Twinkling lights. Horse-drawn carriages. Roasted chestnuts. Community sing-alongs. Live ice sculpting. Costumed stilt walkers. Downtown Thomasville turns into a magical, late 1800s winter wonderland during its annual Victorian Christmas Festival every December.
The festival began in 1986 as a way for Thomasville shop owners and merchants to show off their wares and the downtown area. This year the Victorian Christmas Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary, and the event is bigger and better than ever.
According to Downtown Thomasville Main Street Marketing and Communications Manager Sherri Nix, the city’s history and architecture lend themselves to a Victorian-era celebration. Thomasville was quite the tourist destination for wealthy northerners in the 1800s; the city acted as a sort of winter resort for upper class families who would spend the entire holiday season in the area, and much of the city’s architecture from that time remains in place today.
Even after all this time, Thomasville natives still get excited for the festival and all the fun it brings to town. “They see it as a homecoming event,” Nix said. “People come home for the holidays; they see their friends and family. The community is very supportive of the festival.”
Participation is enthusiastic, and local groups even put together some of the festival’s attractions. Thomasville’s First Baptist Church will present a live nativity with three showing each night, and they make the experience as authentic as possible. “Last year they even had a real baby,” Nix said.
When an event of this magnitude occurs, extensive planning must be done to accommodate the 15,000 plus visitors inundating the city on each of the festival’s nights.
“Literally as soon as it ends, we start with next year’s,” Nix said. “It’s a year-round planning process. The event takes up six blocks of the downtown area. Streets are cleared of cars so people can walk freely without fear of traffic. We have planned routes for the carriage rides. Time is spent on where to place people so they get the best exposure and are spread evenly throughout the event area.”
The Victorian Christmas Festival lures in visitors for a few days of merriment and celebration, but with all those people comes an increase in business that extends well into and beyond the holiday season, something that truly benefits the local businesses of Thomasville.
“It brings in a lot of money to the downtown area,” Nix said. “A lot of people go into the stores and see things they want to purchase. They’ll come back another weekend to buy it.”
Like previous years, the festival will feature plenty of food vendors, costumed carolers strolling around the event area, a Victorian Santa for children to visit and take pictures with, a main stage showcasing various singing acts and caroling groups, a fire performer, and live ice sculpting. Horse-drawn carriages take visitors all around downtown, including past Thomasville’s historic landmark “The Big Oak,” a 336-year-old live oak tree that stands at 68 feet tall and spans 160 feet.
Festival attendees can experience Victorian life via demonstration stations showcasing activities like candle making and iron forging set up throughout the festival area. Adults and children alike can also take a ride on a Victorian carousel or a full-sized Ferris wheel.
When asked which attraction is the festival’s most popular, Nix deferred to Events Manager Sarah Turner. “Visiting with Santa,” Turner said.
Thomasville’s Victorian Christmas Festival will be held Dec. 8-9 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day and is free and open to the public.
Health&Life | November 2016
Thomasville’s Victorian Winter Wonderland
Written by: Anna Limoges