There was a slight nip in the air when the South Pole Illuminated Festival kicked off.
It wasn’t South Pole cold. After all, it was McAllen’s highly popular and decorative South Pole. But the very slight chill was appropriate – perfect, actually.
Parents and children alike were wide-eyed like only Christmas time can bring as they strolled through the McAllen Convention Center grounds, an illuminated oval with dozens of color-changing trees, millions of lights, a carnival, a train ride, a gingerbread house, and a S’mores Station that on this night doubled up as a stopping spot for people to warm themselves by the crackling fire.
It was a perfect night to bring to life the colors and joys of Christmas, to have photos taken with Santa and others, and to light what the city claims as t
e largest digital Christmas tree in America.
The festival will run nightly through Sunday, Jan. 1, 2024 on Mondays through Thursdays from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m.
McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos fit in with the crowd, the Christmas smile shining bright as he met with passersby.
“It’s just amazing,” Villalobos said. “You can feel the energy and the excitement with the lighting of the tree, with the smiles on the kids’ faces and not just the kids but the parents bringing the kids. One of the great things we have down here in the Rio Grande Valley is our people. They are so friendly so it’s truly amazing being out here.”
One of the great things about Christmas is the memories. Villalobos vividly remembered one of his favorite presents while growing up.
“It was kind of rough back then,” he said. “But one of my fondest gifts I remember was getting a green bicycle. I know a lot of kids get a lot of stuff but for us it was difficult. There were seven kids but that one year I received that amazing green bicycle.”
McAllen Assistant City Manager Joe Vera also fondly recalled a couple of neat gifts from years past.
“You know, I had so many neat things growing up but as I got older, one of my favorite gifts was a motor scooter,” Vera said. “Back in the old day there were these motor scooters, nothing fancy, almost like something made with a lawn mower engine with a little gas tank, that was my favorite. Also, a BB gun – things like that.”
Not only can people relive those wonderful memories at the South Pole of Texas, but they can experience what Vera said is the ultimate goal – constantly looking to increase the quality of life for residents in McAllen and surrounding areas.
“That’s very important to all of us and we all have a love and passion for what we do, but when you see the smiles on children’s faces and see people coming together and having a good time that’s the beauty and magic of all of it.
“We have a lot of employees who work very hard on this and it’s fun to do. For McAllen this has been about so many struggles and challenges with some of the national media about how unsafe it is to live on the border – but, you know, we have one of the safest cities in the country and one of the safest areas you want to be. It’s beautiful to see all these people coming out here having a good time – for us, for the city and our quality of life.”