Come Home For Christmas in St. Francisville
By Anne Butler
The theme of St. Francisville’s popular annual holiday parade is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and visitors the weekend of December 2, 3 and 4 will indeed experience that warm and welcome homecoming feeling as they enjoy this small town’s safe and family-friendly celebration called Christmas in the Country.
The whole weekend is packed full of fun, with spectacular seasonal decorations, musical entertainment throughout the National Register-listed downtown, breakfast with Santa, caroling and window-peeping, contemporary house tours, living nativity and even a symphony concert. Sparkling lights trace soaring Victorian trimwork and grace gallery posts to transform the entire picturesque little town into a veritable winter wonderland.
St. Francisville’s jovial mayor Billy D’Aquilla, just elected to serve an unprecedented ninth term in office, lights the town Christmas tree Friday evening, Dec. 2, with a welcoming reception, choral performance on the front porch of Town Hall by Voices in Motion at 5:30 p.m. and fireworks beginning at 6 p.m. Local shops as well as vendors in Parker Park downtown offer twilight shopping until 7. Hemingbough is the setting for the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra’s St. Francisville Chamber Series presentation Holiday Jazz, beginning at 7 p.m. and featuring the jazzed-up seasonal favorites performed by pianist Willis Delony and friends, plus a dessert reception (tickets available at Bank of St. Francisville; 225-635-6397).
Saturday, Dec. 3, begins at 7:30 a.m. with a prayer breakfast at United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed by Christmas on the Run, relays for life benefitting the American Cancer Society, with 1-mile Fun Run at 8 and 5-K at 8:30 a.m., both starting from Parker Park on Commerce Street (www.stfrumc.org).
Children won’t want to miss the Women’s Service League Breakfast with St. Nick at Jackson Hall of Grace Episcopal Church; there are three seatings at 8, 9:15 and 10:30 a.m. Reservations are encouraged, and advance tickets ($8) may be purchased online at www.womensserviceleague.com ). The Service League also has its usual fresh wreath and cookbook sale on Ferdinand St. throughout the weekend.
A Saturday house tour (10 to 4) benefits the wonderful parish library and showcases some unique contemporary homes. Tickets ($25 in advance, $30 day of tour) may be purchased at the library, The Conundrum bookstore, or online at www.brownpapertickets.com. Sponsored by Friends of the Library, featured homes exhibit a variety of architectural styles and include Charles and Kate Seal’s classic southern home with sweeping front gallery, Chip and Connie Hunter’s home filled with vintage touches and French influence, David and Angie Ray’s traditional home in The Bluffs golfing community, and Finney and Peter Couhig’s intriguing West Indies-style home.
St. Francisville’s oak-shaded Parker Park overflows with children’s activities, music, food and crafts vendors all weekend including Friday evening, and there will be entertainment throughout the historic downtown area. Dynamic Laura Lindsey gathers children under the tent in the park for Christmas storytelling at 11:30, and the Fugitive Poets perform from noon to 2. New this year in a little town gone crazy for rock painting/hiding/finding is a fun activity sponsored by WF Rocks under the tent at 12:30 Saturday, with guidance by talented Alaine Dibenedetto and her sister Angie in dotting/painting fun rocks which will travel to St. Jude Hospital to spread some joy. The group has brought out the creativity in residents of all ages and even has specially designed T-shirts, one of which will be provided free to finders of a dozen marked rocks hidden around town on Sunday. At 2:30 p.m. the West Feliciana Middle School choir performs under the park tent.
From 10 to 4 on Saturday, Oakley plantation house in Audubon State Historic Site presents Colonial Christmas cooking demonstrations in the outside kitchen, followed from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. by candlelight tours plus period music and wassail. In town, Saturday evening entertainment includes Twilight Shopping and music from 4 to 7 p.m., a Community Sing-Along at United Methodist Church on Royal Street from 6 to 7, a Live Nativity inside First Baptist Church on US 61 from 6 to 8, and “Peep into our Holiday Homes” to admire Christmas decorations in participating historic structures (also 6 to 8 p.m.).
The popular Christmas parade on Sunday, December 4, begins at 2 p.m. and traverses Ferdinand and Commerce Streets. Sponsored by the Women’s Service League, the parade features gaily decorated floats, marching bands, and of course Santa Claus riding atop a vintage fire truck. This year’s theme is “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” and there are not one but three grand marshalls being honored this year, all specially recognized award-winning local educators: Heather Howle, Terrance Williams and Janet Lathrop. Prior to the parade, the Angola Traveling Band from Louisiana State Penitentiary performs in Parker Park beginning at noon Sunday.
The enthusiastic sponsors of Christmas in the Country are the downtown merchants, and the real focus of the weekend remains the St. Francisville area's marvelous shops, which go all out, hosting Open Houses with refreshments and entertainment while offering spectacular seasonal decorations and great gift items. A variety of quaint little shops and galleries occupy historic structures throughout the downtown area and spread into the outlying district, each unique in its own way; visitors should not miss a single one.
The town’s longstanding popular anchor stores have been joined by a number of smaller boutiques offering a wonderful variety of wares—antiques, collectibles, original artworks, upscale and affordable clothing, housewares, decorative items, jewelry, books and children’s playthings-- to remind visitors how timeless is the excitement of small-town Christmas shopping at this exuberant celebration of the season.
Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. A number of splendidly restored plantation homes are open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens and Imahara’s Botanical Garden are open in season and are both spectacular. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation 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 (state budget constraints have unfortunately shuttered Oakley Monday and Tuesday).
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and especially bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting, and kayaking on Bayou Sara. 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 right in the middle of St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups.
For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 or 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online visit www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, www.stfrancisville.net or www.stfrancisville.us (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).