Waco Wonderland (copy)

Fireworks and a community tree lighting on Friday boost downtown Waco’s holiday season in the sixth annual Waco Wonderland celebration at Heritage Square.

Waco Wonderland marks its sixth year this weekend, a tradition for thousands of downtown Waco visitors wrapping other traditions inside: a community tree lighting, fireworks, a parade, a Snow Tube Hill and Ferris wheel, children’s activities and youth and community group performances. Oh, shopping, too.

They’re all contained in three days at Heritage Square, the prelude to more Christmas celebrations held downtown in December, and expected to draw — if the weather cooperates — some 15,000 people to downtown Waco.

“Each year it seems to grow . . . and has grown along with downtown Waco,” said community promotions specialist Jonathan Cook. “It’s really a big kickoff for activities later in the month.”

It begins with a light-highlighted Friday that includes a community tree lighting at 7 p.m. followed with a fireworks show and a post-fireworks performance by the Waco High Jazz Katz band.

Early Saturday morning risers and runners can take part in Communities In Schools’ Wonderland Run starting at 8 a.m. with the annual Wonderland Parade, organized by Family of Faith Worship Center, coming next at 10 a.m. This year’s parade features more than 60 entries plus the all-important Santa Claus making their way down Austin Avenue from 11th Street to Heritage Square.

Waco Wonderland (copy)

The slip-sliding Snow Tube Hill returns Saturday and Sunday to Waco Wonderland’s activities.

The three-story, frozen-surfaced Snow Tube Hill makes its third appearance, opening at midafternoon Saturday and continuing through Sunday. There’s also a 65-foot-tall Ferris wheel and a trackless train operating through the three days, and a $5 armband allows unlimited rides of all three. Those who like their movement slower and closer to the ground can take advantage of Eagle Eye Ranch’s horse-drawn carriage rides, with a separate $5 charge.

More than 20 vendors will offer items and services in the Mistletoe Market and a dozen food trucks will sell food and drinks to Waco Wonderlanders. Santa Claus will man the Santa House, which also will feature craft opportunities for kids, to visit with children and pose for pictures. Also for kids, and animal-loving adults, is a Sunday afternoon petting zoo.

This year’s Wonderland won’t feature a free movie, in part because other groups are offering their own, including Christmas at the Silos, the Cameron Park Zoo and the Waco Hippodrome, which will screen a series of Christmas movies throughout December.

Area dance teams, musicians and worship groups will occupy the Holiday Entertainment Stage throughout the weekend.

For those whose love of Christmas and the holidays is whetted by Wonderland weekend, there’s more in store downtown next weekend: Christmas on the Brazos at historic Waco homes, Christmas at the Silos, the “A Dr Pepper Christmas” celebration and a holiday-themed First Friday for downtown merchants.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor