Many of us hold special memories about Christmas in our homes and the traditions we cherish … but I also hold many special memories of traditions and events held around my hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee. Every fall, my mood begins to swing toward thoughts of Christmas when J.L. and I visit fall festivals and Christmas-themed shows where we begin to see Christmas decorations, handmade ornaments, gift ideas … and run into Santa!!! I usually buy my Christmas cards in the fall and do my holiday shopping then, too, but my real mood swing toward Christmas doesn’t begin until after Thanksgiving is over.
The real kick-off for me for the Christmas holidays comes right after Thanksgiving with the Fantasy of Trees held in Knoxville every year. It’s a premier event to benefit the Children’s Hospital and it offers over three hundred beautifully decorated trees, shops for children, elaborate gingerbread houses, and holiday wreaths and door designs. In a darkened room, ablaze with colorful Christmas lights and music, it’s hard not to “catch” the holiday spirit at the Fantasy of Trees and to want to run home and put up your own Christmas tree!
In the week after the Fantasy of Trees, downtown lights begin to appear around town, the big Christmas tree is lit in Krutch Park, and the annual Santa Claus Parade is held downtown, usually on the first Friday evening in December. Today, many elaborate parades are held all over America and televised, but when I was a girl this parade was looked forward to with great excitement and anticipation every year. Our family always sat to watch the parade on the high wall behind the post office building where my dad worked. It was such a thrill to hear and see the bands coming down the street, to see the decorated floats, and to wave at Santa Claus at the end of the parade. When my brother was in high school, he marched in his high school band in the Christmas parade and later strutted down the street ahead of his band as the school’s drum major. I, too, got my taste of being in the parade, marching in a sequined outfit with Claudette’s majorettes one year.
No holiday period is complete in our area now without driving into nearby Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg to see the outdoor light displays and to spend the evening at Dollywood theme park. The park’s buildings, trees, and entire acreage become a magic showcase of Christmas lights and decorations, with over five million holiday lights sparkling on every corner. The Christmas theme and colors of the lights change every year, as do the holiday shows, always making visiting Dollywood a beloved holiday tradition. The annual event is called “Smoky Mountain Christmas.” The holiday shows, carolers, Christmas parade, and other performances are always a delight and if you stay late in the evening, there are colorful fireworks, too. Dollywood is a joy year-round but at Christmas it is especially beautiful.
Another treat during the holidays is going to some of the wonderful Christmas shows and performances around the city of Knoxville. Some shows carry a high price ticket, like the Nutcracker ballet, Clayton Holiday Concert, and other special events, but we’ve enjoyed many of the equally beautiful free shows as a part of our holiday tradition for years. Special favorites of ours have always been the Living Christmas tree choral show performed at several local churches around town and the holiday concerts we can catch at area churches. We especially enjoy Christmas at West Park on Middlebrook and the Christmas Carol Show at the Catholic cathedral on Northshore Drive. Always on our list, too is the Nativity Pageant, a free drama presenting the story of Jesus birth in story and song put on at the Knoxville Coliseum. This beautiful event is now in its 53rd year and brings the Christmas story to life with glorious music, realistically portrayed Biblical characters, even donkeys and sheep, and closing with all standing to sing the Hallelujah Chorus at the end.
Another favorite part of the holidays is visiting the West Town Mall and its large department stores to see the beautifully decorated trees and holiday decorations throughout the mall. In times past, the mall used to be much more lavishly decorated than today but it is still fun to wander through the large indoor mall and stores to see all the lights and tree decorations. Often the florists around town decorate for visitors, too, and there used to be several we especially loved to visit. When I was a girl, the downtown Rich’s department store extravagantly decorated inside and outside, and inside its tunnel leading under the street to the parking garage. The store also held a free choral concert outside which my family always attended, too.
Finally, no holiday period is complete without driving around town to see all the homes and yards lit up for Christmas. Word usually gets out as to which neighborhoods decorate with the most eye-catching displays every year and it’s a treat to drive through these neighborhood streets to spot the special lights and decorations the home owners have worked hard to create. The parks decorate, too, like Chilhowee park’s Christmas in Chilhowee in East Knoxville and Light the Park at Farragut’s Founders Park. Many parks also offer drive-through hours to enjoy the light displays, like the Festival of Lights at the Cove at Concord Park in West Knoxville.
This holiday, find and enjoy all the free and joyous pleasures around your own home town, just as we do. I’m sure you’ve discovered and created many traditions wherever you live that have become a special and cherished part of your Christmas season, as well as the traditions you enjoy in your own home.
Thank you to all of you for loving us and loving our books. We hope you have a blessed and peaceful holiday season … and a wonderful new year to come.
See you in 2022!
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