50 Nights of Lights
By Cheré Coen
Photography Credits: Rory Doyle for Nights and VRX Studios for Cotton House Hotel
Named one of America’s top small towns to visit, Cleveland, Mississippi, will be an even brighter destination for the holidays.
Christmas comes early to the Delta town of Cleveland, arriving before Thanksgiving and lasting into the New Year. And every year the festivities grow.
Titled “50 Nights of Lights,” the celebration involves more than 100,000 lights through downtown, a community tree lighting, displays sponsored by local business and special events that range from live music to Santa arriving in a fire truck.
Only three years ago a group of women approached Cleveland businesses to encourage them to add lights to landscaping and downtown buildings. A massive Christmas tree was added last year along with lighted and animated displays. When a committee was formed to take the celebration further, more lights and events were added.
“The response was overwhelming,” said Kelli Carr, director of Cleveland Mississippi Tourism. “It’s truly grown into a massive Christmas event. We have movies, downtown concerts.”
The fun begins the weekend of Nov. 9-10 with the tree lighting ceremony at 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9, and the Holiday Open House both days. On Sunday, Nov. 10, train rides are offered in the afternoon at Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum.
But the fun continues every weekend through November and December. Live camels visit Cleveland on Nov. 23 and Santa arrives via fire truck on Saturday, Nov. 30. The parade rolls on Dec. 5 and there’s a pub crawl-style event Dec. 14 where participants are encouraged to where ugly Christmas sweaters.
“Every Saturday in December, there’s something going on,” Carr said.
The small town of Cleveland has evolved into a hot destination in the last few years, attracting the 28,000-square-foot GRAMMY Museum in 2016, the first of its kind dedicated to America’s music located outside of Los Angeles. The museum will host an evening of festive and inspirational holiday music titled “Have Yourself A Delta Little Christmas,” beginning at 7 p.m. Dec. 2. Delta artists scheduled to appear are Steve Azar, Tricia Walker, Variety, and the B.B. King All Stars. Dove-award winning artist Buddy Greene, co-writer of the Christmas classic “Mary, Did You Know?” will perform as a special guest along with multi-instrumentalist Jeff Taylor.
The event includes a pre-reception with hors d’oeuvres and an open bar.
In addition to the GRAMMY Museum, Cleveland lured Chef Cole Ellis back home to open the acclaimed Delta Meat Market. The Delta native is a James Beard Award semifinalist and this summer Ellis moved his restaurant into the new Cotton House Hotel, a Marriott Tribute Portfolio Hotel that also includes his rooftop Bar Fontaine.
Cleveland also boasts of Delta State University, the railroad heritage museum that honors the town’s long railroad history, Civil Rights and Blues Heritage markers and annual festivals. Nearby, visitors may enjoy McCarty Pottery in Marigold, Dockery Farms that’s known for its blues origins, and Mound Bayou – the oldest town in America founded by former slaves.
It’s no wonder Smithsonian Magazine named Cleveland a top small town to visit. And its new holiday lights expansion only adds to the excitement.
Where to stay
The new Cotton House Hotel, located in the heart of downtown Cleveland, is a great base of operations for enjoying the 50 Nights of Lights celebrations. Not only does the hotel offer 95 guest rooms and Ellis’ dining options, but all of the town’s holiday activities are mere steps from its front doors. One of the best places to view the light displays is from the hotel’s Bar Fontaine, a rooftop bar that serves European-inspired small plates and cocktails.
And don’t forget Delta Meat Market, Ellis’ award-winning restaurant where Southern dishes are prepared using locally-sourced products. Chef Ellis hails from Cleveland, but moved back to the Delta to open a butcher shop in 2013, which later morphed into a restaurant and grocery combination. Visitors can still enjoy the Market’s innovative meals and take-home house-made charcuterie or artisan cheeses.
Boutique shops and Cleveland restaurants line the downtown’s “Cotton Row,” so shopping for holiday gifts is close at hand as well. This stretch of road was once lined with farmers bringing crops to market, hence the name. Today, it’s the Historic Crosstie Shopping District, containing numerous specialty stores, antique shops and cafes.
50 Nights of Lights Full Schedule
• Joyous Jingles choir performances will begin at 6 p.m., Nov. 14, at the Downtown Gingerbread House, also known as the Gazebo
• Presents and Prayers for Pets will be from 1-4 p.m., Nov., 16 at the Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum
• Camels & Critters will be on hand for the participants to pet and ride from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Nov. 23, on Cotton Row
• Shop Small Friday is Nov. 29
• Santa arrives downtown by a fire truck at 12:30 p.m., Nov. 30, followed by Selfies with Santa and Characters from 1-4 p.m. at the gazebo and train rides at the Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum;
• “Have Yourself a Delta Little Christmas” at 7 p.m., Dec. 2, at the GRAMMY Museum. A host of Delta performers, including Buddy Greene, co-writer of the holiday classic, “Mary, Did You Know?” are scheduled.
• “A Charlie Brown Christmas Live,” 7 p.m., Dec. 3, Bologna Performing Arts Center on the Delta State University campus
• Cleveland Christmas Parade rolls at 6 p.m., Dec. 5
• Selfies with Santa in the Caboose and train rides, 1-4 p.m., Dec. 7, 14 and 21, Martin & Sue King Railroad Heritage Museum
• Holiday Hustle 5K begins at 5 p.m., Dec. 7, at the Bayou Academy 5K Downtown Trail, followed by the Blackwater Trio Christmas Concert, 7-10 p.m., downtown
• Selfies with Santa and Characters, 1-3 p.m. Dec. 8, 15 and 22, Downtown Gingerbread House (Gazebo)
• Screen on the Green holiday movie, 6 p.m., Nov. 21, Dec. 12 and 17, Chamber Green Space
• Pickers on the Porch, 5-7 p.m., Dec. 13, Chamber Porch
• Ugly Sweater Fun Run at 5:30 p.m. and Rotary Sing-A-Long at 6 p.m., Dec. 19, Downtown Gingerbread House (Gazebo).