The signs of Christmas are everywhere, and nowhere more prominent than at local holiday festivals being staged around the country. There’s much to get you into the proper spirit — the old-fashioned parade down main street, handbell concerts, carriage rides through the “olde town” and, of course, the single-malt scotch tasting. For many revelers, nothing says Christmas like drinking whiskey until you start seeing gnomes, elves and roving members of “Chimpfabulous!”, the most-respected horseback-riding chimpanzee ensemble in the industry.
Are they real or are they delirium? Such is the mystery and wonder of the Yuletide season.
Unfortunately, many Christmas celebrations seem to be wandering from the central theme of the holiday in order to accommodate those with other, less Jesus-centric agendas. I’m all in favor of bringing together a diverse community in a joyous but inclusive gala. I’m just not sure that some of the event organizers on the calendar aren’t looking for any excuse to participate and promote their own narrow interest. Like the chimps, the geo-cachers, the tuba band and the local wireless provider, offering cell phone calls to Santa.
In my hometown, we have an event called ChristmasVille, “jammed with over 70 different activities for all ages,” according to chairman Allan Miller. And the best part is that you don’t even have to leave your cozy home in order to join in the fun. In the Internet age, all you have to do to get merry is visit the website, ChristmasVilleRockHill.com — subject of today’s Website Review — and take the $5 you would’ve spent on the single-malt tasting to buy a couple 40′s of Olde English 800.
The home page summarizes the four-day bash and notes proudly that it was named among the “Top 20 events in the Southeast for 2009″. I’m assuming these are planned events, not incidents like the shooting at a Jacksonville office building or the 100-year flood in northern Alabama, that you’d otherwise think have to be right up there too. There are also the usual links to corporate sponsors, including the tasty-sounding Williams and Fudge (which in fact is a rather bland account receivables management firm) and lead sponsor Piedmont Medical Center, doubtlessly hoping to drum up a little business from the unlicensed food vendors. There’s even an awkward poem:There’ll be fashion and artisans and carolers “by Dickens”! Lamplights and starlight and dazzling white lights (I would’ve gone with “chickens” here) Greenery and scenery and marshmallow roasts Toddies and chocolates and gifts you love most!
The heart of the site, of course, is the Events pulldown, and these will be the focus of my post.
The Opening Ceremonies, called “Lighting of the Village” but fortunately not sponsored by the fire department, features holiday music by “local legend Plair” and a performance by Rock Hill’s own “RockHettes,” all projected on a large screen above the stage so the 30 or so people in attendance don’t obstruct your view. Much of the festive art that appears throughout the event is inspired by hometown hero Vernon Grant, whose claim to fame is that he drew the cartoon characters Snap®, Crackle® and Pop® for Kellogg’s boxes back in the 1930′s, and managed the dash off a few Santas in his spare time. His sprites, pixies and trolls, who are basically the above-named cereal shills with the “K” removed from their chest, provide the theme at sites throughout ChristmasVille.
There’s a Living Nativity, coordinated by a local Baptist church, where you can “come witness real people and animals acting out the birth of Jesus” in an outdoor manger setting. (In case of rain or severe weather, Christ will be born in the Freedom Center gym.) Also living will be “Roving Thespians,” actors in the costumes of Charles Dickens’ London who will be “interacting with festival-goers” in ways that are hopefully different from the pick-pocketing scamps in many of his classics. Some of these strollers may be caroling while others may be accompanied by their dogs, participants in the “Holiday Hounds Costume Contest.”
I hope those dogs are well-behaved because there will be other animals in attendance at the festival. The afore-mentioned monkeys of “Chimpfabulous!” appear to be well-trained, wearing cute rodeo costumes appropriate to the season. But spooked by a shawl-wearing lab mix, they could easily rip the face and hands off of any nearby gnomes, which children may want to miss. Maybe it’d be safer to keep the youngest celebrants over by the Reindeer Romp, the Mother Goose display, or in Polar Bear Park, a “winter carnival with inflatable slides” that can presumably withstand the powerful swipe of the Arctic killer’s massive paw.
Of course, Christmas isn’t Christmas without the wonderful music we remember from our childhoods, and there’s plenty of merry melodies on tap. A performance of the classic “Nutcracker Suite” ballet is always a centerpiece of the season and “there’s no better way to celebrate the holiday than with beautifully crafted trick marionettes sure to get you in the nutcracker mood.” There’s also a “Tuba Christmas” and a “Saxophone Christmas” presentation, a “Senior Choreography Showcase,” blessedly produced by upperclassmen from the local college and not elders from the retirement home, and a bilingual songfest by something called “Grupo Latino.” My Spanish is a little rusty, but I’m guessing this is some sort of Latin group.
Food is another big part of the holiday, and the opportunity to get as fat as Santa is not to be missed at ChristmasVille. In addition to the standard festival vendors offering traditional favorites like chili fries, barbeque and kettle corn, there will be a Brunswick Stew cook-off, a “souper” supper of holiday gruel, and an Asian Christmas feast. Plus, you’re encouraged to patronize sponsoring restaurants in the downtown district, three of which will fall victim to the recession and go out of business shortly after the weekend.
Sometimes, though, it’s the miscellaneous events that can provide the most memorable fun. There’s the “Holiday Foam Pit,” where “older teens can slip and slide in a foam-filled pit — clothing will get damp as if playing in snow.” There’s the “Hands of God Puppet Theater” which, with any luck, will get into a bitter sectarian brawl with the Nutcracker marionettes. There’s “Santa’s Great Gnome Awakening,” an evangelical revival in which the trolls have a revolution in religious thought, accompanied by a Jingle Bell Parade. And there’s a “Pirate Christmas,” miniature golf in a Christmas tree forest, a show by the SMS Dancers (Sullivan Middle School, not text-messagers), and a snow village with 20 tons of trucked-in ice shavings that make terrible snowballs but excellent additions to single-malt scotch.
ChristmasVilleRockHill.com is a fun and festive domain, comprising a complete guide to this award-winning community party. I’d invite nearby readers to come and enjoy but, unfortunately, it ended Dec. 6, nearly three weeks before the actual holiday. You can still tap into the website though to hear some cool 1980s-style digital music and read wrap-up comments from the festival director, the evocatively-named Candy Clapp: “Start planning now so you won’t miss a minute of the fun, starting Dec. 2, 2010.”
Pirates, monkeys, geo-cachers and foam manufacturers — begin your preparations immediately.