Austin Holiday Traditions Guide: Making it Work for Covid Edition

Austin Trail of Lights Skyline

With a high percentage of patio-friendly days even in December, Austin may not look like a classic winter wonderland during the holidays. But we have a ton of festive-AF traditions to make the season bright. Some of them are cancelled this year, but many are still on in a slightly different form. So you can get all the ho-ho-ho during co-co-Covid.

Austin Trail of Lights Entrance

Trail of Lights

November 28 – January 3

Austin’s premier holiday event is back again this year, but with a twist. Taking a page from the 2020 movie experience, the 56th annual Trail of Lights is going drive-thru. Experience all your favorite Christmas light displays in Zilker Park, but with the benefit of having your heater cranked up and a cocoa-filled thermos riding shotgun. It’s guaranteed to jumpstart your holiday spirit. 

Tickets must be purchased online for the 20-odd minute joyride through Zilker. This year you can tune in to your own Trail of Lights radio station on 87.9 FM, which will be playing your favorite classic holiday tunes as you wind through the Trail.

Lala's Little Nugget

Lala’s Little Nugget

While Christmas is just rolling around for us this year, it hasn’t stopped at the iconic Lala’s since it opened its doors in 1972. This neighborhood bar on North Burnet is packed from floor to rafters with everything Christmas 365 days a year — and during December they turn it up to 11. This year they can meet all your boozy cocoa, toddy and cider needs while keeping it Covid free: they have a heated patio for those wanting to stay outdoors, plus extensive protocols inside the bar to keep everyone safe. There are also a number of special parties each December, including my personal favorite: Zombie Christmas!

Miracle on 5th St

Miracle on 5th street

November 20 – December 27

This holiday pop-up event hosted by the Roosevelt Room is the swankiest stop on the Austin Holiday Tour. It’s not your average half-drunk bar manager throwing up a couple of strings of lights and snowflake stickers on the window — Miracle is bursting at the seams with merriness and holiday cheer. Set in Downtown Austin, Miracle features a full holiday drinks menu put together by what I consider to be the best cocktail bar in Austin.

Snow Much Fun on Congress

Snow Much Fun on Congress

December 12–14, and 20–25

The JW Marriott’s Edge Rooftop + Bar is bringing out the snow machines this year so Central Texans can get a little taste of powder without all the wrecks and backed-up highways. These holiday-themed nights will feature live music, cocktails, and even s’more roasting over the firepit. The JW is in the middle of the action on Congress Avenue, so you’ll get great views of Downtown Austin while sipping on a Frosty’s Old Fashioned or a Santa’s Cider and enjoying the rare sight of snow in Texas without having to go to the Panhandle.

Blue Genie Art Bazaar

Blue Genie Art Bazaar

November 13 – December 24

The Blue Genie Art Bazaar started back in 2001 as a small side project for Blue Genie Art Industry employees to sell their art to the public for holiday gifts. It has grown into a collection of 200 Austin artists hand selected to provide the most unique gift buying experience in town. The bazaar offers everything you need to shop for those higher-stakes people in your life for whom a gift card just won’t cut it. You can easily fill up your afternoon walking around with a nice cold beer from the popup bar and seeing the coolest, funkiest and best of what local Austin artists have to offer.

This year the Bazaar has implemented plenty of Covid protocols and options to keep your shopping experience safe, including free shopping reservations, online shopping with shipping or pickup, and even personal shoppers who will pick a gift for you to give to your impossible-to-shop-for mother in law.

Traditions To Check Out Next Year

These holiday mainstays took the year off — I hear there’s something going around. But hopefully they’ll be back next year, better than ever.

  • Master Pancake Christmas Show: At Alamo Drafthouse’s R-rated holiday show, the Master Pancake crew channel surfs through holiday specials, mercilessly mocking all the way. It’s interactive, updated every year, and hilarious.
  • Armadillo Christmas Bazaar: The Armadillo Bazaar is another great place to find unique gifts from Austin artists, plus enjoy music from local bands and a bite to eat from area restaurants. 
  • 37th St. Lights: The biggest, weirdest civilian Christmas light display in Austin is a must see. It has been going on in some form since the 80s (with a break for a few years in the early 2000s). Thousands of people walk or drive the stretch of 37th from Guadalupe to Home St. each year to gawk at the lights mixed with fairly un-Chirstmas-y elements like dinosaurs, Baby Yoda and David Hasselhoff.
Clay Sexton

About Clay

Clay is the Co-Founder and Director of Events at Alvies. He’s also the self-proclaimed Indiana Jones of cowboy boots. He slogged through the roughest jungles and ate from the gnarliest nasi goreng warungs (Indonesian fried rice carts) to find the best skins you can cover a foot in. He braved Mexico’s underground boot markets (that’s a thing) and least reputable bars to find a bootmaker who shared our vision. He has slanged boots from polo fields to crawfish boils. He acted as an unlicensed therapist to the overserved and a drunken drama de-escalator while selling boots from our Airstream in the soap opera of downtown Austin. Skilled at import brokering, Clay has gotten boots into this great country through sheer will and an unbridled enthusiasm for pestering bureaucrats.