Monday, November 18, 2013

Where to Go: St. Charles Christmas Traditions Festival, Missouri

Cast photo from 2010— I need to find a newer one!

In my good ol’ hometown of historic St. Charles, Missouri, the longest-running Christmas festival in the United States has its home— "Christmas Traditions." On weekends and Wednesday nights from Black Friday to Christmas Eve, the brick-paved streets of St. Charles come to life with a cast of Christmas-related characters from all over the world— and visitors come from all over the world to experience this piece of Christmas magic. This is my eighth year being directly involved in the festival, although I’ve been visiting since I was a little kid. This is the biggest and best cast I can remember: 38 characters, four caroling groups, and a whole lot of awesome Christmas cheer.

Two mischievous Scandinavian elves
pose for a photo with a cute doggie.
The festival is a bit hard to explain to someone who’s never been there. You arrive on the street (after driving all over trying to find parking— tips about that in my follow-up blog) to see a fairly normal historic tourist district, decorated with real greenery and twinkling lights and bright red bows. On an ordinary day you could go here to buy candles, clothes, trinkets, homemade fudge, restaurant meals, knickknacks, shoes, or gooey buttercake milkshakes. But on these special days in Christmas, instead of just hurrying from shop to shop, you find yourself wanting to stay on the street, because of all the crazy costumed people running around.

You might find yourself getting into an argument with Jack Frost, learning a dance from the Sugarplum Fairy, listening for the magic bell that the Train Conductor holds, purchasing fresh-roasted chestnuts from the chestnut roasters, hearing the news from the town crier, witnessing a friendly shouting match between two elves, discussing the logistics of flight with the Reindeer Flight Instructor, buying a carnation from a flower girl, or getting a “Bah, humbug!” from grumpy old Mr. Scrooge. Eleven different gift-givers from around the world are there to tell you about Christmas in different countries: Victorian Santa, Civil War Santa, Frontier Santa, and World War II Santa for America; Saint Nicholas for northern and eastern Europe; Kris Kringle for Germany; Pere Noel for France; Julinese for Scandinavia; La Befana for Italy; Snegurochka for Russia; and Father Christmas for England. 

This festival is for people of all ages: children love to meet the characters, but so do adults. The excitement of the festival is almost tangible.

If you want to learn more, check out the online festival guide. Then make plans to head down— you’ll be glad you did!

(Tomorrow I’ll post another blog about this, noting some of my favorite events, shops, and Christmas Traditions experiences, as well as tips for visitors. I love this festival so much, and I want everyone to experience it!)

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