,” she said. “About two weeks after the parade ends, we start planning for the next year.”

Tickets for the parade can be found here. If you are unable to make it downtown Friday, fear not – the parade will be broadcast live from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m on CW35 in the greater San Antonio area.

The river parade was recently nominated for USA Today’s 10 Best Reader’s Choice holiday parades. Voting continues through Dec. 10.

Other holiday events

H-E-B Christmas Tree Lighting: The 34th annual H-E-B tree lighting ceremony starts at 3 p.m. on Friday, and at 6:20 p.m., the 50-foot blue spruce tree from Northern Michigan will light up for the first time. More than 250,000 holiday lights and custom-made ornaments decorate the tree. Holiday activities at the event include cookie decorating, live music, letters to Santa – and Santa himself.

Outdoor movies with Slab Cinema: On Friday, watch cult-classic Christmas movie Elf at Travis Park. Slab Cinema will continue showing holiday-themed movies through December, scattered around San Antonio. Find the full list here.

Holidays in Bloom: Starting Friday, Nov. 24, the San Antonio Botanical Garden is showcasing the changing seasons with its annual Holidays in Bloom exhibition. The garden will be decorated with red ribbons and garlands, complete with a 12-foot Christmas tree at its entryway. Holidays in Bloom is included with general admission, and free for members. The exhibition runs through Dec. 31.

The Pearl’s Holiday Night Market: Starting Thursday, Nov. 29, from 4-8 p.m., the popular holiday night market returns to the Pearl. The night market will reappear on Dec. 6, Dec. 13, and Dec. 20, and feature the Farmers Market and other artisan vendors. Shoppers can enjoy live music and holiday eats like tamales and festive chocolates. Vendors will vary each week. No tickets required.

Chanukah at the Pearl: On Monday, Dec. 3, Young & Jewish San Antonio will return to the Pearl for the fourth year to light the Chanukah Menorah. Menorah lighting starts at 6 p.m. The Menorah will be illuminated each evening of Chanukah. No tickets required.

Midday Noels: On Dec. 6, Dec. 13, and Dec. 20, First Presbyterian Church in downtown San Antonio is hosting free Christmas music concerts. After each concert, a “Grab and Go” lunch will be offered for $3 and a hot lunch for $9. No tickets required. Learn more here.

Big Band Holiday Classics Concert: Local San Antonio music acts will join Jazz, TX owner Brent “Doc” Watkins as he brings the holiday spirit to the Pearl on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. with a performance of his upcoming album, Doc Watkins Christmas in Jazz, TX. He will also sing other holiday classics alongside members of the San Antonio Symphony. No tickets required.

Posada: On Wednesday, Dec. 19, Father David Garcia and Las Misiones will host the second annual Posada at the Pearl. From 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., community members can join the celebration. Las Posadas is a nine-day celebration in Mexico and Latin America, focused on the re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem. There will be live music, children’s crafts, piñatas, and food. No tickets required.

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