Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Christmas in the Country

St. Francisville Celebrates Christmas in the Country

By Anne Butler

Parade in St. Francisville
Christmas in Country Parade
Troubled economic times call for a return to comfort, to simplicity, to the tried-and-true. That’s just what the little Louisiana community of St. Francisville, perched on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River, offers visitors with its annual Christmas in the Country on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, December 5, 6 and 7th. This safe, small-town celebration of the season combines intriguing shopping opportunities with lots of old-fashioned fun for the whole family—lively Christmas parade, strolling carolers, living nativity, house tours, theatrical performances, all in historic downtown St. Francisville.

Numerous vendors display their wares along the main street.
Vendors display their wares along the main street.
The celebration kicks off on Friday evening when the angelic voices of the Children’s Choir of the First Baptist Church ring out from the front porch of Town Hall on Ferdinand St., following which longtime Mayor Billy D’Aquilla will light the town tree and host a welcome reception at which Santa just might put in an appearance.

With its Victorian homes and shops decorated with twinkling white lights tracing gingerbread galleries and soaring rooflines, the little town is transformed into a veritable winter wonderland for the holiday season, and after dark it is positively magical. Friday night the downtown merchants host White Light Night from 6:30 to 9 p.m., with trolley transportation between shops, each one featuring spectacular decorations and delightful merchandise in a pleasant and relaxed environment far removed from mall madness. Visitors should take time to hop off the trolley to participate in the popular pastime called Peep Into Our Holiday Homes, with signs designating those historic homes that offer curious visitors a glimpse through lace-c urtained windows into family holiday observances. At 7 p.m. the Baton Rouge Symphony performs at Grace Episcopal Church, followed by a dessert reception, and tickets are available through the Bank of St. Francisville.

Always a hightlight, marching bands for the Christmas Parade.
Christmas in Country Parade

Saturday gets an early start with a 7:30 Prayer Breakfast at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall. Children will relish the opportunity to have Breakfast With St. Nick at Grace Episcopal’s Jackson Hall, sponsored by the Women’s Service League, with three seatings, 8, 9:30 and 11 a.m.; reservations may be made by calling 225-202-5403 and there is a fee. The Women’s Service League will also sell their popular giant cypress wreaths as well as Plantation Country Cookbooks on Ferdinand St. throughout the weekend to fund charitable community projects.

Throughout the day on Saturday, musical entertainments are scheduled all around the historic downtown area. The Bains Elementary Chorus sings at 9:30 a.m. at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, Bains Lower Elementary Choir at 9:30 at the Historical Society Museum, West Feliciana Middle School Choir at 10 at the museum, Lagniappe Quartet strolling along Ferdinand and Royal Streets from 10 to 2, West Feliciana High School Spanish and Latin Club singers at 10:30 at the Methodist Fellowship Hall, High School Choir at Methodist Hall at 11. The Angola Inmate Traveling Band enlivens things across from Garden Symposium Park from noon to 4, and the Main Street Band performs in Parker Memorial Park noon to 2. Junior Jazzercise puts on a lively demonstration at 11:30 downtown.
Vendors offer handmade goods.
The Women’s Service League’s immensely popular annual Christmas Parade begins at 2 p.m. Saturday and runs along Ferdinand and Commerce Sts. with decorated floats, bands, marching units and plenty of candy flung to onlookers. Theme this year is JUMP IN! in tribute to grand marshall Miguel Pate, hometown hero-athlete who participated in this year’s Olympics competing in the Long Jump. All day in Parker Memorial Park there will be vendors offering food, music and children’s activities, and other artisans will offer strictly homemade items along Ferdinand and Royal Streets throughout the weekend.

Saturday evening abounds with special activities, beginning with a Community Sing-A-Long at the Methodist Church on Royal St. at 6 p.m. The First Baptist Church at the intersection of LA 10 and US 61 reprises its beloved Live Nativity from 6 to 8 p.m., and the Peep Into Our Holiday Homes continues along Ferdinand and Royal Streets from 6 to 8 p.m. At 7:30 p.m. at the Old Market Hall on Royal St., the talented group of thespians in the St. Francisville Transitory Theatre presents two Christmas stories, “A Christmas Carol” and “The Gift of the Magi,” with limited seating and a small admission charge.

Christmas in Country Parade

Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. the Library Tour of Homes opens the doors to some spectacular private residences for the benefit of the parish library system; tickets may be purchased at the library on Ferdinand St. in advance or on the day of the tour. Featured homes are those of Clifford and Cynthia Wilcox, Phillip Plaisance and Ken Haydel, L.J. and Jo Sevin, Chard and Mendy Richard, and the Chapel at The Bluffs. The St. Francisville Transitory Theatre presents a second performance of the two Christmas stories at 7:30 p.m. Sunday evening in the Old Market Hall.

Unless otherwise noted, all activities are free of charge and open to the public. The St. Francisville area also provides other opportunities for visitors throughout the month. There are a number of splendidly restored plantation homes open for tours daily: The Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, The Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, all decorated for the holidays in antebellum style, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation and Afton Villa Gardens seasonally. The area’s two state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, offer fascinating living-history demonstrations every weekend to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs. The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, horseback riding with rental mounts from Cross Creek Stables. Besides the shops, many in restored historic structures, there are fine little restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area as well as some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts for overnight stays, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of all the seasonal festivities.

For additional information on the St. Francisville area, telephone 225-635-4224, 225-635-3873 or 225-635-6330; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com.