It’s the most wonderful time of the year and 2015 has even more holiday magic in store for Cenla. From spectacular fireworks over dazzling light displays on Cane River Lake and ice skating in downtown Alexandria to a Living Nativity and a Festival on the Bayou, there is something for everyone! Here are just a few of the many ways to celebrate Christmas all across Cenla!
The season kicks off in downtown Alexandria with the inaugural AlexWinterFête at 5:00pm on Thursday, December 3rd with a Griswoldian tree and downtown lighting event, a visit from Santa, street performers, and food vendors.
The AlexWinterFête Indie Village on Fourth and DeSoto streets, will be rockin’ beginning at 6:00pm on Friday on the Indie Stage with John Jordan, and Tamp and Grind Family Jam at 7:00pm. On Saturday from 12:00pm to 2:00pm the festival boasts a Bluegrass Jam followed by performances featuring Blindfold, Chris Hamlett, Hoochie Digs, Guitar Pull, Sauce and Mojo Killjoy.
More than 38 vendors selling everything from art and photography to handmade jewelry, Lego art, dog treats, ceramics, homemade soaps, bath bombs, lotions, and much more will be available for those looking for unique gifts for their holiday shopping. WinterFête will be alive with street characters, face painters, a bouncy house and obstacle course. There will also be a Farmer’s Market informational booth, a Sock It To Me sock drive for the homeless and much more. It’s the most fun you can find just about anywhere!
Perhaps the most exciting feature of AlexWinterFête will be the 13.6 tons of ice on the only outdoor ice skating rink in the state. The 40 feet by 85 feet skating rink is the star attraction of the festival, requiring 3,400 gallons of water to create. The rink will be able to host 100 skaters at a time gliding across its 4” thick sheet of ice. Young and old, big and small, will have access to skates and ice skating right in the middle of Central Louisiana. The winter scene will be enhanced by 10 commercial snow blowing machines, which will disperse a festive layer of synthetic snow for revelers to enjoy while listening to live music and entertainment—all free! Speaking of snow, WinterFête also boasts a snow globe large enough to enter! It’s the perfect spot to snap a memorable holiday picture!
“The ice rink is certainly the highlight and has garnered regional attention from day one,” says Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy. “We have people traveling from neighboring states to take part in the activities. A personal favorite, Robin Barnes, the songbird of New Orleans, is performing along with the Rapides Symphony on Thursday evening—and there will be many other surprises and eye-catching moments. If you haven’t seen our downtown in a few years, you are in for a surprise where you can enjoy the warmth and community of a small town and the benefits of big city living. If you haven’t visited our city, please let me extend a personal invitation.”
Saturday begins with the Ugly Sweater 5k Run and Contest. The race begins at 8:30am, and the contest will be held on the main stage afterwards at 10:30am. Downtown shops and restaurants will be open for business and food, retail, and artisan vendors will open at 10:00am along with the wonderland of snow, ice, great bands, choirs, DJs, dance groups and all that makes downtown Alexandria the next best thing to the North Pole. In a fitting conclusion to AlexWinterFête, the Rapides Symphony Orchestra invites you to join Alexandria native and acclaimed oboist Stephen Caplan along with the Louisiana College Chorale and the Alexandria Senior High Alexandrians as they celebrate “Home for the Holidays” at 2:30pm on Sunday, December 6th in the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center.
The holiday fun doesn’t end with the close of AlexWinterFête. The Alexandria Zoo will host its annual Holiday Light Safari on December 4th, 5th, 11th, 12th, 18th through 23rd, and 26th and 27th. Enjoy the sparkling light displays as they bathe your favorite zoo residents in a warm Christmas glow while riding the Holiday Express.
On December 5th, Kent Plantation House will host An Old Fashioned Christmas from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. Visitors will be able to make ornaments for your tree at home, help decorate the Kent House tree, sing carols and participate in a bell choir. Papa Noel will greet kids and will be available for photos.
First United Methodist Church in Alexandria will present its drive-through Live Nativity on Sunday, December 6th from 6:00pm until 8:00pm. Visitors can drive through and experience the reenactment of Christ’s birth, complete with candlelight and carols. The following Sunday, FUMC will present a Christmas Cantata at 11:00am, all at their Jackson Street campus in Alexandria.
