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Dear Readers, This is my review of last year’s Christmas lights, which were wrapped, not draped. After squirrels chewed through the wrapped lights–reminds me of the time a squirrel chewed through the hammock hanging from our Red Oak–city officials decided to go back to draped lights. The 2012 lights are still the more energy-efficient LED lights, but I don’t want you to be expecting wrapped lights because of the photos from this 2011 blog post. I also encourage you to try out the newish (third annual) Museum Reach’s River of Lights this year. Cheers, Denise (updated Dec. 2, 2012)

When I heard that the holiday lights on the San Antonio River Walk had been changed, I was skeptical. The day after Thanksgiving through the Feast of the Epiphany in early January has always been my favorite time of the year in downtown San Antonio. Twinkle lights in the trees along the River Walk at night create a magical space that transports you into a different realm.

The City of San Antonio’s Office of Historic Preservation hosted a Downtown Holiday Lights Tour on Thursday, Dec. 8, for $15, so I decided to go and see if the new lights were going to be a disappointment or not. I’m here to tell you they are NOT. I’m also here to tell you that if you haven’t been downtown to enjoy the lights, you are definitely missing out. Parking is free at meters after 6 p.m., or you may park in one of the city’s downtown garages. The Office of Historic Preservation recommended the one at 400 N. St. Mary’s at Travis for $3.

About 100 people showed up for the Holiday Lights Tour, and volunteer guides led groups of about 10 people each on a 2.5-mile stroll or jog. (I opted for the stroll. One woman in my group said, “Ain’t nobody chasing us.”) Maureen or “Mo” was our tour guide, and she clued us into all of downtown’s history at different points of interest. I’ve lived in San Antonio since 1979, and I never knew until this tour that the zero mile marker for the Old Spanish Trail sits on City Hall’s square.

Mo said that her great-great-great grandfather used to be a stagecoach driver along the trail until he met his untimely end in Yuma, Arizona. Mo is now a historian for the Casa Navarro State Historic Site at 228 South Laredo. We got to take a sneak peek at the wonderful adobe and limestone structure that was all lit up for the holidays, and Mo invited us all back to the grand opening on February 25, 2012, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. We also passed by San Fernando Cathedral, which was all lit up in anticipation of the birth of Christ. A heritage oak tree on Main Plaza that I took a picture of last year was wrapped solid in white lights. Truly a beautiful sight to behold.

We also had a chance to walk into the lobby of the 1927 Tower Life Building, 310 S. St. Mary’s at Villita, which sported a beautiful, tall Christmas tree. Most noteworthy, though, was the lobby’s snowflake ceiling. What downtown tour would be complete without a stroll by the Alamo? We passed by and paid our respects before heading down Houston Street back to the city’s parking garage. Catto & Catto Insurance, housed in the former Frost Bros., had a beautiful tin nativity from Mexico in its window.

On the “more good news” front, the new lights along the River Walk are energy efficient. More than 1.76 million LED lights now grace the trees along the San Antonio River. The City of San Antonio says there are now 20 times more lights than in past years, and these LED lights use less than half of the energy of the old incandescent lights. Bill FitzGibbons, a San Antonio artist who’s known for his light projects, incorporated 22 of downtown’s street bridges into the River Walk display.

The City’s Office of Historic Preservation doesn’t have any more tours scheduled until February after the lights will be down, but don’t let that stop you. Downtown is very easy to navigate, and you won’t be sorry that you spent some time strolling along the River Walk and downtown’s streets, soaking up the magic of the season. Enjoy!