Friday, November 29, 2013


By Anne Butler
 gifts Christmas in the Country
 Local Shop
Christmas, as customarily celebrated in the country, was marked by beloved rituals and time-honored traditions. Houses were decked with woodland greenery, cedar trees cut and strung with cherished decorations, mistletoe hung in anticipation of stolen kisses, nativities assembled and church services attended, even a few cups of creamy eggnog downed. And then 19th-century country folk piled into horsedrawn wagons and headed into the area’s commercial and cultural center, St. Francisville, where wide-eyed children pressed cold noses against frosted storefront windows and dreamed of china dolls or wooden rocking horses.
The dry-goods emporiums and specialty shops of St. Francisville in the early days carried everything from farm implements and buggies to ladies’ fine millinery and gents’ furnishings, everything from cradles to coffins. They still do today, and the merchants of historic downtown St. Francisville take pleasure and pride in hosting a Christmas celebration that still draws celebrants of the season to a safe, family-oriented weekend of fun and festivities and fabulous shopping called Christmas in the Country, always the first full weekend of December, this year December 6, 7 and 8. There may not be any coffins for sale, but Santa still arrives in a horse-drawn vehicle.
White lights
White Cottage & Market Hall
Millions of white lights trace soaring Victorian trimwork and grace gallery posts to transform the entire town into a veritable winter wonderland as St. Nick arrives to kick off the Lighting Ceremony of the Town Christmas Tree beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6, followed by a public reception at Town Hall hosted by jovial longtime St. Francisville Mayor Billy D'Aquilla and featuring fireworks and a performance by the First Baptist Church Children’s Choir.  The Baton Rouge Symphony presents its annual concert of seasonal selections and dessert reception beginning at 7 p.m. at Hemingbough; tickets are available at the Bank of St. Francisville.
Saturday, Dec. 7, begins with a 7:30 a.m. Community Prayer Breakfast at United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall just off Royal St., followed by Breakfast with St. Nick for children at Jackson Hall next to Grace Church at 8 and 9:30 a.m., sponsored by the Women’s Service League (reservations recommended; $6 tickets may be purchased online at ).   The Women’s Service League also sells fresh wreaths and pre-wrapped Plantation Country Cookbooks all weekend on Ferdinand St. next to the library, with proceeds benefiting local civic and charitable activities.
From 10 to 4 Saturday there will be children’s activities plus the Main Street Band (noon to 2), handmade crafts and food vendors in oak-shaded Parker Park.  There will also be entertainment in various locations throughout the downtown historic district, featuring choirs, dancers, musicians, and other performers. 
Children meet Santa

The angelic voices of the Bains Elementary 2nd Grade Choir are raised at the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum on Ferdinand St. at 10 a.m. From 9:45 to 10:45 the West Feliciana High School Mixed Performance Choir sings at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed from 11 to 11:45 by the school’s Beginning, Advanced, Performance and Soloist Choirs. The front porch of Town Hall is gospel headquarters with stirring performances from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. by the Sherobee Missionary Baptist Church Combined Choir, Mount Bethel Baptist Church Choir, recording artist Minister TEHA, and from New Roads Arthur & Friends Community Choir. From 10 to 2 the Sweet Adelines’ Lyrical Quartet strolls and sings along Ferdinand and Royal Sts., while the Angola Inmate Traveling Band from Louisiana State Penitentiary performs across from Garden Symposium Park from noon to 4.
Angola wagon
 Christmas Parade
Saturday’s highlight, of course, is the colorful 2 p.m. Christmas parade sponsored by the Women’s Service League with the theme “Deck the Hills with Lights and Holly.” Participants include everyone from local dignitaries and Mike the Tiger to Angola’s enormous Percheron work horses, their sleigh bells jingling and their burnished coats gleaming. Dozens of gaily decorated parade floats vie for coveted prizes, accompanied by cheerleaders, bands, bagpipes, vintage cars, marching ROTC units and dancers. Grand Marshall is the newly elected Parish President. The parade lines up on Royal St. and traverses Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, so don’t plan on driving through downtown St. Francisville mid-afternoon.
