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Christmas-centric Waco weekend opens seasonal events
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Christmas-centric Waco weekend opens seasonal events

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Call it pent-up demand for in-person Christmas celebrations that largely went virtual or postponed altogether due to COVID-19, but there's a lot of Christmasing in store this weekend, from tree lighting, Santa visits and light displays to holiday decorations and shopping.

Kicking much of that off Friday night — at least the holiday activities that didn't crank up after Thanksgiving — is a fuller Waco Wonderland at downtown's Heritage Square, with gatherings now allowed for the lighting of the city's holiday tree, visits with Santa and a Saturday morning Christmas parade down Austin Avenue.

Last year many of the city's holiday celebrations went online as COVID-19 cases started to soar. That interrupted the growing community participation in Waco Wonderland, a weekend of Christmas activities, eating and shopping centered at Heritage Square.

"In 2018 and 2019, we really hit our stride with how the event was flowing," said city of Waco Parks and Recreation Director Jonathan Cook. More than 7,500 people had turned out for the Friday night Christmas tree lighting and fireworks, with weekend attendance averaging some 25,000 people, he said.

Crowds that size may not return this weekend, but they'll be real and not virtual ones, with the return of the Christmas tree lighting at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by fireworks by Powershows and a Christmas parade organized by Family of Faith Worship Center at 10 a.m. Saturday. The parade begins at S. 11th Street and Austin Avenue, proceeding down Austin to Heritage Square.

Sliding down Snow Tube Hill on inner tubes will come back from 3 to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday, for a $10 wristband allowing unlimited rides.

Approximately 40 Waco Wonderland vendors and more than 20 food trucks will operate at the Mistletoe Market from 5 to 7 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 6 p.m Sunday. In addition to Snow Tube Hill, a Ferris wheel and performances from local dance, music and community groups, activities include live reindeer on Friday night, visits and pictures with Santa at the Santa House during the weekend, and a petting zoo from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday.

Wonderland planners waited for a green light from public health authorities before committing to in-person activities this year and got that slightly more than a month ago, Cook said, praising his staff and other organizers for the quick event planning.

This year's Wonderland does have community safety in mind with the coronavirus still in circulation, with waiting lines for the Snow Tube Hill and Ferris wheel configured with social distancing in mind, Cook said. Hand-washing stations also will be scattered throughout the Wonderland grounds. Masking and social distancing is still recommended.

Historic Christmas

Also returning to in-person participation is Historic Waco Foundation's Christmas on the Brazos held at its three historic homes, Earle-Napier-Kinnard House, 814 S. Fourth St.; East Terrace, 100 Mill St.; and McCulloch House, 407 Columbus Ave.

Sit-down dinners at each house start the weekend on Friday night — sorry, but no walk-ups as reservations closed on Nov. 29 — with the homes open for public tours Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast with Santa, a traditional part of Christmas on the Brazos, will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the Earle-Napier-Kinnard House and grounds, complete with a hot cocoa bar and an appearance by the Grinch. Breakfast admission is $15.

House tour hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and 1-4 p.m. Sunday, with admission of $5, $4 for senior adults, free for military personnel. Home tours will run through Dec. 19.

"It's festive, festive, festive for the weekend," said HWF executive director Jill Barrow.

Other Christmas events include:

  • Baylor University students, faculty, staff and alumni can welcome the Christmas holidays at Christmas on Fifth from 5 to 10 p.m. Friday on campus at the Bill Daniel Student Center and Fountain Mall with a lighting of the Baylor Christmas tree at 8 p.m.
  • Wild Lights, a holiday illumination of the Cameron Park Zoo, continues through Jan. 9 with hours of 6-9:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays and 6-10 p.m. Fridays-Sundays at the zoo, 1701 N. Fourth St. Admission is $15, $12 for children 3 to 12 years old and free for children 2 and younger.
  • The shopping goes seasonal at Christmas at the Silos at Magnolia Market, 601 Webster Ave., through Dec. 23. Shopping hours extend to 6 to 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and Santa Claus appears daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Magnolia Press. Mrs. Claus gets her say in Storytime with Mrs. Claus at 11 a.m., 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. daily at the church, 418 S. Eighth St. Locals Night is from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday with admission $10, ages 12 and under free.
  • Hewitt lights its Christmas tree from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Hewitt Park.
  • The Mayborn Museum turns on its holiday nighttime twinkling for Christmas Lights in the Village, held 6 to 8 p.m. Dec. 10-12 and 17-19 at the museum's Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village. Admission is $10.
  • Downtown shops and offices warm up the chocolate and more for the annual Cocoa Crawl from 4 to 8 p.m. Dec. 17.
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