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.

Halloween: Hung Up on What to Do?

Halloween what to do?

Much like politics, Halloween causes passionate responses. There are those who feel complete freedom to partake in Halloween festivities along with the pagan symbolism of witches, ghosts, goblins, and black cats.   Then there are those who regard the day as evil and want nothing to do with it.  While others boycott and ignore it completely. Some folks find a happy medium by choosing to take advantage of the evangelistic opportunities in sharing about Jesus to those who come to their door seeking candy. Personally, my family has flipped flopped over the past 25 years concerning our observation of Halloween for various reasons. This year we plan to enjoy a funny movie and family meal to find a happy medium :-) for our daughters who are 25 and 13.

My goal in writing this post is to share information helping those who may be hung up on what to do.

1Peter 3:15 “Worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” So why do you choose to celebrate or not celebrate Halloween? The very next verse 1Peter 3:16 tell us to explain our reasons with gentleness and respect.

Below are some of my frustrations regarding Halloween these days.

  1. According to Forbes, the total for Halloween expenditures is expected to be around $11.3 billion this year. That’s insane!
  2. Seriously, do children need a bag of miscellaneous candy, AKA sugar?  There is no perceived value in giving children sugar, just saying.  Americans will spend $2.2 billion on candy this year according the NRF (National Retail Federation). Considering how much sugar the average American eats daily, is it fair to describe candy as a treat anymore?  Did you know that the average American eats 22 teaspoons of sugar daily which is 75 pounds of sugar yearly, three times more than we need, this according to MSNBC? Unbelievable, right?
    1. According to the CDC, in 2012, more than one-third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese. Sugar activates our brains like cocaine according to Fed Up.  Have you seen the documentary Fed Up? Oh my gosh, you must watch this eye opening documentary.
  3. According to Tsh Oxenreider at the Art of Simple, the majority of the chocolate candy that will end up in your kid’s Halloween goodie bag will be because of child labor, and often child slavery. To learn more, watch the documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate.

However, the common disagreement regarding the observation of Halloween for many Christians revolves around whether it is a celebration of evil thereby having no place in the life of a believer. Again my goal is not to advocate how your family should observe Halloween, however DO educate yourself and participate accordingly.

Let’s begin with the origins of Halloween and below are several helpful articles when

There is a lot of fear surrounding Halloween, but consider 1 John 4:18, “perfect love casts out all fear.”  On the other hand, perfect fear cast out all love.

Christ followers have nothing to fear as we are living in complete victory since Jesus is seated at the right hand of God in Heaven while ruling His kingdom on earth.  Jesus took away the sting of death when He defeated death on the cross, so we have no reason to fear death as His followers. Look at 1 John 4:4  We belong to God. The Spirit, who lives in you, is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.  Nothing can separate us from God’s love and presence!!! This is the good news of God’s love.

However, the bible is very clear in regards to believers having NOTHING to do with the occult, that which is hidden.  Christians should avoid any practice used in an attempt to gain supernatural power or knowledge apart for God’s word.

Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry defines occult as, “that which covers practices that are not approved by God such as:

Occult practices that should be avoided:  Ouija boards, tarot cards, Wicca, astrology charts, contacting the dead, séances, etc.,

Therefore, is dressing up like beloved characters, animals, or icons and going door to door collecting candy partaking in evil?  Of course not. Those walking in freedom have the power of the Holy Spirit to guide them like King David, who prayed, “Teach me good discernment and knowledge, for I believe your commandments.” (Psalm 119:66) We will not be tempted beyond what you can bear. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Could our antagonism toward Halloween alienate those we desire to reach? Is it possible to be in the world, but nor of the world? Christ followers have a unique opportunity if they choose to use Halloween as an outreach.  What other single event brings kids and families to your front door?  Be neighborly, Love your neighbor; turn on the front porch light, to be a light  Matthew 5:16 says, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

I understand and respect the viewpoint of believers choosing to avoid Halloween. They feel they as Christians are different from the world and are obeying God’s Word. See Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with the evil deeds of darkness, but rather expose them;” and 1 Corinthians 10:31 Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

My daughter’s believing English teacher was a former witch, so I sought her perspective. She was very adamant that she no longer has anything to do with Halloween and suggested that it would be best for believers to meet and pray together on Halloween. Perhaps refraining from Halloween and its activities is the safest and most appropriate response for her and those who have past associations with the occult, witchcraft, and sorcery.  1 Corinthians 8:9-11, Romans 14:1-3

Let’s not get hung up judging one another.  Isn’t that what we are doing? How can we accurately judge the motives or intentions of another person’s’ heart? Bottom line, God’s word tells us, do not judge.

With no direct references to Halloween in the Bible, resolving this debate can be a challenge. Romans 14 address what to do when the Bible lacks clear and specific direction. Romans 14:1 in The Message says, “Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions, but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their history. Treat them gently.”

ephesians 5,8

Let’s use Halloween along with all it’s imagery—death, darkness, superstition, expressions of debauched revelry to understand truth for ourselves and equip those we love. Ephesians 5:8 “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”

Whatever level of Halloween participation you choose, I pray you will walk in love having a safe and family fun filled evening.