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Holiday Happenings

Ol’ Man River in Hickman-Fulton

Holiday Happenings
Set aside time on your holiday calendars to enjoy Kentucky’s holiday festivals. Contact each in advance to verify specific times, events, or for more information.

Christmas Days at Rabbit Hash
December 7–21
The historic Ohio River town of Rabbit Hash in northern Kentucky celebrates the holidays with luminaries along the streets and decorations around the town. The Rabbit Hash General Store provides a homey setting for holiday festivities, such as visits from Santa, a concert by the Kelly Elementary School choir, a poetry reading night, a potluck supper featuring smoked turkey, and live music on the weekends. Buy live mistletoe.

There are activities and crafts for children. Participate in the greens exchange where a horticulturist teaches classes in making holiday items, such as door swags, kissing balls, wreaths, and potpourri. Call (859) 586-7744.

Christmas ’Round Bardstown
November 28–December 31
Take the historic homes tours, see musical productions, and enjoy craft bazaars, carriage rides, train rides, special events with Santa, shopping, and holiday food. Call (800) 638-4877 or go online to

Christmas Tree Festival in Cumberland
November 21–December 31
The Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is the site to admire more than 50 decorated trees. In past years, themed trees included some decorated with Santas, old fishing lures and plugs, sewing notions, snowmen, and some with Victorian and patriotic slants. Visit the Coal Miners Park where a tall tree will be lighted for the season. White holiday lights outline the buildings in town. Call (606) 848-1530, or go online to

Winter Wonderland of Lights in Ashland
November 17–January 2
This winter festival in Central Park is about 15 years old and has grown to nearly 1 million lights. Ride a train around the 1.5-mile park each night, see Santa on the weekends, and admire several blocks of holiday decorations. Other area activities include the Festival of Trees at the Paramount Arts Center and the exhibits at the Highlands Museum. Call (800) 377-6249 or go online to

Kentucky State Parks Events
Many of Kentucky’s state parks will host special holiday lights and other events. For more information go online to or contact each park directly.

Christmas Island at General Burnside Island State Park
November 13–December 28
Assembled by the students at the Somerset Community College, this spectacular light display is a 3.5-mile drive with more than 300 displays and 1 million twinkling bulbs. There will be pictures with Santa and a Christmas Village on the weekends with handcrafted items for sale. Call (800) 642-6287 or go online to

My Old Kentucky Home Candlelight Tours
November 28 & 29, December 5, 6, 12, & 13
Tour this elegant 1800s home decorated for the holidays and illuminated by candlelight. Enjoy the period holiday costumes, music, and traditional refreshments. Call (800) 323-7803 or go online to

Here are several other holiday celebrations throughout Kentucky:

Christmas in the Park at Henderson
December 5–January 1
Walk-through light display with hands-on activities in Central Park. Santa pictures, Christmas train, homemade candy and refreshments, Christmas Forest, something for all ages. (270) 827-5467

Southern Lights at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington
November 21–December 31
This lovely park is the setting for more than three miles of creative holiday light and sound displays. Indoor attractions include entertainment, refreshments, and vendors. (800) 678-8813 or

Christmas in the Park at Murray
November 29–December 29
Murray-Calloway County Park is decorated for the holidays with light displays and Santa’s Workshop. (270) 762-0325

Christmas in the Valley at Renfro Valley
November 14–December 13
You can take the family to see one of Kentucky’s largest light displays, visit Santa’s Workshop, attend the original stage production of “Christmas in the Valley,” shop, and enjoy a delicious holiday meal at the historic lodge restaurant. RV park, motel, and cabins. (800) 765-7464 or

Shakertown at Pleasant Hill
December 26–31
Gift Shop Open House on December 6. Guided tours focus on Shaker life and “The Shaker Order of Christmas” traditions. Enjoy Shaker Christmas music performances and showings of “The Shakers.” (800) 734-5611 or

Christmas in the Park at Elizabethtown
November 26–January 1
Lined with luminaries, Freeman Lake Park hosts a delightful drive-through light display. (800) 437-0092 or

Holiday in the Park at Owensboro
December 6–January 5
Legion Park is transformed into a winter wonderland of lights and scenery. There is a 1/2-mile walking path, games, and activities for kids. (270) 687-8700 or

Mary Jo Harrod is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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Ol’ Man River in Hickman-Fulton
“The first catfish I ever caught I put in a bucket with a tub on top of it and sat on it,” Velva Yarbro, executive director of the Hickman Chamber of Commerce, laughs. “It wasn’t gonna get away!”

