It’s the season of merriment, deck the halls, jingle bells and homemade cookies. It’s Christmas in Cenla, the time of the year where wonder, magic and awe intertwine. Central Louisiana residents are making plans with family and friends alike as they prepare to celebrate the holiday. In our region, there is a plethora of celebrations planned so everyone may join in the festivities. From a Live Nativity to an Old-Fashioned Christmas to a Reindeer Run to a Festival of Lights, events abound.
“Christmas is a time when family finds their way back home. We celebrate the birth of Jesus, relive childhood memories and continue our cherished traditions,” says Kristen Thomas, while shopping. One event her family has earmarked to attend this season is “A Calvary Christmas,” which will feature a live Nativity. Presented by Calvary Baptist Church, located at 5011 Jackson Street in Alexandria, the three-night Christmas production will take place December 16th through 18th.
Jeremy Christ, Calvary’s minister of music, says the family event will be a two-act visually stunning multimedia presentation which promises to put folks in the “Christmas spirit”. In the first act, Santa, Rudolph and Frosty will be featured, as well as traditional holiday songs. “But the second act gets to the heart of the Christmas season. There’s a living nativity with Mary, Joseph and the Christ child. There are shepherds, flying angels, live animals and a cast of over 400 including a choir and full orchestra. It will be a time to reflect on God’s gift of redemption through the birth of the Savior,” Jeremy enthuses. Tickets are $10.00, and may be purchased at calvarynet.net. The presentation will last about an hour and a half.
Experience the sights and sounds of Bethlehem on December 11th from 6:00pm to 8:00pm with a drive- through Live Nativity sponsored by the First United Methodist Church in Alexandria, at 2727 ackson Street. Celeste Mobley, the event coordinator, says vehicles will be ushered into “Bethlehem” by Roman soldiers at the gate. “People will be able to see a glimpse of the time Jesus was born. We are hoping to offer a tangible way to touch Christmas. You’ll be able to gaze upon Mary and Joseph and Jesus up close. It’s a lot to take in, and it’s very impactful,” Mobley says. The drive-through event is free. “We hope people will be able to relate what they see with the Christmas story. It’s the message of hope,” she adds.
The Christmas season in Alexandria officially kicked off the first weekend of December with the AlexWinterFete’s ice skating and giant snow globe, but the city has many more opportunities to celebrate the holiday, says Mayor Jacques Roy. “The fun does not stop with AlexWinterFete. The fete helps us kick off our Twelve Nights of Christmas events that happen all over the area leading up to the Christmas Holiday,” Roy says. One such event is the third annual Holiday Tour of Homes in the Alexandria historic garden district on December 10th from 4:00pmto 8:00pm, which will have five homes on the tour. Each of the homes will be decorated for Christmas and feature unique architectural character.
The homes on the tour include the Eskew- Downs-Holcombe House on Hillcrest, the Haas-Watts House on Bush Avenue, the Wallace-Randall house on Jackson Street, the Ferguson-Nowlin House on Polk Street, and back by popular demand, the Bottle House, also on Polk Street. Tour participants begin their tour at the First United Methodist Church on Jackson Street, where they can park their vehicles, pick up their tickets and hop aboard the “Spirit of Alexandria” trolleys. Tickets are $25.00, and are available for purchase online at www. gardendistrictneighboorhood.org. Many musical offerings are in the works throughout the city, as well as events reminiscent of yesteryear. Visitors to the Kent House Plantation, located at 3601 Bayou Rapides Road in Alexandria, on December 9th may sip hot chocolate with Papa Noel at “An Old Fashioned Christmas”. “The kids will be able to craft ornaments to keep and make ornaments for the Kent House Christmas tree. This is going to be an old-fashioned Christmas where they didn’t have plastic ornaments. They would string popcorn and cranberries or make angels out of lace. This is going to be a fun event,” says Ashley Dekeyzer, event coordinator. There will be vintage music, storytelling, face painting and a bell choir with audience participation. Admission is free, and the event will run from 5:00pm to 7:00pm.
“A Charles Dickens’ Winter Christmas in Cenla”, complete with music from the Red River Dulcimer Ensemble, will be December 16th at 135 Riverfront Street. Richard Holloway, fort ranger for Forts Randolph and Buhlow State Historic Site, says attendees will be given a candlelight tour of the fort from 6:00pm to 8:00pm. “We will have reenactment actors dressed in period clothing and uniforms. There will also be actual letters read that were written during Christmas time during the Civil War. An original copy of Charles Dickens’ book, ‘Somebody’s Luggage,’ written in 1862, will be on display, and will be read from. Hot chocolate will be served, and the event is free,” Holloway says.
