St. Francisville’s Christmas in the Country December 1-3
By Anne Butler
The 1700 residents of the little Mississippi River town of St. Francisville sure know how to throw a party. Flags flying for every special occasion, they host fun festivals throughout the year, but the holiday weekend called Christmas in the Country, this year December 1 through 3, is the most enjoyable. Spectacular decorations, with millions of white lights gracing gallery posts and tracing soaring Victorian trimwork, turn the downtown Historic District into a winter wonderland, and carefully planned activities provide fun for the entire family.
The theme of the Sunday afternoon Christmas parade, Don’t Stop Believing, sets the tone for the whole weekend and is highly appropriate for a safe, small-town celebration of its bedrock beliefs---in the goodness of people, the beauty of nature, and the strength of community and faith. Plus it’s just plain fun!
Friday evening, December 1st, Christmas in the Country is kicked off around St. Francisville’s Town Hall as the children’s choir Voices in Motion sings at 5:30, followed by jovial longtime mayor Billy D’Aquilla lighting the town tree and hosting a reception complete with fireworks. Twilight Shopping is offered until 7 p.m. by a variety of unique little shops throughout the downtown area and spreading out into the outlying district, offering seasonal decorations, great gift items and extended hours. Visitors should not miss a single shop, and vendors in Parker Park will also observe late shopping hours.
Saturday, December 2nd, begins with 7:30 a.m. Prayer Breakfast at the Methodist Church Fellowship Hall, followed by Christmas on the Run for the Relay for Life supporting the American Cancer Society, with a one-mile fun run beginning at 8 a.m. and the 5-K run at 8:30 a.m., both starting at Parker Park. Little ones can enjoy Breakfast with St. Nick at Grace Episcopal Church’s Jackson Hall; sponsored by the Women’s Service League, three seatings are available at 8, 9:15 and 10:30, with reservations encouraged and tickets available online. The Women’s Service League also offers fresh wreaths and cookbook sales on Ferdinand St. daily all weekend.
In Parker Park from 10 to 4, vendors offer everything from food and music to jewelry, photos, honey, paintings, t-shirts, calendars, hair bows and more. Main Street Band plays in the park gazebo from noon to 2.
The Polar Express train transports visitors through the downtown area from 10 to 2, with a Polar Express movie and fun in the Town Hall meeting room.
St. Francisville’s shops and art galleries are the enthusiastic sponsors of this special weekend, offering a wide variety of inventory, from antiques and art (both original and prints), decorative items, one-of-a-kind handmade crafts, custom jewelry, housewares, artisanal foodstuffs, clothing for every member of the family. Plus there’s something new this year called the Candy Cane Shopping Card, featuring discounts and “I Shopped St. Francisville” t-shirts for purchases over $100.
From 10 to 4 on Saturday, the Friends of the Library sponsor the popular annual Tour of Homes benefitting library programs, showcasing four homes showcasing innovative architecture and eclectic décor. Abby and Doug Cochran’s downtown Ferdinand St. home is a farmhouse-style cottage built in the early 1900s from salvaged lumber, with cypress cabinets and a broad front porch. The Plantation Drive home of Chuck and Heather Walters is in the architectural style called Mediterranean Transitional, with soaring ceilings, old cypress beams, three fireplaces, even a glass staircase. Located on LA 421, the Acadian-style home of Greg Ferris and Wendy Phillips overlooks a 10-acre lake and replicates the understated elegance of area historic homes with exposed beams, old brick, heart-pine floors and old New Orleans accents. Justin and Charlotte Peno’s home in downtown St. Francisville on Fidelity St. began as a simple cottage, later renovated to its current Acadian appearance; it was the 1940s townhouse of Peno’s great-grandfather, widely respected LA senator W.D.Folkes.
Saturday evening entertainment begins at 5:30 at Oakley Plantation’s Colonial Christmas at Audubon State Historic Site, with candlelight tours, period music and wassail until 8:30 p.m. From 6 to 7 United Methodist Church hosts a Community Sing-Along. First Baptist Church (LA 10 at US 61) has a Living Nativity of seven scenes inside the church from 6 to 8, a real Christmas journey—travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem and rediscover the miracle of the birth of Jesus; children love the petting stable, crafts, and hot chocolate and cookies. Participating homes in St. Francisville’s National Register Historic District along Ferdinand and Royal Streets permit visitors to Peep Into Our Holiday Homes from 6 to 8 p.m.
On Sunday, December 3rd, Candy Cane Shopping Card opportunities continue from 10 to closing. Vendors are in Parker Park from 10 to 4, with music noon to 4 by Angola Travelling Band. Sunday’s highlight is the Women’s Service League Christmas Parade beginning at 2 p.m., travelling along Ferdinand and Commerce Streets, with floats, bands, marching groups, dignitaries and lots of throws, all under the theme of Don’t Stop Believing.
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.
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 many offering extended evening shopping during the holiday period, 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).