Wednesday, November 18, 2015

St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country

St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country

By Anne Butler

Santa Arrives There’s just something special about small-town Christmas shopping, with welcoming shopkeeps, unique settings with plenty of character, and one-of-a-kind inventory, combining to make the experience enjoyable, as opposed to the dreaded harried hurried crush of big-box stores. And St. Francisville’s wonderfully varied boutique shops and galleries deliver all that in spades, especially during the ever-popular Christmas in the Country. This year set for December 4, 5 and 6th, the safe, family-oriented weekend is crammed full of spectacular seasonal decorations, musical entertainment throughout the National Register-listed downtown, breakfast with Santa and a colorful parade themed “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” caroling and window-peeping, plus contemporary house tours and even a symphony concert.

Christmas Lights - St. Francisville, La. Millions of white lights trace soaring Victorian trimwork and grace gallery posts to transform the entire picturesque little town into a veritable winter wonderland for Christmas in the Country. The mayor lights the town Christmas tree Friday evening, Dec. 4, with a reception and fireworks beginning at 6 p.m., followed by a chance to “Peep into our Holiday Homes” along Ferdinand and Royal Streets from 6 to 8.

Saturday, Dec. 5, begins at 7:30 a.m. with a prayer breakfast at Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed by the Women’s Service League Breakfast with St. Nick for children at Jackson Hall of Grace Episcopal Church; there are two seatings at 8 and 9:30 a.m., reservations are encouraged, and advance tickets may be purchased online at ). The Service League also has its usual fresh wreath and cookbook sale on Ferdinand St.

Tour of HomesA Saturday house tour (10 to 4) benefits the wonderful new parish library and showcases some unique contemporary homes as well as beautiful 19th-century St. Mary’s Church. Tickets ($25 in advance, $30 day of tour) may be purchased at the library, online at www.brownpapertickets.comor at tour homes on event day. Sponsored by Friends of the Library for the 18th year, featured homes include the Carolina-I farmhouse of the Lindsey family (now happily overflowing with the third and fourth generations since development of Lake Rosemound by family patriarch, the late Lloyd Lindsey Sr.); a secluded Tunica Hills home called Briar Creek which comes complete with sheepherder’s wagon and lifesize bronze bear; and Harmony House/Melody House, two separate structures joined by a 150-foot bridge over a 60-foot ravine.

Parker ParkSt. Francisville’s oak-shaded Parker Park overflows with children’s activities, music, food and crafts vendors all weekend including Friday evening, and there will be entertainment throughout the historic downtown area, featuring choirs, dancers, bands, and other performers. Talented art students display their works at local shops, with purchase proceeds benefitting the local school arts programs. A Charlie Brown Christmas movie will be shown at 2 p.m. in Jackson Hall.

From 10 to 4 on Saturday, Oakley plantation house in Audubon State Historic Site presents Colonial Christmas cooking demonstrations in the outside kitchen, followed by candlelight tours with period music and wassail from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. In town, Saturday evening entertainment includes a Community Sing-Along at United Methodist Church on Royal Street from 6 to 7, a Live Nativity inside First Baptist Church on US 61 from 6 to 8, and “Peep into our Holiday Homes” to admire Christmas decorations in participating historic structures. New this year will be Twilight Shopping and Music, extended hours for downtown shopping on Saturday evening from 4 to 7 p.m., with musical groups and bands enlivening some of the venues.

The Christmas parade, usually held on Saturday, will be on Sunday, December 6, this year, beginning at 2 p.m. and traversing Ferdinand and Commerce Streets. Sponsored by the Women’s Service League, the parade features gaily decorated floats, marching bands, and of course Santa Claus riding atop a vintage fire truck. The Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra has its Holiday Brass concert and dessert reception at Hemingbough Sunday evening beginning at 7 p.m.; tickets are available at Bank of St. Francisville.

The enthusiastic sponsors of Christmas in the Country are the downtown merchants, and the real focus of the weekend remains the St. Francisville area's marvelous shops, which go all out, hosting Open Houses with refreshments and entertainment while offering spectacular seasonal decorations and great gift items.  A variety of quaint little shops and galleries 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. 

StoresThe town’s longstanding popular anchor stores have been joined by a number of smaller boutiques offering a wonderful variety of wares—antiques, collectibles, original artworks, upscale and affordable clothing, housewares, decorative items, jewelry, books and children’s playthings-- to remind visitors how timeless is the excitement of small-town Christmas shopping at this exuberant celebration of the season.

To balance the “wretched excess” of materialism by remembering the less fortunate this time of year, however, there’s one heartwarming local charity that would welcome donations. “Sharing Jamie’s Joy” was begun a couple of years ago by the widow of young Jamie Navarre as a memorial ministry to the homeless. Leslie Davis Navarre and her son Tucker, with help from supportive family and community members, compile and deliver some 200 “blessing bags” of greatly appreciated practical necessities like ponchos and socks, gloves, winter hats, toiletries, pens and notepads, candy, even big black garbage bags for protection against the wet winter weather. Cash contributions are accepted as well as the items mentioned here; deadline for donations is December 12th, and information may be obtained by calling Leslie at 225-931-8611.

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: the Cottage Plantation, Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. 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 Monday and Tuesday).

The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. 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 West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit
or (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).