Folks participating in the fifth annual Christmas at Inglewood can expect wagon and pony rides at the holiday event on Saturday, December 10th. Inglewood farm, located at 6233 Old Baton Rouge Highway, will sponsor the activities from 8:00am to 1:00pm. “There will be lots of fun, and photos with Santa,” says Stephen Reed, marketing manager. In addition, John Wakefield, a local musician, will lead Christmas carols. Admission is free.“Joy to the World”, a sacred Christmas concert, in the English form of lessons and carols, will be presented by the Red River Chorale December 13th at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral. The concert, held at the church located at 626 4th Street, starts at 7:30pm. Tickets for adults are $15.00 and $5.00 for students.
Alexandria Museum of Art’s Holiday Music Special will feature John Wakefield, the former acoustic concert host, on December 15th at 6:30pm. The musical celebration will spotlight several area artists in the concert lineup including D.C. Sills, Aaron Sibley, Patrick Swayze, Hoochie Digs, Amelia Ryland, Tammy Hromodka and the Rev. Charlie’s Patent Medicine Show. The concert is free to AMoA members and $5.00 for non-members.
For something out of the ordinary holiday experience, guests are invited to “A-Town Jazz”, a fundraiser for the Arts Council of Central Louisiana. The special night is set for December 9th at 7:00pm Linnzi Zaorski, a jazz singer and songwriter based in New Orleans, and her band, Delta Royale, will sing in a jazz club atmosphere at the Hurst Loft, 1611 Washington Street in Alexandria. Offbeat Magazine in New Orleans described Zaorski’s first songwriting effort as fitting “snugly in the confines of Depression-era pop music.” “The guests will enjoy food, drink, conversation and dancing in a relaxed, cabaret setting,” says Julie Prevot, event coordinator. Tickets are $25.00, and may be purchased online at Ticket-Central.org or by calling (318) 484-4474.
For a bit of “crazy” Christmas fun, Four Seasons Bowling Center in Alexandria has set December 16th as the Ugly Sweater Rock N’ Bowl event. From 9:00pm to midnight, bowlers can join in the festive atmosphere and compete in the ugly sweater contest. Prizes will be awarded. The tickets are $20.00, and cover shoe rentals and all the games bowled.
Visitors to the Holiday Light Safari at the Alexandria Zoo can bundle up and stroll through the zoo’s natural setting aglow with thousands of glistening lights. A “wild animal” theme will be featured throughout the park. The Holiday Light Safari will be open December 9th and 10th, and again December 16th through 23rd from 5:30pm until 8:00pm. Tickets will be $7.00. There will be activities for children, train rides, Santa and live entertainment on select evenings.
Quickly becoming a holiday staple, “Magic Christmas”, a winter wonderland at the home of Walter and Jackie Monkhouse, opens December 9th. The elaborate Christmas display at 5201 Argonne Boulevard in Alexandria blazes with more than 200,000 lights and computerized animation. A train chugs through the elaborate forest of twinkling Christmas trees. Antique toys, outlined with glowing lights, hang from two stately oak trees in the front yard. The magical display has garnered so much attention that it will be featured on the December 19th episode of ABC’s “Great Christmas Light Fight” show. For those wanting to soak in the magical display, parking is provided at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Versailles Boulevard, which is about 150 yards from the “Magic Christmas” display. Weather permitting, the spectacular light show twinkles nightly from 6:30pm to 9:00pm Monday through Thursday, and until 10:00pm on the weekends.
Christmas parades will roll in just about every town in Cenla this holiday season. The Alexandria Christmas Parade is set for Sunday, December 11 at 2:00pm. The route will include Metro Drive to Jackson Street Extension. Pineville, which has the largest at-night Christmas parade in Rapides Parish, will roll Friday, December 9th at 7:00pm. More than 125 floats are expected in the parade. “We are really excited about the parade and are ready for the holiday. We invite people to come out. We’re looking forward to it,” says Clarence Fields, Pineville mayor. State Sen. Jay Luneau will serve as the grand marshal for the parade. The parade route begins on H. P. Long Hospital Boulevard, and will travel up Main Street to Military Highway, and end at the Trotter Center at Clairborne. In addition to the parade, Santa’s House, outside City Hall at 910 Main Street, will be open now through December 23rd. The Gingerbread House, located inside City Hall, will be open Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.
