Looking for Holiday Fun in Austin, Texas?

Zilker Christmas tree

Are you needing help to create some new traditions with family and friends this season? Austin has some of the best activities during the holidays with fun for everyone.

Last year I shared the value of establishing Meaningful Family Traditions, which are practices or beliefs that help create positive feelings, a sense of belonging, and are often repeated regularly. Many traditions are handed down from generation to generation, but every family can create its own traditions as well. Many family traditions center around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Below are various holiday events in and around Austin, Texas.

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NOVEMBER 2014

  • The UT Austin International Office is looking for local community members to host international students or scholars for the Thanksgiving holiday. This is a wonderful opportunity for cultural exchange, meaningful connections, and the sharing of diverse holiday traditions! Although this is a one-day commitment, you are welcome to continue the cultural exchange with your Thanksgiving Dinner match if the opportunity arises.
    • If you are interested in hosting, please complete the online application by Friday, November 14th. Matches will be coordinated and notifications will be sent out by Wednesday, November 19th. Click for the application. Any questions, please feel free to email intercultural@austin.utexas.edu
  • Mission Possible Great Thanksgiving Banquet November 23rd 8am-2pm. A wonderful service opportunity to love those on the street of Austin.
  • Chuy’s Parade 29th at 11am Downtown.
  • Zilker Holiday Tree Lighting of the tree will be November 30, 2014 at 6pm. Tree will be on display nightly December 2 – 31 from 6pm –midnight.
  • Find a real Texas Christmas Tree to bring home and decorate. Oh what fun it is to head out to a tree farm in search of the perfect tree.  It is an experience cutting it down and tying it to the roof of the car. In the past we have gone to Elgin.

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DECEMBER 2014

  • Handel’s Messiah performed by The Austin Symphony at Hyde Part Baptist Church, on December 2nd at 8pm
  • Lights of Love 5K December 5th at the Mueller Hanger from 5:30-8:30pm
  • Main Street Bethlehem in Burnet, TX December 5th, 6th 7th and 12th 13th 14th 6:00-9:00pm nightly
  • Ballet Austin: The Nutcracker Opens December 6 – 23rd.
  • Trail of Lights December 7-21st
    Downtown Stoll & Holiday Sing-Along December 6th starting at 6 p.m. gather on the south steps of the Capitol to sing the songs of the season. From 7-9 Congress Ave. will be celebrating the holiday cheer as local shops, restaurants, galleries and museums will be open late with special offers.
  • Cherrywood Art Fair December 13 & 14th  (Saturday and Sunday) 10am – 5pm at Maplewood Elementary
  • Trail of Lights 5K by Humana on December 15th
  • Armadillo Christmas Bazaar December 16-24th 11am-11pm daily at Palmer Events Center.
  • His-Story A Story of Redemption December 18th – 21st night from 6:30-8:30 at 1190 Chicon St.
  • LBJ Tree Lighting December 21st. Families are encouraged to come out to the park and plan to enjoy a delightful experience as the park transitions from daytime to nighttime in festive holiday fare. Lights, bows, luminaries, garland and wreaths adorn the buildings in the park. Even the nature trails are dressed in their holiday best.
  • Austin’s New Year (ANY) December 31 from 5-10pm at Butler Park . Come welcome in 2015 with Austin families. ANY is an alcohol-free celebration. Exciting fireworks finale!

Holiday fun in Dallas area.

Holiday fun in Houston area

Wishing you a warm and happy holiday season.

Don’t Be a Grinch Kindness Matters

welcomechristmasGary Chapman has defined kindness as discovering the joy of helping others. Indeed there is so much joy to be had when we help others.

Instead of getting swept away by the hustle and bustle of holiday cheer, may I encourage you to seek to have eyes to see the unseen, arms to embrace, a glowing smile and words to encourage? It’s easy to become so involved in our to-do lists that we fail to see the needs of those around us.  Then, once we see the needs, we must choose to respond accordingly which will usually cost us our time and resources. However, there is great joy to be had and our children learn by our examples.

Several sweet memories I have as a mom are while serving alongside my children. It is so precious to watch a child give to to others, whether it is a smile, hug, food, sleeping bag, etc. For many Thanksgivings, we served the homeless population of Austin through Mission Possible. Because my girls began serving at a young age, I believe it helped them to have the mindset that extending kindness is what we do.  I remember the family we adopted that was going through a serious health crisis and we bought gifts for all the children and surprised them by delivering a Christmas tree and the gifts to their door. These memories have stayed with me and inspired many more adventures bringing joy to needy families in our community.

