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St. Charles Christmas Traditions: going strong for more than four decades

By: Ellen Lampe



Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Saint Charles comes to life with the spirit of the holiday season.

The town transforms into a place where Christmas past and present become one and storybook characters come to life. The cheer of the costumed Christmas characters, the joyful singing of carolers, special holiday events, shopping and dining along festively decorated streets – there’s truly something for everyone at St. Charles Christmas Traditions.

The annual festival traces its roots back to the early 1970s. Its first official year was 1974, but its roots took hold years before as a holiday get-together among friends Donna Hafer, John Dengler and Archie Scott.

“It started out as something small, just caroling and, at one point, even cooking chestnuts,” Scott’s son, Dave, recalled in a city of St. Charles documentary.

Hafer recalled that “Archie had a sled … we’d put a log on that sled and pull it down to the park and have a bonfire down there … we’d sing Christmas carols and wish each other Merry Christmas, and that was our Christmas. … It’s meant a lot to us, but I think it’s meant a lot to Saint Charles, too. It’s their way to start Christmas.”

Each year since it began, the festival has grown, with ever-expanding events, activities and crowds heading to Historic Main Street to celebrate the season. Like those original friends, today’s revelers are drawn to the singing of carols, family-friendly activities and yes, chestnuts roasting over open fires.

Attractions

• Chestnut Roasters

Enjoy the warm and toasty smell of fresh-roasted chestnuts from vendors. Let them demonstrate the art of roasting the holiday snack and purchase a bag to try some for yourself.

• Gingerbread Village and Contest

Visit the sights, sounds and smells of the village and view the unique gingerbread contest entries. The theme this year is “Christmas Memories.”

• Holiday Kissing Ball

Grab your sweetheart, share some hot chocolate and visit the Kissing Ball, nestled under the roof of the gazebo. The bundle of mistletoe, holly, ribbon and evergreen is recognized as one of the earliest holiday decorations adopted in America. Mistletoe represents peace, love and long-lasting happiness.

• Letters for Santa

Head over to the steps of the Old Post Office to its big red mailbox to post your letter in style, or give it to your favorite Legends of Christmas character, who will see that Santa gets it special delivery.

• Santa’s Cottage and Train Land

Stop in to have your photo taken with Santa, visit with his elves and explore the magic of Santa’s Train Land.

Events

Opening Ceremony – Opening Day, Nov. 24 at 11 a.m.• The festival kicks off with a ceremony at the Katy Depot in Frontier Park, 500 S. Riverside Drive, and the arrival of Santa, Mrs. Claus and the Legends of Christmas.

Tree Lighting Ceremony – Opening Day at 5 p.m. • Berthold Square

Santa Parade – Opening Day, Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. • 1000 S.Main St. to Frontier Park •  Main Street comes alive with the music, pageantry and spectacle as of one of the best-loved Christmas Traditions events – the Santa Parade – steps off.

Live in Concert – Opening Day, Saturdays and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
• Berthold Square • Saint Charles’ own Cobblestone Wassailiers join together to sing following the Santa Parade, featuring both beloved carols and original tunes.

Land of Sweets Dance Party – Opening Day, Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. • Kister Park Gazebo • Boogie along with Clara, the Nutcracker Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy and Drosselmeyer. Showcase your best dancing skills or learn some sweet new moves.

Meet Jack Frost and his icy friends – Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
• Berthold Square • Chill out with some of the coolest Legends of Christmas, like Jack Frost, Susie Snowflake and Snegurochka, at the best ice block party on Main Street.

Main Street Krampusnachts  – Wednesdays 6:30-8:30 p.m. • Traditionally, Krampusnacht happens on the eve of Saint Nicholas Day, but you can enjoy a weekly visit from some of Santa’s naughtier friends, such as Krampus, the Mouse King and Belsnickel along North Main Street. Be sure to collect their limited edition cards.

“Twas the Night Before Christmas!” – Wednesdays 6:30-8:30 p.m. • First Missouri State Capitol • Enjoy a special reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas” by author Clement Clarke Moore with musical accompaniment in the historic Peck Brothers residence. Readings take place every 15 minutes.

Main Street Elf Games – Opening Day, Wednesdays and Fridays at 6:30 p.m. •
Berthold Square • Join Mikko, Mikkel and Santa’s elves for a friendly competition.

Evening Candlelight Processionals – Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8:30 p.m.; Sundays at 4:30 p.m. • 900 block of South Main Street to Berthold Square • The day comes to a close with a special candlelight procession. Join the Legends of Christmas as they make their way to Berthold Square. Then, take part in a sing-a-long of traditional Christmas carols led by the Cobblestone Wassailiers.

Meet Santa’s Reindeer – Dec. 16-17 at 3-5 p.m. • First State Missouri Capitol • You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen – now get the chance to meet and take upclose photos with some of their antlered brethren.

Saint Nicholas Day Celebration – Dec. 6 at 7 p.m. • Kister Park Gazebo in the 400 block of South Main Street
• Celebrate Jolly Old Saint Nicholas, a revered Christmas figure all over the world.

Santa Lucia Day Celebration – Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. • Kister Park Gazebo • Observe the centuries-old Scandinavian celebration of “St. Lucy’s Day” with an interactive story-telling by the Saint of Light herself.

Closing Ceremony – Dec. 24 at 1:30 p.m. • The festival wraps up at the Jaycee Stage in Frontier Park with a closing ceremony. Bid farewell to Santa and Mrs. Claus and wish them safe travels for the big night ahead.

For dates, times and locations for all the attractions, click here.

Festival Hours: Opening Day [Nov. 24]: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Wednesdays: 6-9 p.m. Fridays: 6-9 p.m. Saturdays: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sundays: Noon-5 p.m. Christmas Eve: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
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