In Avoyelles Parish, the 51st annual Christmas on the Bayou festival in Cottonport will be held December 10th and 11th. “It’s been a great tradition in our town. Christmas on the Bayou is a wonderful family outing, and we hope everyone will come out and join us along the bayou,” says William “Scotty” Scott, the Cottonport mayor. The Santa Run/Walk will head out of the starting blocks on Saturday, December 10th, with registration at 8:00am with the run starting at 9:00am. Participants are encouraged to dress like Santa. The fireworks on the bayou, which meander through Cottonport along Highway 107, will begin at 6:00pm that night. The Christmas parade will roll down the streets on Sunday, December 11th at 1:00pm. For more information about Christmas on the Bayou, call (318) 876-3485. Other holiday festivities planned in Avoyelles include “Brunch with Santa” at the Paragon Casino Resort Marketplace Buffet on December 10th at 10:00am, and a Christmas Open House at Paragon 10:00am until 3:00pm. For more information about these events, call (318) 253-1946.
“Rudy”, the smiling tank car of the Kansas City Southern “Holiday Express” train will be making a stop in Leesville in Vernon Parish on Tuesday, December 6th from 4:00pm to 8:00pm at the KCS yard, located at 901 South 3rd Street. The Holiday Express is a six-car train that brings Santa and his elves to communities along the KCS tracks. Each car will be decorated in a festive Christmas motif, including Santa’s sleigh and an elf workshop. Admission is free, and each child in attendance will receive a gift bag.
Spirits will continue to be bright December 10th in downtown Leesville as the Christmas events the city has planned unfold. Leesville Mayor Rick Allen says he is excited about the Christmas Festival in the historic city. “This will be a great family time where our community really comes together with an outpouring of love and affection,” Allen says, adding that jackets have been collected for the needy and the city partnered with a local business to donate 100 bicycles for area children who might not otherwise get a Christmas present. “It’s that time of year where dreams do come true. Everybody has come together to help. We are a very blessed community,” Allen adds.
For the Christmas Festival, there will be shopping with local vendors at the Third Street Open Market as well as downtown merchants. The Leesville Pilot Club will sponsor the “Reindeer 5K Run” at 9:00am. A variety of events are planned for the festival including Adopt-a-Tree decorating, a People’s Choice Gumbo Cook-off, a Nutcracker dance performance in front of the historic courthouse, Christmas card-making at the Senior Circle and Christmas storytelling at Gallery One Eleven. The annual Vernon Parish Christmas Parade will begin at 5:30pm, with photos with Santa at the VFW following the parade.
The theme for the parade is “Christmas Around the World”. Tammy Anderson, festival coordinator, says about 60 arts and craft vendors will be set up on the south end of 3rd Street during the festival selling homemade items and candies and jellies. “On the north end of 3rd Street, there will be an antique car show. The festival brings the wholecommunity together,” she notes. Sweet Thing Bakery will have a gingerbread work shop for the children, and at 4:15pm, the Cajun Night Before Christmas will be read on the old courthouse steps. Events are expected to conclude by 7:00pm. For more information about the Christmas Festival, call (318) 423-5110.
With more than 350,000 Christmas lights twinkling up and down the streets of the Natchitoches Downtown Historic District and the glow of more than 100 lighted pieces shimmering on Cane River lake, the city offers a perfect place to celebrate the season. The 90th annual Christmas Festival in the state’s oldest city welcomed thousands of people the first weekend of December. “I think we really have a great show with the parade and the fireworks. All the lights really put you in the Christmas spirit,” says Lee Posey, the Natchitoches mayor.
The city keeps giving back by having the firework shows every Saturday in December, except for Christmas Eve. However, there will be a fireworks display on Friday, December 23rd at 7:00pm. Every weekend, something is planned. Horse- drawn carriage rides are offered throughout the holiday season. The Christmas Tour of Homes, focusing on the expressions of the Christmas season, will be held December 7th, 9th, 10th, 14th, 16th and 17th. All the homes on the tour are located in the historic district. Tickets are $20.00 per night. On December 17th, the Cane River Creole National Historic Park will present “A Creole Christmas” on the riverbank stage at 1:00pm. Admission is free.
Christmas is so much more than presents under a tree or stockings hung from a mantle. It is a time where people are reminded it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. It is a time for family and friends to gather and reflect upon what the holiday means to them. With all the fantastic holiday events all across Cenla, get out and make this the merriest Christmas of all!