The holiday season brings with it eager anticipation, a spirit of giving and a renewed sense of community. The challenges of 2020 have been many, and although our celebrations will undoubtedly look different from years past, it’s important to remember that, despite it all, Christmas isn’t canceled! There are many ways—old and new—to celebrate the season across Cenla.
The world famous Natchitoches Christmas Festival began 94 years ago as an act of charity and thankfulness. And in that manner, it continues today. The Christmas Festival tradition began in 1927 when employees of the City of Natchitoches’ utility department decided to give their customers a Christmas present. They erected an 8-foot star made of white lights and placed it downtown so everyone could see and enjoy the wonders, not only of the season, but also of electricity.
Over the years, new electrical displays were added. And in 1936, local businessmen added fireworks for the community to enjoy. This was the start of something big–the beginning of one of the nation’s oldest and most spectacular community based Christmas celebrations–the Natchitoches Christmas Festival.
The themes for the displays are indicative of the season, and are also determined by world events. During World War II, a large “V” for victory was included. The giant American Flag, which anchors the northern end of the displays, was built as a tribute to the men and women of Desert Storm and all other veterans. In addition to the set pieces, the City is covered with more than 300,000 colored lights. For the 94th year, there will be 110 lighted set piece displays along Cane River Lake.
Professional pyrotechnic companies have long since replaced the businessmen who purchased and fired the first fireworks show, which originally cost only $300. Their small show has grown into the premier fireworks pyrotechnic event in Louisiana. The number of shows has also increased from just Festival weekend to including every Saturday evening, from when the lights are turned on in mid-November through Saturday, December 26th. The lights will remain on through Epiphany on Wednesday, January 6th to ring in the new year!
While you’re in Natchitoches, step into a magical winter wonderland as “Christmas In The Park” kicks off its sixth season. “Christmas in the Park” provides the perfect setting for family memories this Christmas. Be merry and bright as you bask in the glow of 250,000+ dazzling LED lights in this growing holiday display. Highlights include Character Experiences, Seasonal Treats, Festive Entertainment, Dynamic 2D and 3D Displays, a new Gift Shop and much more! From interactive fun for kids to uplifting holiday music, nightly entertainment even includes a place for the kids to see Santa Claus and other holiday character favorites at Kringle’s Outpost. Gather the whole family for homemade doughnuts and gourmet hot chocolate. Plus, enjoy other seasonal favorites like caramel apples, campfire s’mores and Natchitoches meat pies at the park concessions.
“Christmas in the Park” is located at 4343 University Parkway in Natchitoches. Regular admission is $6.00 per person, ages four and up. Tickets are available at the box office onsite nightly. For more information regarding times, costs, and FAQ please visit ChristmasInTheParkLa.com or Facebook.com/ChristmasInTheParkLa for the most current updates.
Like Natchitoches, the City of Alexandria is excited to provide a safer take on the usual holiday festivities in the form of a hybrid, partly virtual 12 Nights of Christmas this year. “Traditionally we would be talking about Alexandria WinterFete, as well as the annual Christmas parade, but due to the COVID-19 safety limitations, we can’t do those things this year,” explained Alexandria Mayor Jeffrey W. Hall. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t find new, safe ways to celebrate the blessings of the holiday season.”
The Alex WinterFete Wonder Lane drive-thru event will be held from 5:30pm to 8:30pm on Saturday, December 12th and Saturday, December 19th in the downtown area along Third Street. Participants will enter by car via Murray Street, turning onto Third, with the Wonder Lane ending at Third and Lee Streets near the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center. As they arrive, participants will receive an activity booklet. As guests make their way down the lane, they will enjoy Christmas music, elves and other merry makers, get a chance to deliver a letter and wave to Santa, and receive a treat bag while enjoying the sights and sounds of Christmas displays with lights along the Alexander Fulton Mini Park site. “I think residents will really like the Alex WinterFete Wonder Lane event and all of the family-friendly activities it will provide with holiday lights, fun-filled activities and even a chance to say, ‘Hi!’ to Santa,” said Mayor Hall.
Due to ongoing repairs as a result of damage from Hurricanes Laura and Delta, the Alexandria Zoo will not offer the traditional Holiday Light Safari this year. However, the Zoo will maintain the holiday spirit as workers have installed lights around the main entrance as well as the periphery of the zoo. A number of crowd favorite, traditional Holiday Light Safari figures will be placed along the zoo’s side facing Babe Ruth Drive to be visible to drivers as they pass by throughout the season.
Join the Alexandria Museum of Art for a holiday celebration with jazz musicians Connye Florance and Kevin Madill, with an outdoor concert at AMoA. With appropriate social distancing, tables will be provided with candlelight, holiday treats and holiday decor as well as our favorite holiday luminaries! Ticket holders may bring your own refreshments for your table. Hot chocolate and spiced cider will be served.
Connye Florance is an award-winning vocalist, actress, published songwriter and Teaching Artist, tagged as “Esteemed Southern Artist” in 2007 by Southern Artistry, and Tennessee Arts Commission, and a “Nashville jewel” by her peers. She is a familiar headliner at regional music festivals, jazz clubs, concert series and has toured with Columbia Artists and American Negro Playwright Theater on and off Broadway; has released two studio albums and two live compilations and performed across the country with her one-woman show, “Jazz Rhapsody”. Her career work has included a collection of songs written with the iconic Leon Russell for her self-titled release; creating themed material for the “Reading Success” e-learning project, video & film, workshops at Cumberland University, Fisk University, Belmont University and Indiana Wesleyan University, as well as developing musical biographical presentations for a popular Nashville Jazz series, “Jazz On The Move”.
