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Ethnic festivals in Texas

Courtesy Wurstfest

People of many nationalities and ethnicities have contributed to the lifestyles and communities that make Texans proud. Festivals across the state celebrate this melting pot of ethnicities and traditions with fun, food and music.


Nov. 2-11
New Braunfels

Wurstfest celebrates all things German and Austrian along the banks of the Comal River. Started in 1961 as a one-day promotional event sponsored by local sausage makers, it now spans 10 days of music, waltz and polka contests, food and festivities.

“By prior arrangement, costumed ladies in dirndls and men in traditional leather britches greet buses,” said Herb Skoog, director of Wurstfest public relations. “Most sport special hats with pins like they wear in Austria and Germany.”

Local organizations participate with booths, and visitors can munch on German delicacies as well as corn on the cob, pork chops, fried pickles and fried cheesecake.

“With 10 sausagemakers in town, we have every kind of sausage available, some served on sticks and others plated,” said Skoog. “People love to eat our potato pancakes, which take a lot of skill and timing to make, served with sausage and a side of applesauce.”

Four areas host continual entertainment, including Wurstalle, the main hall, plus big and little tents with stages. For 2011, the festival added Stelzenhaus, or “the house on stilts,” built above the river’s flood plain. Each year, a different band from Austria and Germany, as well as local musicians, perform.

During the event, New Braunfels’ museums hold special exhibits and events. The Sophienburg Museum showcases local history, as does the Heritage Society of New Braunfels and the New Braunfels Conservation Society. The New Braunfels Railroad Museum sponsors a miniature-train show.

Churches host heritage Sundays, the art league sets up an exhibit, and Circle Arts Theater produces melodramas with zany titles such as “Gone With the Wurst.” Audiences love to cheer for the heroes and boo the villains.

Locals can provide step-on tours of New Braunfels; nearby Canyon Lake, which holds a regatta during the festival; and the Texas Hill Country.

Charro Days Fiesta
Feb. 19-25

Charro Days Fiesta celebrates its 75th anniversary next year. Dedicated to binational friendship and respect for traditions, the festival features Brownsville residents and visitors dressed in traditional Mexican costumes.

The festival honors Mexican cowboys, or charros, who were heroes of the borderlands. Over the years, Brownsville’s sister city, Matamoros, Mexico, has participated.

The festival starts with a street dance that features Mexican music and mariachis. Events range from colorful Florio dances to a not-to-be-missed children’s parade, where costumed youth represent different Mexican states with regional dances and an illuminated night parade.

Saturday’s Grand International parade is the nation’s only parade that crosses an international border. With a rainbow of floats and Mexican nationals participating, it ends in Matamoros’ Plaza after crossing the Gateway International Bridge.

“Charro Days unites the two cultures that are so heavily integrated within our community,” said Miguel Collis, communications director at the Brownsville Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Groups, especially those from other states, experience a little bit of Mexico without having to cross the border.”

The Sombrero Festival, a three-day event in downtown Brownsville, runs simultaneously with Charro Days. Mexican music and art, vendors, numerous contests and Frijolympics, a Charro bean cook-off, delight crowds of all ages.

Texas Scottish Heritage Festival
May 4-6

The Texas Scottish Festival and Highland Games immerse festivalgoers in Scottish music, games, workshops and activities.

At Maverick Stadium, on the campus of the University of Texas-Arlington, five large entertainment tents showcase national and regional Celtic, folk and Scottish entertainers. Championship Scottish Highland dance and solo bagpipe competitions feature some of the world’s premier dancers and bagpipers.

Fireworks, a Scotch whisky tasting and seminar, a Gaelic language seminar, a Scottish military living-history encampment, an all-Scottish breed dog show and a Scotch ale brewing competition round out events.

Texas Folk Life Festival

June 8-10
San Antonio
At the Texas Folklife Festival, saffron-hued saris gently ripple, and silken kimonos swish softly. From tent to tent, the intoxicating smells of food fill the air, from grilled bratwurst to crispy Native American fried-bread tacos.

Breezes carry melodies from 10 stages, everything from mariachis to bagpipes, raucous Zydeco to impassioned gospel. Dancers, comedians and storytellers entertain, too.

It all started when San Antonio residents decided to duplicate the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival to honor and preserve Texas’ ethnic traditions. At one time, Native Americans, Spanish explorers, French colonists and Mexican ranchers all worked together side by side. Additional ethnicities came later: other European settlers in the 19th-century and settlers from Asia, Africa and Latin America in more recent years.

“It’s one of our signature events that cater to groups,” said Dee Dee Poteete, director of communications for the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The food is fantastic, and volunteers come from all over Texas bringing their passions and the heritage of their particular culture.”

Visitors can walk through a French village or Irish flats, learn how to shuck corn, clog dance or hula. At the Fort Concho re-enactment, costumed interpreters demonstrate frontier life.

More than 30 food tents offer up bounty: buttery yam pies, huli huli chicken, Scottish eggs, Greek-inspired salads and sundaes topped with honey-drenched baklava. Artisans Alley showcases traditional crafts and souvenirs such as scrimshaw, hooked rugs, metalwork and looming.

“Not only can you buy things, but people can watch hands-on demonstrations and see the gifts and skills of various cultures found within our very diverse state,” said Poteete.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.