McALLEN — City leaders here refused to cancel holiday festivities and instead imagined a more creative and safe way to celebrate the season.

Starting Dec. 1, the city will host the South Pole Illuminated Drive and Theatre Experience, which will provide attendees a mile-long drive through displays that will showcase millions of Christmas lights and end with a drive-in movie.

And though the city will not host its traditional Christmas Parade, opting instead to host an entirely remote McAllen Holiday Parade to be streamed and broadcast on TV, officials announced city staff “reimagined” plans during a news conference Wednesday.

Commissioners Sebby Haddad and Veronica Whitacre said following health and safety guidelines outlined to curb the spread of COVID-19 were first and foremost on commissioners’ minds.

“They’re going to be within their cars, it’s gonna be a drive-thru event, they’re still gonna be able to get food, families are going to be able to enjoy it, and I think we were able to find the balance between being as safe as possible and still being creative enough to have these types of events that people really do look forward to,” Haddad said.

Guests will travel through a 280-foot tunnel, equipped with surround-sound serenades of favorite holiday tunes, all in the comfort and safety of their own vehicle, McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said.

“It’s been a year of canceled events, we know that. But one thing that is for sure is the city of McAllen is not going to cancel Christmas,” Darling said. “We have some really innovative people who work for us and we thought, ‘How are we going to do this?’”

Staff are working with sponsors to carry out some of the major lifting, McAllen Assistant City Manager Joe Vera said.

“I believe the budget is probably about $300,000,” Vera said. “I think that the sponsorships will hopefully cover a third of it, and then of course the rest will come from revenue from the event.”

The city is charging $10 per vehicle for an experience that will take about 25 minutes to drive through and will take guests throughout the McAllen Convention Center District.

South Pole Illuminated Drive and Theater Experience map (Courtesy photo)

“Obviously this event costs us significantly less than previous years’ events, where we had full festivals for 40 days and we had Frio,” Haddad said Wednesday about the indoor and outdoor event that drew more than 250,000 visitors to the convention center last year.

But those events are no longer viable in a world where COVID-19 exists. Still, it doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to celebrate the season.

“We now can learn how to adapt and how to be creative in how we function in our daily lives and how we’re still able to provide the features that McAllen is so well known for, but in a very safe manner,” Haddad said. “So we do ask that the public really look at what we’re doing and come out starting Dec. 1.”

The event will run through Dec. 31, with hours of operation running from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 5:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

VIP experiences, which include fast passes and private holiday trains for the entire family, are also available.

For more information visit, and for tickets.

Editor’s note: This story and headline were updated to reflect that McAllen will be holding a virtual parade.