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We Wish You an Experiential Christmas

My decision to make this holiday season less about things–and more about moments–as we’re walkin’ in the “Winter Wonder Island” of Galveston

By Sara G. Stephens

This year, for my family, the holidays will take a different shape. Rather than materialistic, they will be experiential. Wonderfully, magically, memorably experiential. Each kid will enjoy seeing one beautifully wrapped, meaningful, and thoughtful gift with her name on it under the tree–a gift to be opened on Christmas morning, and appreciated as a symbol of the holiday’s gift-giving tradition. The gift will be something each child can enjoy on Christmas day, for the upcoming months, and perhaps even throughout the next year or two.

The experiential gift our kids receive, however, will offer memories that will be savored for a lifetime. We will infuse the entire holiday season with experiences that will touch every sense: the mouth-watering aroma of a holiday feast, the dazzling sights of a festival of lights, the frosty feel of an icy land, the melodious sounds of carolers who stroll the streets in Victorian frocks, the taste of hot-chocolate that warms frosty feet after an afternoon of ice-skating at an outdoor rink or snow tubing down an icy slide.

The timeline for this experiential gift will not begin and end on Christmas Day. It will thread itself through the Advent of Christmas, through the wonder of Christmas Day, and on through to the celebration of the New Year.

It’s something I feel we’ve been missing in recent years–the savoring of every sound, every sight, every taste, touch, and smell that makes the holiday season fill a person up with a certain joyful lightness. The memory of these experiences is what make us instantly warm at the mere mention of Christmas–even a quiet whisper of the word in July.

This is the gift I decided to give my family this year. Fortunately for me, my husband hopped happily on board with the idea, making the matter of planning this experiential masterpiece much easier. Immediately, we determined that the setting for such an experience would need to hold a special place in our family’s heart–somewhere we had already created a few family memories. It had to be a place that was different, but not unfamiliar. A place separate from home, but easily accessible. Most importantly, a place brimming with a holiday cheer that cozies up to all the senses.

With our short, but vital list composed, we began our research. Within minutes, we had our destination. Galveston Island, the “Winter Wonder Island” of Texas, and the setting for so many rich family memories, checks all the boxes on our list, and we can’t wait to center this year’s experiential holiday gift on everything the area has to offer–and it offers quite a lot.

Galveston, a mere hour’s drive from Houston, features more than 50 days of holiday festivities and more than 1,000 holiday events during the winter season. The island is home to the largest holiday lighting event on the Gulf Coast, Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens, as well as the nationally known Victorian Christmas festival, Dickens on The Strand, among many other attractions.

A new event will light up downtown Galveston this holiday season as part of the island’s eight weeks of “Winter Wonder Island” festivities.

‘Downtown Lanterns and Lights’ will feature a magical display of Christmas trees and other artisan made pieces as they illuminate Saengerfest Park from November 24 through January 2. The park will also feature an interactive photo frame and a giant snow globe that visitors can enter for family photos. The photo props will be available November 25-26 and December 9, 16, and 23.

In addition, performers from ‘America’s Got Talent’ will be featured in the new Cirque Joyeux Noel Dinner & Show taking place December 15-25 at the Moody Gardens Hotel. The show tells an entertaining holiday story through acrobatics, illusions and comedy. The international cast includes The Pompeyo family and their amazing rescue dogs as seen on NBC’s hit show “America’s Got Talent.”

Tickets to the Cirque Joyeux Noel show include a buffet dinner and admission to Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens, the largest holiday lighting festival on the Gulf Coast. Festival of Lights – which includes a mile-long trail of more than 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays, ice skating, snow tubing and more – will take place November 11- January 7. Plus, one of the island’s most popular holiday attractions, ICE LAND, will return to Moody Gardens for its fourth year with a brand new “Rainforest Holiday” theme within a 28,000-square-foot ice sculpture attraction featuring 2 million pounds of ice.

I hope to see some of you on Galveston Island this holiday season. Look for me. I’ll be the one in a Victorian bustle, arm in arm with a charming man in a grey top hat, and holding my kids’ hot chocolate while they slide down the Arctic Ice Slide. Oh, and we’ll all have that look on our faces that says, “I’ll remember this day forever. This is what Christmas is all about.”

For more information on holiday activities in Galveston, visit www.galveston.com/holidaymagic.

 

Plan Your Galveston Holidays

The entire island of Galveston will offer holiday cheer with eight weeks of “Winter Wonder Island” events and festivities.

Here’s a look at what is happening there this holiday season:

“ICE LAND” at Moody Gardens

Date: Nov. 11 – Jan. 7
Time: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Where: Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: $26.95 adults; $21.95 seniors; $21.95 children
Info: www.moodygardens.org/holiday_season

Description: This holiday season, Moody Gardens will be home to the coolest experience on the Gulf Coast, where visitors can explore a 28,000-square-foot “ice land” with a new Rainforest Holiday theme for 2017. Professional ice carvers will use 2 million pounds of ice to create this amazing exhibit featuring majestic rainforest themed ice sculptures, slides and even a Shivers Ice Bar serving cool libations for adults.

