It’s beginning to look a lot like HallowThanksChristmas in North Texas.
While we’ve all been looking the other way — at the creepy ghouls and autumnal oranges and golds of this weekend’s Halloween festivities — the twinkling lights and festive reds and greens of December have crept into the literal and proverbial holiday landscape, too.
It’s not just retailers that are “fa-la-la-la-la-ing” in fall this year. Area Christmas-themed attractions and arts-and-entertainment venues are filling up November calendars.
On a sunny day the first week of October, crowds buzzed around the Dallas Arboretum’s 75,000-gourd Pumpkin Village, while workers on the other side of the garden readied the 12 Victorian gazebos that make up an outdoor “12 Days of Christmas” event. This year, the “12 Days” display opens Nov. 8 and ends Jan. 3. (Pumpkin Village closes Nov. 25.)
At the Gaylord Texan in Grapevine, during the third week of October, Chinese ice artisans were hard at work carving the blocks into magnificent sculptures for the annual ICE! attraction that opens as part of the resort’s Lone Star Christmas celebration, on Nov. 12.
And, for the first time, the XTO Energy Parade of Lights, lighting of the Sundance Square Christmas tree and grand entrance of Santa Claus into downtown Fort Worth take place the Sunday before Thanksgiving — Nov. 22.
While all the merriment may seem to reduce Thanksgiving dinner to another event that has to be penciled in on the calendar (it’s Nov. 26, if you’re doing that), some event representatives say early Christmas activities have advantages for families.
“After Halloween, everyone is looking forward to the holiday season,” says the Gaylord’s marketing director, Martha Neibling. “It is a time for families and friends to enjoy fun festivities and make great memories together.”
When the Parade of Lights began more than 30 years ago, downtown Fort Worth was not exactly a weekend destination. With the influx of shopping, dining and family-friendly entertainment venues like Sundance Square Plaza, the area is packed with people around the clock, says Claire Bloxom Armstrong, spokeswoman from Downtown Fort Worth Initiatives Inc.
“We believe [the Sunday before Thanksgiving] is the best date to improve parade access, parking availability and convenience for everyone involved,” Armstrong says. “Also, because students have the following week off for Thanksgiving break, we are able to maintain the event’s family-friendly nature.”
The same student-centric approach is taken by the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The museum screens the holiday family film The Polar Express each year and hosts Polar Pajama Parties to give children a chance to feel like they are in the story. The Polar Express returns this year on Nov. 21, while the Polar Pajama Parties begin after Thanksgiving.
“Typically, The Polar Express schedule is designed to coincide with public school student holidays, hence the Nov. 21 date for the film’s debut this season,” says Rebecca Rodriguez, the museum’s executive director of marketing and communications.
Scheduling holiday activities isn’t always easy in a calendar year like this one. Thanksgiving is always on the fourth Thursday in November, but that date can fall between Nov. 22 and 28. While there were five Saturdays in November last year, this year only has four.
And then there’s that revered day for retailers called Black Friday, another driving force behind early event scheduling, including Parade of Lights. Since its inception, the parade has taken place the Friday after Thanksgiving.
“Downtown has changed a lot since the parade began in 1983,” Armstrong says. “Now with more retailers in place, having a successful Black Friday is important to the continued success of retailing and attracting more shops. We need more big nights in downtown, and moving the parade to Sunday adds one to the calendar.”
At Galleria Dallas, the decoration and raising of “the world’s tallest indoor Christmas tree” starts Nov. 8. (Official tree lighting is Nov. 27.) Shoppers, naturally, are the driving force behind the tree-lighting schedule.
According to a 2015 National Retail Federation holiday spending survey, approximately 40 percent of shoppers say they begin their holiday shopping before Halloween and 41.5 percent begin in November.
“Nearly a third of the 19 million visitors to Galleria Dallas each year come during the holiday season,” says Martha Hinojosa, Galleria Dallas marketing director. “We find that there are two busiest weekends — and they really highlight different shopping styles. Of course, Black Friday and the weekend are amazingly busy. The weekend before Christmas, in this case Dec. 19-20, has become almost as busy.”