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May I challenge you this season to look around for opportunities to extend kindness? Actually, you just need to look below as I have compiled a list to make it easy ;-)

  • Mission Possible Austin: The Great Thanksgiving Banquet 11/23/2014 (Sun 8:00AM – 2:00PM)  This is a 20 year tradition serving the homeless and street community of Austin. My family has participated many times in the past beginning when my daughters were 6 and 4. There are various ways to participate.
  • Mission Possible Austin has numerous ways to serve the Austin community.
  • Volunteer at the Capital Area Food Bank to serve meals to others. There are several ways to serve. Volunteers as young as 8 are allowed making it this a great family service opportunity.
  • Project Santa is headed up by Austin Children’s Services.
  • Angel Tree  is a ministry that reaches out to the children of inmates and their families with the love of Christ.
  • Operation Christmas Child A small shoebox can have a big impact. What goes into the box is fun, but what comes out of it is eternal. Be a part of changing children’s lives all over the world in Jesus’ Name through the power of a simple gift with Operation Christmas Child.
  • The Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Catalog allows your family to financially provide clean water, emergency supplies and shelter, food, medicine, etc. to those in improvised areas around the world.  As you look through their catalog you will be able to see the scope of their work and choose as lead. Then consider praying for men, women, and children around the world who are in desperate circumstances especially those you invest in.
  • Compassion International has hundreds of children from all over the world wanting to be sponsored.
  • Brown Santa provides assistance to families in Travis County who live outside the geographical city limits of Austin. Their goal is to provide assistance to families in need.
  • Blue Santa brings Christmas cheer to families who might not otherwise have gifts and food. The organization was started by the Austin Police Department in 1972 and includes the Texas National Guard, the Austin Fire Department, Austin Water and Austin Energy.

Other practical ways to bless others during the holiday season.

  • Visit a local retirement center or nursing home. Be sure to call and find out the best time to visit.  A few ideas to bring holiday cheer would be to sing Christmas carols, read a book out loud, or just visit.
  • Offer to decorate the yard or house of an elderly neighbor.
  • Adopt a needy family.
  • Throw a birthday party for Jesus with neighborhood kids.
  • Go Christmas caroling to bring good cheer.
  • Make Christmas candy with friends, and then share with neighbors, teachers, or family.
  • Invite others over on Thanksgiving or Christmas who do not have family close by. Living in a college town with lots of international students has provided many opportunities for my family to host others.
  • Take the time to appreciate one another.  So often during the year we forget to hug and thank people.
  • Make a special treat for others. Bake and deliver pies to special people, (friends, mentors, helpers, neighbors).
  • We buy less presents for each other and buy lots of presents for a family who can’t.
  • We go to the Blue Santa headquarters and wrap presents.
  • We’ve gone through various organizations over the years to adopt a family for Christmas, providing gifts, food etc. Important to involve children in choosing, wrapping and delivering the gifts (we would have them take some things off their own Christmas lists so they understood sacrificial giving).
  • Invite neighborhood children over to make gingerbread houses, read the Christmas story to them while they are there. As your own children get old enough to help, do this as a service to neighbors, allowing them to drop their children off for an afternoon while they get things done.
  • Make a thank you gift for those who serve you throughout the year (housekeeper, mail carrier, trash collector, barista, etc.)

Here are tons of ideas for year round community outreach, Impact.

What can you do this holiday season to show kindness to others?  Share some of the practical ways your family shows kindness to others.

This is the Christmas Journal we have used for the past 20 years.

A Christmas Journal Helping to Create Christmas Memories

Our 1998 Christmas update in photos. We were living in California at the time.

Christmas wouldn’t be the same if we couldn’t get in touch with all the friends and family who mean so very much.  Anonymous

Staying in touch with family and friends really does mean so much thus one of our favorite traditions during Christmas is writing and sending out a family newsletter along with an updated photo. We began doing this shortly after having our first child.  Much has changed since we started this tradition thanks to the affordability of home computers, printers, and personal blogs.  Our first Christmas letter was handwritten (see below photo).  Last year I was able to post our update on my blog but I still had to mail it.  Our purpose in sending out a yearly update is to share with family and friends God’s faithfulness to our family. Jon always adds a humorous touch as well. When the girls began their updates it added a different dynamic.  Having moved thirteen times in our 27 years of marriage has given us the opportunity to accumulate friends near and far whom we try to keep up with. Updates are a little more personal than signing a card or sending an email.

I don’t know about you but there is a special kind of happiness I experience when I walk to the mailbox and find a personal letter. Just the other day my eldest daughter sent me a handwritten note saying she was counting down the days till she was home.  Her note lifted my spirits and made my day.  

The thoughtful note Caryn sent me. Notice it’s nothing fancy or expensive. However, it’s the thought that counts and she took time to comunicate with me.

I relish receiving updates from friends and family. Pictures included often decorate our refrigerator.  Sadly, because of social media, busyness, and the expense, many people no longer send cards, updates or photos.  It doesn’t seem like Christmas when we are unable to get around to taking a family photo and chronicling our year.  I know we will be lucky to get ours out by New Years this year because we want to include a family photo and the girls get home next week.  Regardless of when it goes out we will have communicated with family and friends that they are thought of and we will add to our journal.

An unexpected memory that has come out of our diligence in sending out a yearly family update and photo is being able to go back and review the previous years. One day I look forward to sharing our journal with son in laws and grandchildren who desire to hear what their moms did for Christmases past.  I found a Christmas journal where I currently keep all of our updates and photos.  Sadly, this is the last year for the book therefore I will look for a cute scrapbook of sorts to continue our tradition.

If you are interested in creating a yearly Christmas journal  I’d suggest using a binder or scrapbook so you can add to it and place your photos and letters in sheet protectors. This will allow little hands to easily flip through the pages and it will stay in order.  It’s fun to go back and reminisce over years gone by and be reminded just how blessed we have been.