It's a wonderful life
By Amy Cobb from December 2013 Issue
Down-home holiday celebrations—carriage rides and Santa, parades and carolers, tree-lighting ceremonies, and more
Does pandemonium instead of peace reign over this most wonderful time of the year? If you long for a holiday reminiscent of a picture-perfect Christmas card scene of yesteryear, stop untangling those Christmas lights and take a trip to Christmases past.
Cozy, down-home celebrations that will warm your heart and rekindle your spirit still exist in many small towns across the Commonwealth.
Every Saturday in December until Christmas, Glendale in Hardin County invites visitors to celebrate Christmas in the Country. With the town's population of only 300 and its circa-1900 homes and buildings dotting Main Street, "It's like stepping back in time," Glendale Merchants Association treasurer Sheree Vance says.
The celebration kicks off on the first Saturday with a parade, followed by a merchants' open house with refreshments, carolers, and photos with Santa at the firehouse. Take a winding carriage ride through the streets of this historic railroad town and then warm up with complimentary wassail, described by Vance as "spiced cider punch, served hot." A historic homes tour headlines the second Saturday's events.
Glendale has celebrated Christmas the old-fashioned way since 1980. "We have people who have been coming for years because it represents small-town America," Vance says.
'Tis the season for a mid-19th century-style holiday in downtown Benton, the county seat of Marshall County in far western Kentucky. A Dickens' Christmas Festival and Parade, sponsored by Benton Main Street, is held the second Saturday in December. This is the sixth year for the celebration.
Following a lighted parade, enjoy a carriage ride, view the live nativity, and take in musical performances. To get a feel for life in Victorian London, watch blacksmith and candle- and soap-making demonstrations. But there's nothing Dickensian about the food: fudge and cookies from the Sweet Shoppe, homemade bread from the bakery, hot chocolate and apple cider from Ye Ole Pub, and even a pig roast. Children can decorate ornaments, take a train ride around the courthouse square, and visit with Father Christmas.
"This event is very family-friendly and community-oriented," says Elena Blevins, one of the coordinators. "It's a good chance to step away from the hustle and bustle of the holidays and enjoy a night out with friends and family."
Head north to the heart of Kenton County for the Independence Christmas Walk. In its 17th year, the Christmas Walk is a half-mile open house of holiday activities on the first Saturday in December. It all begins with a nighttime parade of lighted floats to set the festive scene amid more than 20 participating business, church, and city venues.
Meander along the streets as the joyful sounds of choirs and live bands fill the air. Stop to write a letter to Santa or to a soldier, visit the live nativity or the petting zoo, and take a carriage ride. Children can have fun with games, face painting, and crafts at the Kid Zoneï¿½and even take a ride on a camel. Star gazers observe the night sky with telescopes, courtesy of the Cincinnati Observatory.
Independence Parks and Recreation director Nita Brake likens the Christmas Walk atmosphere to the favorite holiday movie It's a Wonderful Life. She says, "It's a fun event for everyone. It's a time to celebrate."
Christmas in the Valley at Kentucky's Country Music Capital of Renfro Valley has become a tradition for many families, taking place this year from November 15 until December 21. The entertainment complex spans 55 acres off Interstate 75 in Rockcastle County.
The theme for this year's production is The Christmas Guest, based on lyrics by country music legends such as Grandpa Jones and Reba McEntire. Entertainment director Mark Laws says the show has both a religious feel and an old-fashioned feel, with a "climactic, emotional ending."
"You won't see another show like ours in the state of Kentucky," he says. "It puts you in the Christmas spirit."
Besides music, there is a dazzling light display, dining at the historic Lodge Restaurant, and shopping in the Village Shops for gifts such as homemade candy or handmade quilts.
Spend the first Saturday of December in Wilmore, a village dating back to the turn of the century in Jessamine County, as residents turn back the clock 100 years for their 25th annual Old-Fashioned Musical Christmas.
