From Beaumont to El Paso, from Brownsville to Amarillo, Texas small towns celebrate holidays in their own local style. These winter activities are growing in popularity because of the rise of what's called "Heritage Tourism". Texas Main Street Program coordinator Debra Farst says almost all Texas small towns were founded in the 19th century, but most fell into disrepair and decay as people moved away in the 20th century. Now, Farst says, these towns are rebounding because they're preserving their history.
"It's becoming more of a given that this is a true part of economic development, and a very valuable part of economic development, that historic preservation can be one of the most effective economic development tools that you can use in your community, because you bring in tourists, you bring in visitors from many differrent places, plus you save the places that make your community special."
Farst says heritage tourism now attracts millions of people to Texas every year, and they're not coming just to see the sights. They're coming for personal reasons, because a town or community means something to them or their families.
"Heritage travelers are people who tend to stay longer, who tend to return more often if they have a valuable experience. And so it is obviously also a valuable economic development tool."
Many heritage tourists are drawn to the ornate 19th century courthouses in county seats of dozens of Texas counties. Farst says the old courthouses have as much historical importance as the old Spanish missions, which is why restoring and preserving them is a major project at the historical commission.
"The towns grew up around their county courthouses and that's where the lifeblood at the beginning came from. And in the Christmas and the holiday time they drape their courthouses in beautiful lights, and it just makes the environment and the atmosphere so much more special."
The Texas Historical Commission and the Texas Department of Transportation both have calendars of the seasonal festivals and celebrations going on all over Texas. You can find links to those agencies and their calendars on our website KUHF dot Org. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.