Covid Christmas in St. Francisville:By Anne Butler
Six Feet Y’all
Six Feet Y’all
For decades, St. Francisville’s wonderful Christmas in the Country celebration has drawn excited crowds to escape mall madness and celebrate a safe small-town holiday the first weekend in December. Its historic charm shone as tiny white lights climbed Victorian gallery posts to turn this little rivertown into a magical venue, its lavishly decorated shop windows filled with alluring gift possibilities and a delightful parade lending its theme to the whole shebang…Walking in a Winter Wonderland, or Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, or something equally upbeat.
Not this year. Pandemic issues have upended the whole celebration, but the resourceful sponsors have figured out innovative ways to ensure the safety of guests, even if it means unseating Santa from his comfy inside throne for outside photo ops with children and a special spaced-out parade marching to the theme of “Six Feet Y’all.”
Events kick off Friday evening, December 4, as retiring longtime mayor Billy D’Aquilla hosts his last lighting of the town Christmas tree at the St. Francisville town hall, complete with fireworks, the United Methodist Church Children’s Choir performing on the front porch (5:30) and a Welcome Walk-Thru. The First Baptist Church puts on a Drive-through Live Nativity at its location at the intersection of US 61 and LA 10 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Private homes throughout the National Register-listed Historic District on Ferdinand and Royal Streets encourage peeping Toms to peer through windows to admire Christmas decorations inside; signs designate homes participating in what’s called “Peep into our Holiday Homes” on Friday and Saturday nights from 6:30 to 8.
Be sure to drive through the West Feliciana Parish Hospital’s lighting display from Burnett Road to Commerce St. and enjoy cookies and cocoa; this will be a popular drive-through all month. Also on Friday, from 7:30 to 9 p.m., Hemingbough hosts the Holiday Brass concert featuring the Baton Rouge Symphony.
Saturday, December 5, Anytime Fitness underscores its understanding that fitness bolsters both mental and physical health, especially in this time of Covid19, by sponsoring 5K and Fun Run races. Benefitting Cancer Services, Christmas on the Run begins at Town Hall on Ferdinand Street, 8 and 8:30 a.m. In downtown Parker Park, live music and interesting vendors will be onsite both Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; over 50 unique artists and vendors sell woodworks, jewelry, bath products, paintings, food and much more.
Santa in the Park is the new outdoor event on Saturday, December 5, at 11 a.m. Featuring opportunities to take pictures with Santa in a fun socially distanced way, this event has been moved by the sponsoring non-profit Women’s Service League to the expansive West Feliciana Sports Park just off US Highway 61 at the north end of St. Francisville and will also feature the West Feliciana High band and cheerleaders plus theater students performing. Advance tickets are available online at www.wslwestfel.com or Facebook:WSLofWestFel; refunds will not be made if bad weather cancels this event. Bring your own picnic foods, lawn chairs or blankets.
There will be book signings for the new Soul of St. Francisville volume, full of fascinating history of iconic faces and places plus beautiful portraiture, at the West Feliciana Historical Society museum on Ferdinand Street on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at The Conundrum bookstore Sunday from 11 to 1.
Saturday evening from 6 to 8 p.m., Audubon State Historic Site hosts its annual tribute to 1815 called A Jane Austin Christmas with wassail, straight-out-of-the-woods seasonal decorations, period music and vintage dancing by beautifully costumed re-enactors; Oakley House, where artist John James Audubon painted so many of his bird studies in 1821, never looks lovelier than by candlelight. A Community Sing-Along raises voices and spirits at the St. Francisville United Methodist Church on Royal Street from 6 to 7.
Sunday, December 6, the Women’s Service League is calling its ever-popular parade through downtown St. Francisville “Six Feet Y’all” in recognition of the Covid19 mandate for safe social distancing. Starting at 2 p.m., the parade features floats, marching groups and local politicians flinging lots of candy, with special adaptations in consideration of the peculiar circumstances required this year for the safety of parade participants and spectators. Live music will be presented in Parker Park before the parade, featuring the Fugitive Poets noon to 2 and Nancy Roppolo & Day Trip 2 to 4.
But the big draw this weekend is the wonderful array of shopping opportunities in St. Francisville. There are co-ops bursting at the seams with antiques and one-of-a-kind collectibles, plus art galleries, specialty boutiques, ladies’ fashions, home décor and gift shops, ice cream parlors and candy shoppes, a bookstore, candles and crafts, fine jewelers and more. Many of these are located in charming repurposed historic structures, some of which were private cottages and others carrying on the tradition of several centuries as mercantiles.
All of the shops are ramping up their appeal for Christmas in the Country, with exquisite seasonal decorations, refreshments, music, and lots of special sales. There’s also the fun “Find Me If You Can, I’m the Gingerbread Man” hunt with prizes; cards and directions are available at the West Feliciana Historical Society Museum and Visitor Center as well as the West Feliciana Parish Library, with Sunday noon at Town Hall turn-in card time. An additional incentive to Shop Small Y’All is the offer of a designer tote bag with purchase of $200 at each shop.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, andNatchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The 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 St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3688 or West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224; online www.stfrancisvillefestivals.comor www.stfrancisville.net.