McALLEN — Santa Claus brought snow, fireworks and millions of lights to the McAllen Convention Center Tuesday to kick off the holiday season with the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree.

Santa Claus stands next to the illuminated Christmas tree during the lighting of the tree ceremony at the McAllen Convention Center on Monday, Dec. 1, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“Today the city of McAllen is proud to kick off our newly reimagined Christmas celebration with the official lighting of the Christmas tree at the South Pole Illuminated Drive and Theatre Experience, presented by Junior’s Supermarket,” McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said shortly before Santa helped him and the rest of the commission turn the lights on. “As you can see, we have transformed the McAllen Convention Center district into an enchanting, immersive holiday experience that is a one-mile drive through a holiday show of millions of lights. That’s right, millions.”

Hundreds of light displays — which include Star Wars and Whoville characters, a dragon, a swan, lily pads, dandelions and Santa’s Castle, to name a few — lined the McAllen Convention Center, where city officials gathered in a socially distanced manner to light a 60-foot tall Christmas tree. Even the McAllen Wind Ensemble, which delighted the few attendees present with traditional Christmas songs, donned specially-crafted masks while playing their instruments.

“We had talked today about the problem with COVID — it’s coming back to our community,” Darling said. “And we have a responsibility, not only for ourselves, but every time we go out, we can expose our friends, our family members, our grandparents, and it’s something that’s really important to understand. We want everyone to enjoy Christmas, but it has to be done safely.”

As such, city officials opted to turn their annual Christmas Parade, which draws hundreds of thousands of spectators, into a virtual one that will be broadcast Dec. 5. They also focused most of their energy into turning the convention center district into a dazzling drive-by experience that ends with a drive-in movie.

“I want to thank the staff for being imaginative and coming up with this great event and hopefully many, many of our citizens will get to enjoy it safely,” Darling said.

For weeks, staff from Parks and Recreation and the Convention Center departments strung Christmas lights on mesquite trees, palm trees and pretty much anything they could get their hands on to create a 25-minute experience for drivers and their passengers, and on Tuesday, the first vehicles began making the rounds.

Santa Claus and McAllen city leaders push down on the switch to light the Christmas tree during the lighting of the tree ceremony at the McAllen Convention Center on Monday, Dec. 1, 2020, in McAllen. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

“I’d also like to remind everyone that the lights and the images we see tonight are simply a symbol of the true meaning of Christmas, and that peace and love for our family, friends and fellow man is the true spirit of the season,” Darling said. “And especially during this COVID season, we need to understand and recognize that.”

Unlike past years, the lighting of the Christmas tree was closed to the public to help curb the spread of COVID-19, which ravaged the region during the summer months. Instead, only a few city officials gathered with Santa to light the tree.

“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” played immediately afterward and a colorful fireworks display ensued.

“I’d like to invite everyone in McAllen and throughout the Rio Grande Valley to come celebrate Christmas in McAllen, the official South Pole of Texas,” Darling concluded.

If You Go:

South Pole Illuminated Drive and Theatre Experience
Event runs from Dec. 1 to Dec. 31

Monday – Thursday
Open from 5:30-10 p.m.

Friday – Sunday
Open from 5:30-11 p.m.

For more information, visit