Celebrate a Country Christmas in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler
Used to be, country folks piled into wagons for a trip to the nearest town in anticipation of Christmas, the youngsters pressing noses against frost-covered storefront windows to dream of china dolls or wooden rocking horses. Today that trend has been reversed, as harried urbanites escape from mall madness and compulsive consumption to ease back into the slower pace and peace of a country Christmas. And there’s nowhere to better experience that than St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country weekend December 7, 8 and 9th.
Spectacular holiday decorations, with millions of white lights gracing gallery posts and tracing soaring Victorian trimwork, turn the downtown Historic District into a winter wonderland, and carefully planned activities provide fun for the entire family. The theme of the Sunday afternoon Christmas parade, Walking in a Winter Wonderland, sets the tone for the whole weekend, and it’s is highly appropriate. The weekend is a safe, small-town celebration of its bedrock beliefs---in the goodness of people, the beauty of nature, and the strength of community and faith. Plus it’s just plain fun! Remember when Christmas shopping was actually a pleasure? It still is in St. Francisville, where each unique little store welcomes shoppers with Open House lagniappe: refreshments, music, and spectacular discounted sales.
Friday evening, December 7th, Christmas in the Country is kicked off around St. Francisville’s Town Hall as the children’s choir Voices in Motion from Bains Lower Elementary School sings at 5:45, followed by jovial longtime mayor Billy D’Aquilla lighting the town tree and hosting a reception complete with fireworks. Participating homes in St. Francisville’s National Register Historic District along Ferdinand and Royal Streets, designated by signs, permit visitors to Peep Into Our Holiday Homes from 6 to 8 p.m. both Friday and Saturday, and a Holly Jolly Jazzy Christmas Concert featuring Willis Delony and friends, sponsored by the St. Francisville Symphony Association with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, starts at 7 p.m. on Friday at Grace Episcopal Church, with tickets available at the door.
Saturday, December 8th, begins with 7:30 a.m. Community Prayer Breakfast at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, sponsored by the local church, United Methodist Men, and the Louisiana Egg Commission; guest speaker Abby Cochran is the principal of the local high school, serves on the town’s Board of Aldermen, and is co-chair of the Methodist church’s Missions Committee, evidence of her belief in the power of linking church, school and community. Christmas on the Run for the Relay for Life supporting the American Cancer Society has a one-mile fun run beginning at 8 a.m. and a 5-K run at 8:30 a.m., both starting at Parker Park.
Little ones can enjoy Breakfast with St. Nick at the First Baptist Church; sponsored by the Women’s Service League, two seatings are available at 8 and 9, with reservations encouraged and tickets available online (email@example.com). The Women’s Service League also offers fresh wreaths on Ferdinand St. from 9 to 5.
In Parker Park from 10 to 4, over 65 vendors offer everything from food and music to arts and crafts; from noon to 2 there will be live music in the park featuring Blu Rouge. The Polar Express train transports visitors through the downtown area from 10 to 2, with a Polar Express movie and fun in the Town Hall meeting room.
St. Francisville’s shops and art galleries are the enthusiastic sponsors of this special weekend, offering a wide variety of inventory, from antiques (there are three sprawling antiques co-ops) and art (both original and prints), decorative items, one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, custom jewelry, housewares, artisanal foodstuffs, clothing for every member of the family. Be sure to pick up your Candy Cane Shopping Card from one of the listed shops, featuring discounts and “I Shopped St. Francisville” t-shirts for purchases over $100.
From 10 to 4 on Saturday, the non-profit organization Friends of the Library sponsors the popular annual Tour of Homes benefitting library programs, showcasing three stately homes featuring varied architecture and eclectic décor, plus a special treat this year. Right in the center of St. Francisville’s historic district beside the iconic Magnolia Café are the 3-V Tourist Cabins, throwbacks to the 1930s automobile age when a tiny garage was provided with each overnight accommodation. Used in the documentary Bonnie & Clyde, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and still renting as B&Bs, these little cabins are on tour this year as decorator showcases, each done up in style by local interior designers Ellen Kennon, Marc Charbonnet and Caroline Alberstat. Tickets are available at Eventbrite.com, the library, or at each home.
Downtown Merchants Open Houses, with music and refreshments, keep the fun and fine shopping going into the evening Saturday from 4 to 7 p.m. From 6 to 8 p.m., Oakley Plantation’s Dickens of a Christmas at Audubon State Historic Site features candlelight tours, period music and wassail. From 6 to 7 United Methodist Church hosts a Community Sing-Along. First Baptist Church (LA 10 at US 61) has a Living Nativity inside the church from 6 to 8, a real Christmas journey—travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and rediscover the miracle of the birth of Jesus; children love the petting stable, crafts, and hot chocolate and cookies. There will also be a concert at historic Temple Sinai (Prosperity St. just off Royal) featuring Nancy Roppolo, Clay Parker and Jodie James beginning at 7 p.m.
On Sunday, December 9th, Candy Cane Shopping Card opportunities continue from 10 to closing, with T-shirt prizes available at the Visitor Center on Ferdinand St. (open 9 to 5). Vendors are in Parker Park from 10 to 4, with live music noon to 3 by the Fugitive Poets. Sunday’s highlight is the Women’s Service League Christmas Parade beginning at 2 p.m., travelling along Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, with floats, bands, marching groups, dignitaries and lots of throws, all under the theme of Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
The following week, Countdown to Christmas draws crowds to the West Feliciana Sports Park on Thursday, December 13, from 5 to 8 p.m. for more free family fun. There will be arts and crafts, bonfires, games, face painting, music and train rides. Santa will make an appearance, a Christmas tree costume contest really does mean dressing as your favorite decorated tree, and concessions and dinner will be available.
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 (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season and is spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) 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.
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. 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 www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).