Kevin Madill has been a musician since age 5 and is highly respected for his work as studio musician, producer, arranger and music director. In addition to having played on, produced and conducted over 3,000 recordings and 2,000 live shows for artists like Tony Bennett, Leon Russell, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Bruce Hornsby, Benita Hill and countless others, Madill has also served as music director and worked with several Nashville Children’s Theatre and Nashville Rep productions. He serves as ensemble leader/pianist for “Vespers and All That Jazz” at Scarritt Bennett Center, and as Music Ministry Director for Nashville’s historic Howard Congregational Church.
The concert will begin at 6:00pm. Guests will be asked to check in upon arrival and directed to their table. Tickets are $12.00 for individuals; $25.00 per table for 2; $50.00 per table for 4; and $75.00 per table of 6.
In addition to the holiday jazz concert, The Alexandria Museum of Art is opening its doors to the community for the month of December! Enjoy free admission to the gallery and explore the “Childhood Classics” exhibit. This exhibition explores the history of children’s books from the turn of the century pen and ink Mother Goose art of Sarah Noble Ives, to the most popular works of today including the digital creations of Mo Willems. The exhibition features the original art of Dr. Seuss, the iconic Wild Things of Maurice Sendak and the perennial heroism of Garth Williams’ Stuart Little. Revisit fondly remembered characters of literature include Babar, Eloise, Madeline, The Cat in the Hat, and Dick & Jane. AMoA invites the young and the young at heart to come and experience the illustrations and the illustrators that brought your favorite childhood stories to life, then visit the museum gift shop where we have many of these classic storybooks available for purchase.
For more information or to reserve your concert tickets, visit www.TheMuseum.org or call (318) 443-3458.
Other events for the 12 Nights of Christmas include a Candyland at T.R.E.E. House Children’s Museum on December 4th; the River Oaks Square Arts Center Annual Porch Sale on December 5th; Rapides Symphony Orchestra’s “Christmas Inside Out” concert on December 6th; a screening of “The Grinch” at the Alexandria Mall at 5:00pm on December 11th; a virtual “Old Fashioned Christmas” on the Kent Plantation House Facebook Page at 6:00pm on December 12th; “Christmas Moments” and “A Calvary Christmas Home Edition” online at 6:00pm on December 13th and more!
While you’re downtown, stop in at the beautiful, historic Hotel Bentley to see the brand new, spectacular, 22-foot-tall Christmas tree featuring 2,800 lights and nearly 500 ornaments that stands in the elegantly decorated hotel lobby. “For so many people, the Hotel Bentley has been an icon for Central Louisiana and for the whole state,” said Owner Mike Jenkins. “We are inviting you to bring your kids to enjoy this new tree so they will have something cheerful to remember this year. We hope it brings cheer to everyone who comes by.” Jenkins and the hotel staff welcome families to take pictures of and with the new tree, reminding visitors to please wear masks and maintain physical distance during their visit. The Bentley hopes this year’s tree will be the first of many to come. “Every year, we’ll try to have a tree similar to this and have even more of an experience,” said Jenkins. “We hope you enjoy it and we welcome you to the Bentley.”
After an afternoon out enjoying the lights and sights of the season, put on your most comfortable PJs, stoke the fire and join in traditions new and old from the comfort of your own home with expanded holiday offerings from Louisiana Public Broadcasting. LPB knows there’s a comfort in the familiar. “The holidays are all about traditions and while we may not be able to follow some of the seasonal customs we are used to this year, it makes us look forward to those that we can still embrace,” says Jason Viso, Director of Programming at LPB. “LPB is proud to bring some perennial viewer favorites, as well as new programs that may become part of your holiday traditions.”
Enjoy the holiday classic, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, on Sunday, December 13th at 6:30pm as Snoopy and the entire Peanuts gang celebrate Christmas for the first time ever on PBS with this special ad-free broadcast. The next night, enjoy the spectacular sounds of the season in “Christmas With The Tabernacle Choir” starting at 8:00pm. This is the 17th annual holiday special with the Tabernacle Choir. This year features Tony Award–winner Kelli O’Hara and Emmy Award-winner Richard Thomas. The music continues on Tuesday, December 15th at 7:00pm with “Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas Featuring Vanessa Williams”. The program will celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s entire iconic album of holiday classics as presented by the Academy Award winning, Emmy, Grammy and Tony nominated superstar—and Rapides Symphony Orchestra 50th Anniversary Season guest artist—Vanessa Williams.
So we invite you to be intentional about celebrating the holidays in this most extraordinary of years. Whether you choose to attend the physically-distanced, outdoor jazz concert at AMoA in person, the spectacular fireworks in Downtown Natchitoches or simply enjoy the sounds of the season on LPB from the comfort of your home, take advantage of the varied offerings this year. And make time to hop in the car for a drive around town to take in your neighbors’ decorations, the lights on the water tower, the wild displays around the Zoo, and the spectacular set pieces along the banks of Cane River Lake. Be smart, be safe, be well and remember to support our community by patronizing local businesses this holiday season.
Merry Christmas, Hanukkah Sameach, Habari Gani and Happy New Year!