The 95-foot tree takes several days to install and decorate and has been raised on the same weekend for a few years. Though the shopping experience is a tourist attraction for many, the addition of the tree and the ice skating rink make for a full day of activities.
“Several years ago, we made the move to make the holiday experience available for at least six weeks,” Hinojosa says. “This helps accommodate both local visitors as well as the international and domestic travelers who make the center a key destination during the season. We’ve found that our international guests enjoy kicking off their holiday celebration here, where shopping is such an easy part of the lifestyle.”
Families also travel throughout the season, so the longer dates allow for more time to attend events that stay open for an extended period of time. Earlier opening dates also mean local visitors get to enjoy attractions before the the biggest holiday crowds arrive from out of town.
“ICE! is open every single day of the holiday season including Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day — when the majority of businesses or entertainment venues are closed,” the Gaylord’s Neibling says. “We see a large number of families, many of whom have visiting guests or family from out of town, come to enjoy all of the festive holiday decor and activities together.”
In Fort Worth, one of the first pre-Thanksgiving Christmas events is Starlight Symphony, a music and light show in the West 7th shopping district. The holiday-themed event starts Nov. 20, and the kickoff party features horse-and-carriage rides, carolers, and a real snow-sledding hill. It also marks Santa’s first appearance in Fort Worth this season.
“We wanted to maximize the amount of time that people can come enjoy the light show,” says Angela Hall, spokeswoman for the event, who anticipates a crowd of 1,500-2,000 on opening night. “We … did not want [the opening-night event] to compete with Thanksgiving or other area events around that time.”
Last year, the Dallas Arboretum’s “12 Days” exhibit opened Nov. 16. This year, the transition from fall to winter holidays takes place a week earlier.
“We like to say that you get two exhibits for the price of one — ‘Autumn at the Arboretum’ and ‘The 12 Days of Christmas,’ ” says Mary Brinegar, arboretum president and CEO.
Opening night Nov. 8 includes the lighting of a 30-foot Christmas tree and a dozen gazebos, each representing one of the days in the classic carol.
“Because of the size, scale and design of the gazebos, it takes eight weeks to assemble, so we want to be sure to give people plenty of opportunity to visit this must-see exhibit,” Brinegar says. “That’s why we opened it in mid-November last year and a week earlier this year, so even more people can see it.”
The arboretum expects a big crowd throughout the season, though weekends are busiest. Visitors who have been watching the progress of the gazebos have gotten their holiday appetites whetted.
“Guests keep asking when they can see the final product,” she says. “New this year are 500,000 additional evening lights in the trees and garden, so our exhibit will be even brighter.”
Christmas in November
Select events that take place before Thanksgiving:
Nov. 8: Dallas Arboretum opens “The 12 Days of Christmas” (www.dallasarboretum.org).
Nov. 8-11: Galleria Dallas Christmas Tree Raising (www.galleriadallas.com)
Nov. 12: Lone Star Christmas and ICE! open at the Gaylord Texan (www.marriott.com).
Nov. 13: Irving Berlin’s White Christmas opens at Artisan Center Theater in Hurst (http://artisanct.com).
Nov. 20: Starlight Symphony kickoff in West 7th (http://west-7th.com)
Nov. 20-21: Ballet Frontier of Texas’ The Nutcracker at Will Rogers Auditorium (www.balletfrontier.org)
Nov. 20: Miracle on 34th Street opens at Dallas Children’s Theater (www.dct.org).
Nov. 21: The Polar Express opens at the Omni IMAX theater (www.fwmuseum.org).
Nov. 21: Southlake hosts its Tree Lighting Ceremony (www.visitsouthlaketexas.com).
Nov. 21: Artisan Center Theater in Hurst presents Madeline’s Christmas (http://artisanct.com).
Nov. 22: XTO Energy Parade of Lights, Sundance Square tree-lighting and Santa’s arrival (www.fortworthparadeoflights.org)
Nov. 24-25: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Musical plays at Bass Hall (www.basshall.com).
Nov. 25: A Christmas Carol opens at Dallas Theater Center (www.dallastheatercenter.org).