A Houston tradition since 1981, the Houston Ballet Nutcracker Market offers every yuletide bauble, gift, party dip, and hair clip you could ever hope to knock off your Christmas list. Each year it raises millions for the Houston Ballet Foundation, with 100 percent of ticket sales and 11 percent of vendor proceeds going toward scholarships, education, and more programming, making it an all-round worthy endeavor.

Let’s be real, though. With more than 100,000 shoppers expected to descend, drinking an estimated 14,000 mimosas while they peruse the 270 vendors spread over 540,000 square feet, the market gets downright crazy. Lose a friend, and good luck finding her; wear uncomfortable shoes, and you’re doomed. But before you start hyperventilating into that bag from Chick-fil-A—which does indeed set up at the food court—acquaint yourself with these don’ts and dos:

Getting There

  • Don’t reveal your vaping habit to your mom just because the GPS promised 20 minutes of travel time, and your squad—Mother with 100-pound purse, Sister with printed itinerary, Bestie with cooler of Jell-O shots—has been waiting to enter the parking lot long enough to hear a dozen Drake songs.
  • Do strategize when to go. Thursday and Friday are both easier than the weekend. Doors open at 10, but pay for early-bird pricing and you can get in starting at 8:30; another idea is to arrive after 2:30, when parents leave to pick up schoolkids. Bring cash for a pedicab in case you have to park in the boonies; better yet, take the train or Uber.

Tailgating

  • Don’t occupy a parking space you haven’t paid for.
  • Do have a pre-party in the parking lot, if you desire. People sip mimosas, set up tables of food, even put up tents to block the sun. Just make sure to keep an eye on that boozy Bestie.

Planning

  • Don’t blindly follow the jingle-belled zombie hordes who have no idea where they’re going.
  • Do study the floor plan and make your way accordingly. We’ll be going straight down the middle until we hit the last row—aisle 1700—before working our way to the front while enjoying a bag of Copper Kettle Popcorn (Booth 1743).

Dining

  • Don’t stuff yourself silly at the concession stands.
  • Do leave room for the free samples, especially the excellent dips at Bear Creek Smokehouse (Booth 1737) and the piping-hot Cowboy Country Amaretto Honey Butter (Booth 750).

Pacing

  • Don’t let Mother shop until she literally drops.
  • Do take her to the lobby, where Houston Methodist Hospital provides charging stations for dying phones and a lounging area for dying feet.

Manners Minding

  • Don’t get pushy if somebody steps on your foot or bumps into you—thousands of people carrying hula hoops filled with gumballs can get ugly fast.
  • Do keep calm and thank the 1,000 volunteers, clad in their finest holiday hats and festive pajamas, for helping out with a good cause. And remember, you can check any large purchases you don’t want to carry around (for a fee).

Buying

  • Don’t forget that each year brings a buzzy it item that everyone wants, and this year it’s purported to be the Compact Fishing Pole (Booth 439), which folds up to fit into a suitcase. We’re not even kidding.
  • Do spread the yuletide cheer by getting Mother the clip-in hair extensions, Sister the dangly silver earrings, and Bestie—dear heavens, is that her sleeping against the Ornament Barre!?—a nice bottle of water. Oh, and don’t forget a little something for yourself. We’ll be picking up a jar of delicious marinara sauce at Donne Di Domani (Booth 920), where 100 percent of sales go to charity.

The 38th Annual Nutcracker Market runs November 8–11, with a Preview Party on November 7. Preview tickets start at $250; early-bird tickets $50; regular tickets $18 if pre-purchased and $20, cash-only, at the door. 

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