Thursday, November 20, 2014

Heralds the Holiday Season

St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country Heralds the Holiday Season
By Anne Butler

Santa brought St. Francisville, LA, an early Christmas gift with its inclusion on a prestigious popularity list for regional travelers, and the little rivertown will proudly show off its assets as it welcomes visitors to Christmas in the Country December 5, 6 and 7th.
fodor'sFodor’s, world’s largest publisher of travel information in English both in print and online, named St. Francisville to its list of Top Twenty Day-trip Destinations, recommending it as a sidetrip from New Orleans because of its cluster of plantation tours, walkable historic district of National Register 18th and early 19th-century structures, good shopping and historic churches. With its variety of fine Bed & Breakfasts, Fodor’s noted that the town was just as popular for overnight stays, and its Anglo background provided memorable contrast with its French/Creole/Cajun Louisiana neighbors.
So this year’s Christmas in the Country, the little town’s annual celebration of the season, pulls out all the stops, supplementing the ever-popular parade, spectacular seasonal decorations, live nativities and superlative shopping, with everything from cherubic children’s choirs and a grand symphonic brass concert to a gaggle of Elvis impersonators.

local shopsLong the center of commerce for the surrounding plantation country, wide-eyed 19th-century children pressed cold noses against frosted storefront windows and dreamed of china dolls or wooden rocking horses. The dry-goods emporiums in the early days carried everything from farm implements and buggies to ladies’ fashions and gents’ furnishings, and today the little boutique shops in many of these same historic buildings lining the commercial district continue to offer a surprising selection of fine wares.

St. Francisville never looks lovelier than when wearing its holiday finery, tiny white lights decking every Victorian flourish and gallery post to turn the entire town into a veritable winter wonderland. Today’s merchants take pleasure and pride in hosting a Christmas celebration that draws celebrants of the season to a safe, family-oriented weekend of fun festivities and fabulous downtown shopping called Christmas in the Country, always the first full weekend of December, this year December 5, 6, 7.

Fireworks - Tree lighting
St. Nick arrives to kick off the Lighting Ceremony of the Town Christmas Tree beginning at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5, 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. At 7 p.m., the Baton Rouge Symphony presents its annual Christmas Brass concert and dessert reception at Hemingbough.

Saturday, Dec. 6, 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; $8 tickets may be purchased online at ). The Women’s Service League also sells fresh wreaths all weekend on Ferdinand St., with proceeds benefiting local civic and charitable activities.

Booths at Parker ParkFrom 10 to 4 Saturday and Sunday there will be music, crafts and food vendors in oak-shaded Parker Park, and from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the Talented Art Walk features displays of student artwork at local shops, with purchase proceeds supporting the arts programs in local schools. There will also be entertainment in various locations throughout the downtown historic district, featuring choirs, dancers, musicians, and other performers, as well as children’s activities. At 2 p.m. Saturday a book signing at the West Feliciana Historical Society museum-headquarters will introduce for the very first time a long-awaited book of some 250 vintage images of the St. Francisville area.

Singing along main street

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., while the West Feliciana High School Performance Choir sings at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed from 11 to 11:45 by the school’s Advanced and Performance Choirs. The front porch of Town Hall is gospel headquarters, while the Angola Inmate Traveling Band from Louisiana State Penitentiary performs across from Garden Symposium Park from noon to 4.

An afternoon Friends of the Library Tour of Homes from noon to 5 p.m. benefits the wonderful new parish library and features four diverse homes, jazz brunch at The Bluffs and boutique shopping. From 6 to 7 p.m. on Saturday, the United Methodist Church on Royal St. hosts a Community Sing-a-long, and from 6 to 8 p.m., St. Francisville First Baptist Church sponsors its very popular Live Nativity, reminding of the reason for the season. Also from 6 to 8 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday, visitors can “Peep into our Holiday Homes,” peering through handblown windowpanes and lace curtains into participating homes all decorated for the holidays in St. Francisville’s downtown National Register Historic District.

White lightsIn addition, Saturday evening from 5:30 to 8:30, visitors are welcomed for candlelight tours, period music, dancing and hot 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 1820s. During the day from 10 to 4, the historic site is decked out in seasonal finery as it observes its annual Christmas holiday festival, this year adding a 150th-anniversary re-enactment of the nearby Battle of Alexander’s Creek in 1864 for “A Civil War Christmas” on December 6 and 7. West Feliciana’s other state historic site, Rosedown Plantation, celebrates the season with appropriate 19th-century decorations as well, and the exterior galleries and antique-filled interior rooms are resplendent with garlands of fresh greenery from the surrounding woodlands, colorful berries and fresh fruit, as was the custom.

Parade angola horse wagonSaturday’s highlight has traditionally been the colorful 2 p.m. Christmas parade sponsored by the Women’s Service League, but this year’s parade has had to be moved to Sunday afternoon due to election run-offs (some polling places would have been blocked). Participants include everyone from local dignitaries 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. The parade, with this year’s theme of “Be There With Bells On,” lines up on Royal St. and traverses Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, so don’t plan on driving through downtown St. Francisville mid-afternoon.

Parade floatAnd the fun continues on Sunday night for those who might have a blue-blue-blue Christmas without Elvis. “An Ultimate Christmas with Greatest Elvis Tributes” features Elvis impersonators Cody Ray Slaughter, Jay Dupuis, the EAS Band and special guest Jeff Lewis at Hemingbough beginning at 6 p.m.; for tickets go to Grandmother’s Buttons or online, $30 in advance, $35 at the door.

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.

Shanty Too GiftsFrom 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. Francis Art & Antiques Gallery and Bohemianville Antiques feature vintage collectibles and furnishings. Femme Fatale specializes in fine fashions; Trends Salon & Boutique and Ma Milles Gifts also have stylish clothing, game-day gear and jewelry. Temple Design has signature gift items with a local flair, and Benchmark Interiors has delightful selections to complement any decor.

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 carries live seasonal plants to complement any decorating scheme; Mia Sophia Florist features floral arrangements, wreaths and plants as well as decorative items. 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.

Dancing and SantasOn the outskirts of town, intrepid shoppers won't want to miss the exquisite custom-designed creations at Patrick’s Fine Jewelry in its exciting new location on US 61, 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, B&Bs, even fitness centers in the area offer gift certificates to extend the giving throughout the year, providing Christmas in the Country visitors an extended opportunity to relish the charms of this little Top Twenty Day-Trip Destination.

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and
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, 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 periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Sunday and Monday).

Mainstreet during Christmas in the CountryThe 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).