From 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, the United Methodist Church on Royal St. hosts a Community Sing-a-long, while the First Baptist Church (US 61 at LA 10) sponsors its very popular Live Nativity from 6 to 8 p.m., reminding of the reason for the season.  Also from 6 to 8 p.m., visitors can “Peep into our Holiday Homes,” peeking through handblown windowpanes and lace curtains into participating homes all decorated for the holidays in St. Francisville’s downtown National Register Historic District.
santa motorcycle
Santa Rides
In addition, Saturday evening from 5:30 to 8:30, visitors are welcomed for candlelight tours, period music and wassail at Oakley Plantation, Audubon State Historic Site on LA Hwy. 965, where artist-naturalist John James Audubon tutored the daughter of plantation owners and painted many of his famous bird studies in the early 1820's. This historic home never looks lovelier than in the soft romantic glow of the candles that were its only illumination for its early years. During the day from 10 to 4, the historic site observes its annual Colonial Christmas holiday festival, including cooking demonstrations.
Christmas in the Country activities continue on Sunday, December 8, with in-town activities and an afternoon Friends of the Library Tour of Homes from noon to 5 p.m. ($20 fee benefits the new parish library and advance tickets are available online at or from the West Feliciana Parish Library; on the day of the tour, tickets may be purchased at The Bluffs clubhouse or participating homes). Four diverse homes are featured, two on LA 965 and two on Ferdinand St.; at The Bluffs, a jazz brunch (extra fee) precedes the tour and boutique shopping with refreshments follows.
 local shop treats
 Local Shop
The enthusiastic sponsors of Christmas in the Country are the downtown merchants, and the real focus of the weekend remains St. Francisville’s marvelous shops, which go all out, hosting Open Houses with refreshments and entertainment for shoppers while offering spectacular seasonal decorations, great gift items, and extended hours.  A variety of quaint little shops occupy historic structures throughout the downtown area and spread into the outlying district, each unique in its own way; visitors should not miss a single one. 
From the rich Victoriana of The Shanty Too, for thirty years the anchor of the downtown business community complete with old-time candy shoppe, to the jewelry beautifully crafted from vintage buttons at nationally known Grandmother's Buttons, and the incredibly extensive selections of carefully chosen gift and decorative items at Hillcrest Gardens and Sage Hill Gifts, downtown St. Francisville is filled with fine shopping opportunities.  Artists Herschel Harrington and Joe Savell (Backwoods Gallery) have studios displaying their own works, while St. Francisville Art & Antiques and Bohemianville Antiques feature vintage collectibles and furnishings. Femme Fatale specializes in fine fashions; Trends Boutique and Ma Milles Gifts also have stylish clothing, game-day gear and jewelry.
singing christmas in country
Singing along Main Street
St. Francisville Inn’s Wine Parlor has gift bottles of fine wines, and Birdman Books & Coffee has an eclectic selection of books. Ins-N-Outs and Coyote Creek nurseries carry live seasonal plants to complement any decorating scheme; St. Francis Christmas Trees also has fresh-cut trees, and Mia Sophia Florist features floral arrangements, wreaths and plants as well. The tourist information center/museum in the West Feliciana Historical Society headquarters on Ferdinand St. has a great selection of books, notecards and prints, plus free maps showing locations of all of the other retail outlets, local plantations, restaurants and accommodations.
On the outskirts of town, intrepid shoppers won't want to miss the exquisite custom-designed creations at Patrick’s Fine Jewelry and the fleur-de-lis decorative pieces in the expanded Elliott’s Pharmacy in Spring Creek Shopping Center, as well as Border Imports with huge selections of Mexican pottery, eyecatching ironwork and concrete statuary on US 61 north.  Most of the plantations around St. Francisville have gift shops, and a visit to those would permit enjoyment of spectacular seasonal decorations as well. Restaurants and B&Bs in the area offer gift certificates to extend the giving throughout the year.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
Christmas Parade Trolley
Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination.  A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours daily: the Cottage Plantation, Butler Greenwood Plantation, the Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer fascinating living-history demonstrations most weekends to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online visit, or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).