 

Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens

Date: Nov. 11 – Jan. 7
Time: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. nightly
Where: Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: $10.95
Info: www.moodygardens.org/holiday_season

Description: Brighten up the wintry season at the 16th annual Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens taking place Nov. 11 through Jan. 7. Here, guests can enjoy the largest holiday lighting event on the Gulf Coast, featuring a mile-long trail of more than 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays. Visitors to the festival can also go ice-skating at the Moody Gardens outdoor ice rink or snow tubing on the Arctic Ice Slide.

 

Holiday Performances at The Grand 1894 Opera House

Date: Nov. 12 – Jan. 13
Time: Varies
Where: The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, TX
Admission: Varies
Info: www.thegrand.com

Description: The Grand 1894 Opera House will kick off the holiday season with a variety of exciting performances, including An Evening with Sophia Loren at 4 p.m. Nov. 12,Willie Nelson & Family at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, STOMP at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 18, Christmas Wonderland Holiday Spectacular at 8 p.m. Nov. 24 and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 25, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 2, The City Ballet of Houston Presents The Nutcracker Dec. 9 and 10, The Texas Tenors: Deep in the Heart of Christmas at 8p.m. Dec. 15, Jerry Jeff Walker at 8 p.m. Dec. 16, and The Official Blues Brother’s Revue at 8 p.m. Jan. 13

 

Downtown Lanterns & Lights

Date: Nov. 24- Jan. 2
Time: Varies
Where: Saengerfest Park, 23rd and Strand Street, Galveston TX
Admission: Free
Info:www.downtowngalveston.org

Description: ‘Downtown Lanterns and Lights’ will feature a magical display of Christmas trees and other artisan made pieces as they illuminate Saengerfest Park from Nov. 24 through Jan. 2. The park will also feature an interactive photo frame and a giant snow globe that visitors can enter for family photos. The snow globe will be available Nov. 25-26 and Dec. 9, 16 and 23.

 

Hotel Galvez Holiday Lighting Celebration

Date: Nov. 24
Time: 6 p.m.
Where: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Free
Info: www.hotelgalvez.com

Description: The historic Hotel Galvez & Spa invites guests to celebrate the start of the holidays Nov. 24 with the official City of Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration.This free event includes a special appearance by Santa Claus, live holiday entertainment by local performers, including the Galveston Ballet, and the lighting of the hotel’s 35-foot Christmas tree. The hotel will offer a special weekend package as part of the event.

 

Holiday Shopping Amid the Victorian Charm of Galveston’s Historic Downtown

Date: Nov. 24 – Dec.24
Time: Varies
Where: Downtown Historic Strand District
Admission: Free
Info: www.galveston.com/holidaymagic

Description: Nothing says holiday like the Victorian charm of Galveston’s 36-block Downtown Historic Strand District. Kick off your holiday shopping amid the district’s charming Victorian architecture for unique gift options at the many boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and other novelty stores. Some festive favorites include Christmas on the Strand, Hendley Market, Eighteen Seventy One, Visker and Scriveners and more.

 

Hendley Green Holiday Kickoff and Tree Lighting

Date: Nov. 26
Time: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Hendley Green Park & Eighteen Seventy One gift shop
Admission: Free
Info: www.galvestonhistory.org/events

Description: Hendley Green Park and specialty gift shop Eighteen Seventy One are coming together to offer a day of family-friendly fun. Children of all ages are encouraged to bring their letters to Santa for mailing off before the holidays in a specially crafted mailbox. Eighteen Seventy One, located adjacent to Hendley Green Park, will welcome guests with special discounts, refreshments, popcorn and more from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.A special prize wheel will be available for a chance to win tickets to Dickens on The Strand, the Galveston Historic Homes Tour and more. Hendley Green Park will offer craft beer from 2 to 7 p.m.,a visit with Santa from 3 to 5 p.m., family-friendly games throughout the afternoon and a special Christmas tree lighting at 6:30 p.m.

 

Victorian Holiday Homes Tour

Date: Dec. 1
Time: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Where: East End Historical District
Admission: $20
Info: www.eastendhistoricdistrict.org

Description: The island’s East End Historical District will hosts its annual Victorian Holiday Homes Tour featuring a variety of private historic homes. The public will be able to explore several private historic homes all decked out for the holidays.

 

44th Annual Dickens on the Strand

Date: Dec. 1 – 3
Time: Varies
Where: Strand St., Historic Downtown Galveston, Galveston, TX
Admission: Friday admission is free. For Saturday/Sunday early bird tickets (purchased before Dec. 1): adults $13; children $7. At the gate: adults $15, children $9
Info: www.dickensonthestrand.org

Description: The first weekend in December, don’t miss Dickens on The Strand. The festival transforms Galveston’s historic Strand Street into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens Dec. 1-3. Enjoy libations at Fezziwig’s Beer Hall on Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday admission is free. On Saturday, festival goers will see characters from Dickens novels walk the streets and costumed vendors peddle their wares from street stalls and rolling carts laden with holiday food and drink, Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry, holiday decorations and gifts. Strolling carolers and roving musicians will fill the area with enchanting sounds from another era as “steam punks” entertain the crowds. Attendees in Victorian costume are admitted for half price.