The celebration "sets our mood for the whole month," and attracts the entire community, says Wilmore Parks and Recreation director Amy Fitch.
The full day of festivities starts with a pancake breakfast, followed by a craft fair, carriage rides, a model train exhibit, and businesses hosting open houses and tours.
Lighted angels decorating Main Street overlook the kickoff for the evening events and tree-lighting ceremony. Afterward, Santa arrives by fire truck, bringing bags of fruit and candy to the children. For the grand finale, the All-Town Choir performs at Wilmore United Methodist Church.
"It's festive. It's fun. And it's family," says Mayor Harold Rainwater. "It launches us into the Christmas season in a small town. Big season, small town."
Santa will be visiting Kentucky frequently this season.
To find out when he'll be in your area, contact your local tourism office or go to Travel & Events.
Most town events are free to attend, although there is a fee for some activities.
Now through DEC 21 Renfro Valley's Christmas in the Valley
2380 Richmond Street, Mount Vernon, (800) 765-7464, www.renfrovalley.com. Thursday and Friday shows 7 p.m., Saturday shows 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Check Web site for ticket prices.
DEC 6 Christmas in Elkton
1 Public Square, Elkton, (270) 265-7070, www.toddcountyca.org. Parade at 6 p.m., followed by horse-drawn carriage rides, caroling, refreshments, and photos with Santa at the Community House.
DEC 6-8 Grayson Hometown Holidays
200 North Carol Malone Blvd., (606) 474-8740, www.heartoftheparks.com and click on Calendar, or search Grayson Tourism and Convention Commission on Facebook.com
. Grayson Christmas Market, caroling, guided church tours, festival of trees, parade, and horse-drawn wagon rides. Times vary by date.
DEC 7 Cadiz Victorian Christmas
61 Main Street, Cadiz, (270) 522-8756, www.gocadiz.com, 4-8 p.m. Festival of trees, caroling, period costumes, marshmallow roasting, s'mores, pictures with Santa, and festival of lights. Lighted parade begins at 6 p.m.
DEC 7 Small Town Christmas
110 North Main Street, Franklin, (615) 319-6531, www.kentuckytourism.com (search Franklin under cities), 1-3 p.m. Silent auction, horse and buggy rides, singing, story hour, bouncing inflatables, and visits with Santa, all ending with a parade.
DEC 7 Independence Christmas Walk
5409 Madison Pike, Independence, (859) 363-2934, www.cityofindependence.org. Parade at 5:30 p.m., other events 6-9 p.m. Children planning to ride camels should line up early.
DEC 7 Wilmore's Old-Fashioned Musical Christmas
335 East Main Street, Wilmore, (859) 858-4412, www.wilmore.org. Pancake breakfast at 7 a.m., tree lighting at 5:30 p.m., grand finale at 8 p.m.
DEC 7-8 Frontier Christmas
2112 Old Main Street, Washington, (606) 759-7423, www.washingtonky.com, Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Crafts, live music, shops, pioneer demonstrations, museums, late-1700s pioneer village, and period-appropriate decor. (If using GPS, enter Maysville; Washington has merged with Maysville and is 5 miles south on U.S. 68.)
DEC 7, 14, 21 Glendale's Christmas in the Country
212 East Main Street, Glendale, (270) 369-6188, www.historicglendale.com. All dates feature music, wassail, and carriage rides from 3-8 p.m. Parade begins at noon December 7.
DEC 14 A Dickens' Christmas Festival and Parade
1101 Main Street, Benton, (800) 467-7145, www.bentonmainstreet.com. Parade begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by other activities. Event is free, except for chili supper fund-raiser.
DEC 14 Christmas Wonderland Winterfest
Main Street, Whitley City, (606) 376-3008, www.mccrearyfest.com, starts 6 p.m. Parade, photos with Santa, and horse-drawn carriage rides downtown.
AMY COBB, a freelance writer and member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, enjoys writing fiction and non-fiction for children and adults.