Beloved Holiday Tradition: St. Francisville’s Christmas In The Country
By Anne Butler
Rick Bragg, native of Possum Trot, Alabama, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, educator and latter-day aw-shucks humor columnist for Southern Living, confesses to being terrified of the melee and misery of Black Friday, envisioning himself yanking a discounted flat-screen TV from the death grip of a rabid granny snarling through bared teeth, before being trampled by the crazed hordes.
But holiday shopping doesn’t have to be that way, and the longtime sponsors of St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country celebrate the season by combining great bargains on unique gifts with carols and concerts, home tours and a great parade, food and fun for all ages. This year’s festival is December 6, 7 and 8th with activities throughout the downtown area, where tiny white lights grace gallery posts and trace soaring Victorian trimwork to turn the entire National Register-listed Historic District into a veritable winter wonderland.
The theme of the Sunday afternoon Christmas parade is Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, and it sets the tone for the whole weekend, 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 lots of lagniappe: refreshments, music, and spectacular discounted sales.
Friday evening, December 6th, Christmas in the Country is kicked off around St. Francisville’s Town Hall as jovial longtime mayor Billy D’Aquilla lights the town tree and hosts a reception complete with fireworks. The Polar Express Train travels along Ferdinand Street from 5 to 7:30, and participating homes 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.
A fundraising concert called Sounds Of The Season will be held to benefit the restoration of the Old Benevolent Society Building, St. Francisville’s oldest black burial insurance lodge, listed on the 2018 list of Louisiana’s Most Endangered Places. The concert features one of America’s premier bass-baritone singers, Ivan Griffin, a classically trained artist whose repertoire spans a wide range, from sacred and gospel to musical theater, jazz, opera and oratorio. The concert takes place in Grace Episcopal Church from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m., and is preceded by a reception in the church’s Jackson Hall from 6 to 7:15. (Tickets: www.eventbrite.com)
Saturday, December 7th, begins with a 7:30 a.m. Community Prayer Breakfast at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall. Christmas on the Run 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 Town Hall.
Little ones can enjoy Breakfast with St. Nick at Grace Church’s Jackson Hall; sponsored by the Women’s Service League, two seatings are available at 8 and 10 a.m., with reservations encouraged and tickets available online ( firstname.lastname@example.org ).
In Parker Park from 10 to 4, over 50 unique vendors offer everything from food and music to arts and crafts; from noon to 2 there will be live music in the park featuring the Main Street Band. Also open from 10 to 4 will be a Christmas Market in Audubon Market Hall on Royal Street, with offerings from some of the other fine St. Francisville area shops not located in the downtown area.
St. Francisville’s boutique shops and art galleries are the enthusiastic sponsors of this special weekend, offering a wide variety of inventory, from antiques (there are several 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 16 listed shops, featuring discounts and “I Shopped St. Francisville” t-shirts for purchases over $100. Another fun activity for dedicated shoppers started November 22 and ends Sunday, December 8th at noon; “Find Me If You Can, I’m the Gingerbread Man” challenges shoppers to find gingerbread men at participating shops to earn a t-shirt; playing cards are available from the library or the Visitor Center/Museum.
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 five stately homes featuring varied architecture and eclectic décor, plus the decorated parish library and a quilt exhibit in Audubon Market Hall. Homes are scattered in the historic district, The Bluffs, and even “down some ageless tree-lined back roads.” Tickets may be purchased online at www.eventbrite.com, at the library or tour homes; info at 225-635-3364.
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 Jane Austen Christmas at Audubon State Historic Site features candlelight tours, seasonal decorations, food tastings and vintage dancing to period tunes. From 6 to 7 p.m. 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 p.m., 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.
On Sunday, December 8th, turn in Gingerbread Man playing cards from 9 to noon at Town Hall; there will also be a photo booth there. 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 in the park noon to 2 by Nancy Roppolo and Day Trip. The Christmas Market at Audubon Market Hall on Royal Street is also open 10 to 4.
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 Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.
Arts For All sponsors the final fabulous event of Christmas In The Country, a live concert in historic Temple Sinai featuring Clay Parker and Jodi James, the perfect acoustics making the restored place of worship a fine location for the perfect blending of voices and guitars by these two young Louisiana artists just back from a national tour. Reviewers praise their use of dense harmony-singing and subtle musical arrangements binding them to the tradition of singer-songwriters with folk and American-country roots. Tickets available at www.bontempstix.com.
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. Several 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. 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 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 in 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 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us , www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com , or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).