 

Cheer on the Pier!

Date: Dec. 2, 9, 16 and 23
Time: Varies
Where: Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier (25th Street and Seawall Boulevard)
Admission: Varies
Info: www.pleasurepier.com/stage25.html

Description: Spend Saturdays in December at the Pleasure Pier with Santa! Families can watch holiday movies; enjoy fun festivities and rides! Activities at Santa’s Workshop are from 12. to 4 p.m. and include photos with Santa, letters to Santa and cookie decorating. Holiday movies will take place from 7 to 9 p.m.

 

Sunday Brunch with Santa at Hotel Galvez

Date: Dec.3, 10, 17, 24
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Adults $42.99; children $26.99; seniors $37.99
Info: www.hotelgalvez.com

Description: Hotel Galvez’ famous Sunday brunch will be full of cheer this holiday season with visits from Santa Dec. 3, 10, 17 and 24. Brunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and children are invited to visit with Santa to share their Christmas wish list. Advance reservations are recommended. For more information and to make a reservation, call 409-765-7721.

 

Holiday in the Park

Date: December 9, 2017
Time: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Saengerfest Park, 2302 Strand St., Galveston, TX
Admission: Free
Info: www.galvestonholidayinthepark.com

Description: Bring the family to downtown Galveston’s Saengerfest Park for a day of holiday tunes from area school choirs, bands and church choirs at the annual Holiday in the Park. Children will also be able to visit and take pictures with Santa.

 

Santa on The Strand and other Santa Sightings

Date: Dec. 9, 16 and 23
Time: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Saengerfest Park, 2302 Strand St., Galveston, TX
Admission: Free
Info: www.galveseton.com/holidaymagic

Description: Visitors to downtown Galveston can take part in free festivities held at Saengerfest Park this December. Santa will make a special appearance from 1 to 4 p.m. and will take photos with children in front of the downtown Christmas tree. Be sure to also catch island-wide Santa Sightings throughout the season including photos with Santa at Moody Gardens daily Dec. 15-23, Santa at The Grand 1894 Opera House Nov. 25, Breakfast with Santa at Rainforest Café Dec. 16 and 23, and Breakfast with Santa at The San Luis Resort Blake’s Bistro Dec. 17.

 

Holiday with the Cranes

Date: Dec. 9-10
Time: Varies
Where: Locations vary
Admission: From $25 to $60
Info: www.galvestonnaturetourism.org.

Description: For a unique holiday experience, join the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council for “Holiday with the Cranes.” This annual birding event will be held Dec. 9-10 as outdoor enthusiasts celebrate the arrival of these large, majestic birds of ancient origin. Events include indoor and outdoor nature activities and presentations combined with the ambiance of historical Galveston Island.

 

Cirque Joyeux Noel Dinner & Show at Moody Gardens Hotel

Date: Dec. 15-25
Time: 7:45 p.m.
Where: Moody Gardens Convention Center, 7 Hope Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Prices start at $39 for children and $59 for adults
Info: www.moodychristmasshow.com

Description: Experience the magnificent and the impossible at Moody Gardens this holiday season as it hostsCirque Joyeux Noel Dinner and Show. The show features a stellar cast of international performers from all over the world and includes amazing acrobatics, mesmerizing illusions, hilarious comedy and more.This year’s holiday show features all-new acts including The Pompeyo Family and their amazing rescue dogs featured on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Tickets to the show include a holiday buffet dinner and admission to Festival of Lights.

 

Santa Train at the Galveston Railroad Museum

Date: Dec. 16
Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Galveston Railroad Museum, 2602 Santa Fe Place, Galveston, TX
Admission: $12 adults (ages 13+); $5 train rides (ages 2+)
Info: www.galvestonrrmuseum.com

Description: Santa is coming to town aboard the Galveston Railroad Museum’s Harborside Express train! The museum’s annual Santa Train event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 16. Bring your wish list to visit with Santa, stroll through the museum’s Garden of Steam and enjoy festive holiday lights, decorations and crafts.

 

Santa Hustle Half Marathon & 5K

Date: Dec. 17
Time: 8 a.m.
Where: Moody Gardens
Admission: Varies
Info: www.santahustle.com

Description: Runners will have a “jolly good time” Dec. 17 in Galveston at the annual Santa Hustle! This wacky event will feature thousands of “Santas” along the gorgeous Gulf waters for half marathon and 5K races. All event participants will receive a Santa suit long sleeve t-shirt, a free Santa hat and beard to wear while running, and will be able to stop at cookie and candy stations along their routes.

 

Christmas Day Brunch at Hotel Galvez

Date: Dec. 25
Time: 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Adults $42.99; children $26.99; seniors $37.99
Info: www.hotelgalvez.com

Description: Hotel Galvez is widely known for its Sunday Brunch, but the hotel brunch on Christmas Day is an even grander affair. The hotel features all the traditional entrees along with special features created by the executive chef. Seating times are from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required and must be made directly with the hotel by calling 409.765.7721. Reservations will be accepted beginning Tuesday, Nov. 28.

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