San Antonio's annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza includes the Serenata en el Rio (Serenade on the River) at the Rivercenter Mall Lagoon. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

San Antonio’s annual Mariachi Vargas Extravaganza includes the Serenata en el Rio (Serenade on the River) at the Rivercenter Mall Lagoon. (Photo by J. Griffis Smith)

It’s a chilly Saturday morning in December, and a line 300-people long has formed across the street from the San Antonio Museum of Art. Some folks fidget with anticipation, others chat calmly as they check gift lists, nibble on cinnamon-dusted buñuelos, and sip steaming cups of coffee and cocoa. The orderly queue inches toward a beige warehouse with an austere exterior that belies the treasures inside. At last, the doors swing open, and it’s go time at the global shopping gala/grab-a-thon known as Bazar Sábado.

Throughout the year, museum scouts venture to Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Asia, and other locales in search of distinctive gift items for the annual “Saturday Bazaar” (December 12, 2009). New for this year: vibrant scarves and carved santos from Guatemala, African baskets and tribal masks, jade and macrame necklaces from China, clothing and jewelry from Thailand, Russian nesting dolls, and Mexican movie posters. Local collectors and a major gallery will donate pieces for the sale, as well.

The market stays open until midafternoon, but seasoned Bazar-goers start arriving before sunrise to get the best selection. Once the amiable brouhaha begins, there’s no time to ponder whether Aunt Pearl would appreciate a carved gourd bowl from Panama, or if that hand-loomed Oaxacan rug complements the couch. If you like something, nab it, and move on. The dizzying frenzy is matched only by the mind-boggling assemblage of traditional art and textiles from around the world.

Such cultural richness and infectious energy infuse San Antonio during the holiday season. Last year, TH Photography Editor Griff Smith spent several December days documenting the Alamo City’s blend of Yuletide tradition and serendipity for these pages: The decades-old lighted parade, cruising boat-carolers, glowing luminarias, and twinkling trees along the River Walk. Furry encounters at the Blessing of the Animals in Market Square. The festive productions, Snow Hill, and illuminated roller coasters at Fiesta Texas. San Fernando Cathedral’s powerful Gran Posada procession reenacting Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter.

And then there was that spirited shopping spree on a chilly Saturday.

Holiday in the Park, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Nov. 27, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010

Snow-sledding in San Antonio? You bet your tinsel-thanks to Six Flags Fiesta Texas’ Frosty Chutes Snow Hill. Colorful lights and strolling, costumed characters also transform the park, which offers special holiday shows, including the Majesty of Christmas (the story of the Nativity), Happy Holidays! (contemporary Christmas music), and Sounds of the Season (backed by Santa’s Brass Quintet). Santa’s Castle (the jolly one and his helpers are there) and a 60-foot tree offer photo ops-and chilly thrills await on the roller coasters and other rides. 17000 1-10 West. Closed Dec. 24-25. Call for special seasonal hours and ticket prices, 210/697-5050;

Tree-lighting at Alamo Plaza, 3 p.m.–7 p.m., Nov. 27

The 25th annual H-E-B tree-lighting celebration begins midafternoon on Alamo Plaza (300 Alamo Plaza) with holiday music by local bands, balloon-artist “elves,” face-painting, and other enticements. At 6:20, Santa arrives by horse-drawn carriage to illuminate the SS-foot white fir tree in front of the State Shrine. Admission: Free. Call 210/938-7010.

Blessing of the Animals, Market Square, noon– 6 p.m., Dec. 5

Come all ye faithful pets and people. At noon, humans and their beloved animal cohabitants (mostly dogs and some cats, but snakes, iguanas, and even goats have shown up) parade through Market Square (514 W. Commerce). Then from 1-2 p.m., a priest blesses the furry (and scaly) friends in honor of the animals present at the manger. Mariachis, food and crafts booths, a petting zoo, and Ballet Folklórico performances—along with Market Square’s usual blend of shops, galleries, restaurants, the mercado, and Museo Alameda—keep things hopping. Event admission: Free. Call 210/207-8605;

Bazar Sábado, San Antonio Museum of Art, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., Dec. 12

The annual global folk-art market features items from Guatemala, China, Thailand, Africa, Russia, Mexico, and the U.S. Southwest. 200 W. Jones Ave. (across the street from the museum). Admission: $3, free age 11 and younger. Call 210/978-8100;

Art.i.copia, Southwest School of Art & Craft, 9:30 a.m.–5 p.m., Dec. 12

Enjoy refreshments and browse an array of contemporary art in the SSAC’s Gallery Shop: glass pieces, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and jewelry—made by local and national artists. On the Ursuline Campus, at 300 Augusta. Admission: Free. Call 210/ 224-1848;

La Gran Posada, San Fernando Cathedral, 6 p.m. Dec. 20

The candlelight procession, which reenacts Mary and Joseph ‘s search for lodging in Bethlehem, winds from Milam Park (501 w. Commerce) to Market Square, past City Hall and the County Courthouse, then ends at San Fernando Cathedral (115 Main Plaza). Participants follow costumed actors (portraying Mary, Joseph, and others) and sing traditional Posada songs. Admission: Free. Call 210/227-1297;

River Walk Holiday Events

Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Ceremony, 7 p.m. Nov. 27

A flip of the switch by Mayor Julian Castro illuminates the River Walk’s dazzling spectacle of lights and ushers in the evening’s festivities. Tens of thousands of parade-goers gather along the banks and on bridges to watch lighted floats carrying celebrities (talk-show host Cleto Rodriguez will be the grand marshal) and musical entertainment (including The Krayolas) drift along the storied waterway. Santa and his reindeer make an appearance, as well. Reserved seating available; call for prices.

Ford Holiday Boat Caroling, 6:30 p.m.–9:45 p.m. Nov. 28–Dec. 20

Do you hear what I hear? Every night, cruising choral and instrumental groups spread the season’s spirit, including Latino and folk ensembles, school and church choirs, orchestras, and bell choirs. Outdoor diners occasionally receive a personal serenade.

Fiestas de las Luminarias, Dec. 4–20 (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, beginning at dusk)

(Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, beginning at dusk) In addition to the electric effulgence, thousands of gleaming luminarias line the river bank, symbolically lighting the way for the Holy Family.

Holiday Arts & Crafts Show, 10 a.m.–11 p.m. Dec. 11–13

Shop for handmade pottery, art, and jewelry by local and regional artisans in the festive riverside setting between Rivercenter Mall and Casa Rio restaurant.

Museum Reach, Dec. 19, 2009-Jan. 3, 2010

A lighting exhibit will brighten the River Walk’s new Museum Reach extension, which showcases engaging public art. Sites along the 1.3-mile stretch will host holiday activities, as well. Stay up-to-date at

From the December 2009 issue

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