Emmanuel Baptist Church invites you to step back in time…to a place where a single event changed millions of lives forever. Emmanuel will present “Pilgrimage to Bethlehem 2015” to the Central Louisiana community December 10th through 13th. Visitors will enjoy music and drama presented in the beautiful Emmanuel Baptist Sanctuary followed by a guided walking tour of the dramatic recreation of First Century Bethlehem on the grounds. Guests can expect to spend about an hour enjoying the music, drama, and tour. The event is free and open to the public each day. Emmanuel Baptist Church is located at 430 Jackson Street in Alexandria. Call (318) 442-7773 for more information.
In addition to the offerings by the Symphony and Emmanuel, there will be multiple opportunities to celebrate a musical Christmas this season. Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria will welcome 5-time Grammy and 58-time GMA Dove Award winning musical artist Steven Curtis Chapman on Thursday, December 10th as part of his Joy: The Christmas Tour featuring special guest Jillian Edwards. The concert begins at 7:00pm in the brand new worship center at the Calvary Alexandria campus on Jackson Street. Tickets are required and going fast! A few nights later, join The Pentecostals of Alexandria for the annual 2015 Christmas Concert: Promises – A Holiday Worship experience featuring Mickey Mangun and the Pentecostals of Alexandria Choir with featured special guest artist, Adam Crabb. The concert will be held on Sunday evening, December 13th at 6:00pm. Doors will open at 5:00pm, and there is no admission fee and childcare is provided.
On Tuesday, December 15th, the Red River Chorale will present “A Time for Hope and a Time of Joy” at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Alexandria, beginning at 7:30pm. The Chorale will be accompanied by pipe organ, grand piano, and orchestral instruments in presenting their annual holiday concert. Tickets are available online at www.ticket-central.org. Call (318) 484-4463 for more information. On Sunday, December 20th, St. James Episcopal Church will host one of the most recognizable Anglican holiday traditions in the form of its Christmas Lessons and Carols presentation beginning at 5:30pm at the church. The service will feature the Choir of St. James Episcopal Church, and special lesson readers including the Rt. Rev. Dr. Jacob W. Owensby, Bishop of the Diocese of Western Louisiana. On Christmas Eve, St. James will host a Midnight Service, beginning with carol singing at 11:15pm. Bishop Owensby will preach and celebrate Eucharist as the candlelit service welcomes in Christmas Day. Both services are free and open to the public.
In Avoyelles, the weekend of December 12th and 13th is jam packed with something for the young and young at heart as Cottonport hosts its 50th Annual Christmas on the Bayou Festival with several great activities. On Saturday, December 12th, the celebration begins with a Santa 5K Run at 9:00am, with registration beginning at 8:00am. At 6:00pm, the Fireworks Spectacular over the bayou begins. Sunday, the Christmas Parade will roll at 1:00pm along the bayou banks and vendors will be on hand with seasonal purchases. The Town of Cottonport, settled in 1808 and incorporated eighty years later in 1888. While in Cottonport, make plans to eat where the locals do, and bring a cooler to take home fresh meats, boudin and cracklins.
Beautiful Hodges Gardens will again host its popular holiday light display. The nightly display will be on each evening until 9:00pm through December 30th. Several new displays have been added this year, thanks to generous sponsorships and donations, joining traditional favorites that are back again this year. In conjunction with this special programming, admission will be $2.00 per person from 5:30pm to 9:00pm. Children under 3 and annual pass-holders and the occupants of their passenger vehicles are always admitted free. Santa will be available for visits and pictures in the Gift Shop on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, December 5th through 20th, from 6:00pm until 8:00pm.
The “Tacky Tinsel Color Trot” will be held on Saturday, December 5th, beginning at noon. Wear your tackiest Christmas sweater and be prepared to be splashed with color. For more information and registration forms go to www.tackytinselcolortrot.com.
The holiday movie, “The Polar Express,” will be showing at the Lakefront Stage on Saturday, December 12th, at 6:00pm. This annual event is sponsored by Kip and Kim Delatin; organizers are inviting guests to bundle up and wear their pajamas to the movie. Concessions will be available for purchase during the movie by Friends of Hodges Gardens.
Christmas at Hodges is made possible by a partnership between the Office of State Parks, The Sabine River Authority and Friends of Hodges Gardens and through generous sponsorships and donations. Hodges Gardens State Park is located on Hwy 171 between Many and Leesville. For more information, visit www.LaStateParks.com, call (318) 586-7002 or follow the park on Facebook.
