By Courtney Cleveland.
NATCHITOCHES, USA. Don’t assume you can’t get into the holiday spirit in a place down South where it hardly snows! This mid-sized town in Northwestern Louisiana will host the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights for its eighty-seventh year. The festival capitalizes on a staple holiday element—Christmas lights—with other cheerful celebrations. With over 300,000 Christmas lights and activities throughout the Historic District, there is something to entertain every holiday lover.
According to the festival website, the tradition of hanging lights began in 1926, when a man named Max Burgdof thought to string lights around Main Street as a Christmas gift from his company to the town’s residents. Over the next several years, the lights were multiplied until they encompassed the majority of Natchitoches. Residents began coming to observe the first night the lights were turned on each year, and this is how the festival came to be.
The Festival of Lights runs from November 23- January 6, 2013. The first day is an all-day celebration titled “Turn on Christmas!” that concludes with an opening night ceremony and fireworks show over the Cane River Lake.
On Saturday, December 7 they will celebrate the festival’s 87th anniversary. The day begins with the Natchitoches “City of Lights” 5K, the opening ceremony, both the Mrs. Claus and Santa Claus Christmas Parade, a live music concert, and fireworks over Cane River Lake.
Other activities over the course of the festival include:
Free attractions: photos with Santa every Saturday, guided walking tours of the Historic District from Park Rangers, musical entertainment, Fleur de Lis Arts & Crafts Show, Community Carols and Chorus Music Recital, Les Amies Christmas Treasures Arts & Crafts Sale, “Changed by a Baby boy: A Christmas Musical”, Children’s Christmas Party, and Christmas Downriver—Creole tours, educational programs, and musical events. The Creole special is a great way to learn more of Louisiana’s rich heritage.
Attractions with a fee: “Snow Fest” for kids with Frosty’s Avalanche Slide, the Natchitoches/Northwestern Christmas Gala, Holiday Tour of Homes, Féte de Hiver. Fort St. Jean Baptiste SHS 18th century-style celebration, and carriage rides through the Historic District.
If you’re still in the holiday spirit when New Year’s Eve rolls around, there is a free fireworks show at midnight over Cane River Lake. Dates vary on whether or not you there is a fee for the fireworks show, so consult the Natchitoches Christmas Festival of Lights schedule of events. If you do arrive on a day that requires admission, your ticket gives you access to the best views of the river and city bridge. You also gain admittance to a row of food vendors selling the most delicious Southern treats you could hope for on a chilly night. Food options include: gumbo, funnel cake, hot chocolate, meat pies, turkey legs, and many more.
I was fortunate enough to attend the festival the night of a fireworks show last December. I came without really knowing what to expect from this little town, but left pleasantly surprised and full of Christmas spirit. Make sure you bring a blanket or lawn chairs if you plan to observe fireworks from the river bank—and pick a spot early!
To find directions to Natchitoches, visit the town’s website. It is within 72 miles of Shreveport, LA, 140 miles from Lafayette, LA, 230 miles from Houston, TX, and 230 miles from Jackson, MS. The normally placid ambiance of Natchitoches is transformed into a bustling holiday atmosphere during this annual festival. If you are in the area and looking for inexpensive holiday fun, you won’t want to miss it.
Courtney Cleveland graduated from Centenary College of Louisiana with a degree in both Art/Visual Culture and Psychology. Her fields of interest include: travel, language, art criticism, and education. She currently resides in Spain. You can find her writings about life in Spain on her blog.