West Kentuckians take their catfish fishing seriously, especially at Hickman’s annual Blocking Tournament, held each June or July, depending on when the water in Ol’ Man River’s not too high. A casual kind of fishing, blocking involves plastic jugs, lines, hooks, and a boat. “You’ll be floating down the river so quiet and peaceful,” says Yarbro, “and when an ol’ cat comes up and hits that jug, it’ll go ‘Pop!’ like a gun and give you a start.”

The only port in the Commonwealth on the Mississippi River, Hickman, incorporated in 1837, was built on six levels of bluff only eight miles from the Tennessee state line and was a noted port in steamboat days. The Great River Road Carnegie Museum, which houses the Chamber of Commerce and a slew of history, sits atop Magnolia Bluff, where you can eat lunch on picnic tables while gazing down at the gorgeous wide waterway.

Once called by Mark Twain “…the most beautiful town on the Mississippi River,” Hickman boasts a red brick 1903 courthouse on the National Register of Historic Places, with crisp white Queen Anne detailing and a large working Seth Thomas clock. In the Old Hickman Historic District, Henson Broom Shop, (270) 838-6652, handcrafts brooms.

Massive loading equipment dominates Hickman Harbor, which ships grain, steel, petroleum coke, and fertilizer. Just down the river is a people-shipper, the Dorena-Hickman Ferry, (901) 285-0390 or online at www.dorena-hickmanferryboat. com, the only one between Kentucky and Missouri. Eight cars ride for eight bucks each, seven days a week except Christmas, weather permitting. The return trip is half price.

Fall and the holidays are busy times for the Kentucky Nut Corporation, (270) 236-2662 or online at, a tiny local company begun in the 1940s that sends its small “munchin’ pecans” and gift baskets worldwide.

Separated in 1811 from the rest of the state by North America’s greatest earthquake, the Madrid Bend, Kentucky Bend, or Bessie Bend is a chunk of 12,000 acres of some of the richest soil in the country, accessible via eight miles of Tennessee road.

Just east of Hickman lies Fulton, a former railroad center first named Pontotoc, or “land of the hanging grapes,” and later renamed for the man who invented the steamboat.

“The town’s geography is unique because we share the state line with South Fulton, Tennessee,” Kay Martin, director of the Fulton Tourism Commission, explains.

The annual Weekend at Pontotoc celebration is held the third weekend in September in downtown Fulton. Kicking off with a ham, bean, cornbread, and turnip greens dinner and a gospel group, the fete is cram-packed with fun that includes a free concert every night (2003 featured Ricky Van Shelton), a parade, seniors’ rook tournaments, a free regional health fair, pig races, arts and crafts, a flea market, and of course, loads of luscious western Kentucky barbecue.

“They’ll not only be selling it but cooking it,” says Martin, “so it’ll smell great!”

Hickman and Fulton are close neighbors in the Purchase District. For more information call the Hickman Chamber of Commerce, (270) 236-2902, or the Fulton Tourism Commission, (270) 472-9000.

Columbus-Belmont State Park
Civil War buffs will want to explore Columbus-Belmont State Park, (800) 255-PARK or online at, right on the Mississippi River, and the location of the 1861 Battle of Belmont. At the “Gibraltar of the West,” Rebel troops under General Leonidas Polk tried to control the river with gunboats, heavy artillery, and a huge chain stretched across the water. A piece of the chain with 20-pound lengths, a six-ton anchor, and a Confederate cannon barrel are among the park’s artifacts. Hike on self-guided trails along the bluffs and well-preserved earthen works.
The battle comes back to life during Civil War Days each October, with authentic camps, skirmishes, historic tours, a beard and bonnet contest, and a regimental band.

Reelfoot Lake
Formed by the New Madrid earthquake, 25,000-acre Reelfoot Lake, (888) 313-8366 or online at, is paradise for fishermen, hunters, bird-watchers, and naturalists. A small wildlife area is in Kentucky with the bulk in Tennessee. “There are a lot of ancient cypress trees with knobs sticking out of the water,” says avid outdoorsman Greg Grissom, president and general manager of Hickman-Fulton Counties RECC. “You see all kinds of shore birds, water birds, snakes, and turtles. It has a swampy feel and yet a lake feel to it. It’s just a beautiful place!”

Clark Dirks, manager at Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge, adds, “We have the largest wintering concentration of eagles in the southeastern United States. We can have up to 200 in the area, plus about 500,000 ducks and up to 150,000 geese.”
Call (888) 313-8366 to find out about Reelfoot lodging, restaurants, and attractions.

Katherine Tandy Brown is a regular contributor to the Traveling Kentucky column.

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