The Showboat Theatre at Fort Polk will offer a live presentation of “T’was the Night Before Christmas” this year in two formats. Dinner shows are set for December 5th, 10th and 12th. Cocktails begin at 6:00pm with dinner at 6:30pm. Tickets are $30.00 per person ($25.00 for children under 12). Performance only dates are scheduled for consecutive Fridays, on December 4th and 11th, with shows beginning at 7:30pm. Tickets for the show-only offerings are $10.00 per person, and $5.00 for children under 12. Please call (337) 531-2337 for more information.
The West Louisiana Dance Theater will present its 3rd annual production of The Nutcracker, in two performances only, on Friday, December 11th at 7:00pm and Saturday, December 12th at 7:30pm. The performances will be held at the Leesville High School Auditorium, on Miller Street in Leesville. Tickets may be purchased in advance and at the door. Tickets are $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for children (ages 3-11); children 2 and under get in for free.
Central LA Veterans Cemetery will be hosting a Wreaths Across America Ceremony on Saturday, December 12th at 10:55am. This event is open to the public. This solemn ceremony is a time to remember and honor those veterans who are no longer with us, and leaves a lasting impact on those who attend. Wreaths Across America is a national nonprofit working to ensure that no veteran is forgotten during the holiday season. Wreaths will be placed at the headstones of 375+ veterans at the local Cemetery. To sponsor a single wreath is $15.00. The Central LA Veterans Cemetery is located at 3348 University Parkway in Leesville. Questions should be directed to Nikkie Chavis, local Event Leader at (337) 378-4382,or the Central LA Veterans Cemetery at (337) 238-6405.
The Annual Vernon Parish Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade, a holiday favorite in Leesville, will take place on Third Street, the heart of historic downtown Leesville, at 5:30pm on Saturday, December 12th. For more information about events in Vernon Parish, call the Vernon Parish Tourism Commission at (337) 238-0783, or visit www.LouisianaLegendCountry.com.
The Lagniappe Theatre Company will present the 8th installment of its Cenla Christmas Spectacular on Saturday, December 12th at 7:00pm inside the Coughlin-Saunders Performing Arts Center in Alexandria. The spectacular features live performances from local dance troupes, choirs, theatre groups in a style akin to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Tickets are $18.00 for regular admission, $16.00 for Seniors 55+, $13.00 for children 12 and Under and for Groups of 10 or more. Call (318) 48-STAGE for more information or visit www.LagniappeTheatre.com.
Last but certainly not least, no Cenla Christmas would be complete without the world-famous Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights. Ranked as one of the top three Best Holiday Light Shows by Yahoo! Travel.com, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights is 45 nights of lights, fun and festivities set along the backdrop of beautiful downtown Historic Natchitoches and Cane River Lake. The Downtown area is illuminated by more than 300,000 twinkling lights and 100 lighted set pieces set along the banks of Cane River Lake. Highlights of the Natchitoches Christmas season include the 89th Annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival Day and parade, Christmas Tour of Homes, Natchitoches-NSU Christmas Gala, and spectacular fireworks displays over Cane River Lake.
Named the “Best Southern Small Town” by readers of USA Today Top 10Best, Natchitoches has a long tradition of Christmas spirit. Since 1926 Natchitoches has been home to one of the oldest community-based holiday celebrations in the country. The Annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival began as a one-day event and has now evolved into a six-week long festival season beginning the Saturday before Thanksgiving and ending on January 6th (Epiphany). Visitors can enjoy live entertainment, food vendors and activities along the riverbank, and a spectacular fireworks show over Cane River Lake each Saturday.
On December 5th, Santa Claus makes his first appearance in Natchitoches at the Natchitoches Christmas Festival Parade. Taking place traditionally on the first Saturday of December, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival Parade features the Festival of Lights parade with appearances by Miss Merry Christmas and her Belles, Mrs. Claus and Santa Claus, food vendors, live music entertainment, and the largest fireworks display of the year. Admission for the Natchitoches Christmas Festival is $6.00 for adults, $4.00 for children if purchased in advance, and $8.00 for adults, $5.00 for children if purchased day of festival. Children under 5 are admitted free.
No matter how you opt to celebrate this year, be sure to take time to enjoy the important things in life—family, friends and the blessings we enjoy living in Cenla. From our Cenla Focus family to yours, a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!