Cheré Dastugue Coen
We love December with all its twinkling lights, special events and Mrs. Claus (hey, Santa gets the limelight too much). It’s safe to say that most Southern towns offer a light display, a Christmas parade and a visit from the Top Man (and hopefully his wife!) but a few bring out the merry in unique and unusual ways.
Here are a few:
Mistletoe State Park is a 1,972 acre Georgia state park located northwest of Augusta, Georgia, named for a place where people gather to pick mistletoe (a tree parasite) during the holidays. If fishing is more your speed, the park straddles the 71,100-acre Clarks Hill Lake, one of the top bass fishing spots in the nation. Visitors can park their RVs here or strike a tent, then enjoy 12 miles of mountain biking trails. Better yet — more our speed — rent a cabin, pick some mistletoe and snuggle up in a cabin.
Speaking of Mrs. Claus…
She’ll be getting crafty on select dates through Dec. 23 at OWA Parks and Resort in Foley, Alabama, leading classes in cookie baking and ornament decorating, plus enjoying song and dance. You know there will be hot cocoa and snacks as well. And yes, the Old Man arrives on Dec. 10 and offers comp photos for all who chance a sit upon his knee. He'll be making a visit to the North Pole Experience, too, on select dates. The rest of the crew gets in on the fun with Storytime with Santa’s Elves afternoons Fridays through Sundays through Dec. 19 and daily Dec. 20-23. The park offers more than 21 amusement rides for all ages, plus a shopping and dining district known as Downtown OWA.
Make the Kids Work for It
Chetola Resort in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, installs close to 30,000 lights throughout the resort and lake, creating a magical winter wonderland. That alone is enough to attract visitors to this charming resort, but here’s another: The Winterland Kids Stroll. Children must complete a game of self-guided activities around the lake to receive a holiday treat upon completion. It’s a great way to get the youngins excited and keep them busy.
Be Part of a Hallmark Movie
Natchez, Mississippi, was the setting for the Hallmark Channel Christmas movie, "Every Time a Bell Rings," which premiered on TV on Dec. 5, 2021. To celebrate the release and to revel in the upcoming holiday season, Visit Natchez invites Hallmark fans to explore the city's downtown to see both the movie’s holiday decorations and to take a self-tour using a pamphlet that maps out the filming locations. “Every Time a Bell Rings” tells the story of three sisters who find their way back to one another over the Christmas holiday. The movie was filmed in Natchez from Aug. 31 to Sept. 17 and includes such notable Natchez sites as the historic Longwood mansion, the picturesque Bluff Gazebo, Magnolia Grill, Memorial Park, The Little Easy cafe, Jefferson Street Methodist Church, the Adams County Courthouse, the American Duchess and many more. The Christmas decorations, including the Christmas tree on Main Street, are currently on display and will remain in downtown Natchez through the end of the year. A full list of filming locations can be found in the tour pamphlet available online and for pick up at the Visit Natchez Visitors Center (640 South Canal St., Natchez, MS) and various locations around town. To access the online version of the pamphlet, visit https://bit.ly/2ZYag4S.
An Entire Block of Lights — Inside!
When I was a kid in New Orleans, the big event was driving to Canal Street to watch the giant bells ring at D.H. Holmes department store, Mr. Bingle at Maison Blanche and the lighted lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel (then the Fairmont) which stretched an entire city block. We would enter on one side of the massive hotel and exit the other, admiring the endless small twinkling lights that felt like a fairyland.
This year, Gayle Benson, owner of the New Orleans Saints, flipped the switch to light up the lobby with thousands of sparkling lights. It’s such an event, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, musician Trombone Shorty, the family of the late Fats Domino and the cast of “NCIS New Orleans” were there, among other dignitaries.
“I was so touched to be recognized as this year’s lobby lighter for the iconic Roosevelt Hotel,” Benson said. “It’s such a special tradition to brighten up the holiday season in New Orleans. This holiday tradition has always held a special place in my heart and being a part of the celebration was a magical experience that I will never forget.”
Neither will I.