Natchitoches 92nd Annual Christmas Festival

By Cheré Coen | Photograhy by Cheré Coen

Voted as one of the South’s top festivals, the Natchitoches Christmas Festival is just the beginning of a fun-filled holiday celebration in Louisiana’s oldest town.

Every year just before Thanksgiving, the historic town of Natchitoches turns into a holiday wonderland. More than 300,000 lights are hung throughout Louisiana’s oldest town, and 100 lighted set pieces are floated on Cane River Lake or installed along its banks.
“We’ve got it down pat when it comes to the holidays,” said Arlene Gould, executive director of the Natchitoches Convention & Visitors Bureau, adding that the holiday festival is almost as old as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
In 1927, Max Burgdorf, the city’s superintendent of utilities, purchased enough 10-watt Christmas tree bulbs to string along Front Street and to make a set piece to display on the riverbank. And what began as one man’s desire to give thanks to his beloved city by lighting up the heart of Natchitoches has turned into one of the largest holiday festivals in the United States.
“It’s grown so much that it’s now a six-week festival of lights,” she added.
The 2018 Festival of Lights began Nov. 17 with a “Turn on the Holidays!” celebration, with live music, arts and crafts, a visit from Santa and children’s activities. After a day of fun, Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles flip the switch to illuminate the decorations, with fireworks to follow.
Natchitoches’ Festival of Lights runs through Jan. 6 with special activities, holiday tours, and performances every Saturday evening.
“If you can imagine how many fireworks have been blown up in 80 years,” Gould said. The Festival of Light’s such an extravaganza it’s been named winner of the 2018 Shining Example Award “Top Festival of the Year” by Southeast Tourism, the “Top Festival in the State” by New Orleans Magazine and “Festival/Event of the Year” by Louisiana Travel Association.
The Natchitoches Christmas Festival begins early on Dec. 1 with a Natchitoches City of Lights 5k Run that begins at Northwestern Louisiana University. Cajun music star Wayne Toups leads the Festival of Lights Parade at 1 p.m., followed by music on the Riverbank Stage. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. it’s Christmas on the Cane at Fort St. Jean Baptiste State Historic Site where historians, reenactors and period merchants will offer a taste of 18th century living. In addition, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum is open for free tours from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The evening concludes with a spectacular firework show choreographed to holiday music over Cane River Lake.
Festival activities including live music, arts and crafts, and food vendors, occur along Front Street and the downtown riverbank, and armbands are required for entry into those areas. Festival day admission is $10 for ages 12 and over and free to those under age 12.
After the Dec. 1 Festival
Although the heart of the annual celebration is the Natchitoches Christmas Festival, the city will be filled with holiday spirit throughout December.
There’s plenty to catch along the streets of Natchitoches if you didn’t make the Dec. 1 Natchitoches Christmas Festival. Home tours, live music on the riverbank stage and other events happen every weekend with armband admission.
Highlights include the following:
A Holiday Kids Fest is offered weekends on the downtown riverbank. Free photos with Santa will be taken from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 2-24 at the south end of the riverbank.
First United Methodist Church presents a free Choir Cantata on Dec. 9.
A free Christmas musical will be performed at First Baptist Church, along with a Dec. 17 First Baptist Church Natchitoches Christmas Celebration on the Riverbank Stage.

Holiday Tours
Tours of decorated homes, businesses and churches are part of the festivities this year.

Visitors may tour the historic Laureate House and Bayou Amulet House in the “Christmas by Candlelight” tour from 5 to 8 p.m., Dec. 7 and 14. For tickets, visit the Natchitoches Historical Foundation at natchitocheshf.com.
The Prudhomme-Rouquier House, constructed between 1790 and 1811, will be open for a free “Christmas for Children” tour from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Dec. 8. Children will be able to create cornhusk dolls, play Christmas-theme carnival games, and enjoy live performances by local groups.
A “Living History Tour” on Dec. 8 and 15 will guide visitors through downtown Natchitoches to learn the history of the Cunningham Law Firm, now the Natchitoches Historic Foundation, and Trinity Episcopal Church and its Bishop Leonidas Polk, known as the “Fighting Bishop” during the Civil War.
Natchitoches’ Northwestern Louisiana University began as the Louisiana State Normal School in 1884. “A Very Northwestern Christmas” tour will include the three remaining columns of the 1832 Bullard Mansion, part of the original campus, and the Old President’s Home, dating back to 1927, now the Alumni Center. The tour will be offered from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Dec. 6 and 13.
In addition, there will be complimentary admission for tour ticket holders to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and the Northwest Louisiana History Museum. Both are located at 800 Rue Front Street in a 27,500-square-foot museum complex that has won awards for its unique architecture. The Sports Hall of Fame celebrates the achievements of more than 300 Louisiana athletes, coaches and other sports figures. The history museum artifacts range from early Native Americans to the present-day Louisiana.

Accommodations
Natchitoches is home to numerous bed and breakfasts, many of them historic sites, and most dress up for the holidays. However, the Samuel Guy House, built in 1850, enjoys the season to the max.
The house remained in the Guy family for 150 years before it was purchased, moved and restored as a bed and breakfast. The two-story Greek Revival offers seven guest rooms, eight bathrooms, a 55-foot central hallway and a dining and living area that overlooks a lovely garden.
During the holidays, guest rooms are decorated, sometimes with their own Christmas trees, and every nook and cranny of the house contains either holiday decorations or Christmas-themed collections. There are Duncan Royal Santas, holiday cookie jars, a miniature Christmas Village with hand-painted ceramic houses, Hummel figurines and more.
For information on this elegant house that will get you in the mood for the holidays — if the festival hasn’t already — visit samuelguyhouse.com.
For more information and to access a schedule on the Festival of Lights and the Natchitoches 92nd Annual Christmas Festival, visit natchitocheschristmas.com.

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