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Jacksonville lights its tree early this year

New activities and attractions will christen the next era of Jacksonville’s Victorian Christmas Celebration.

Lighting the city’s Christmas tree a weekend earlier than in previous years “expands the season,” says organizer Tim Balfour. The revelry will run for five consecutive weekends, starting Saturday, Nov. 29, with some of Jacksonville’s exhibits and historical properties remaining open for tours the weekend after Christmas, Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 27 and 28.

“It is sort of a small-town Christmas story,” says Balfour, president of the board of directors for the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

Like all classic stories, this one has its timeless characters: Father Christmas with elves in tow, Town Crier Larry Smith and carolers in period costume. These populate Jacksonville’s nostalgic backdrop that calls to mind such iconic holiday films as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” says Balfour.

“It’s kind of that magical effect,” he says.

Daylight will furnish the overall effect this year for Jacksonville’s beloved Christmas parade, which makes a circuit of Main, Oregon and California streets. Event organizers moved the parade from evening hours to 10 a.m. Saturday, Dec., 6. The change is intended to encourage more families with young children to attend and to improve visibility of the spectacle and even parade participants’ comfort with warmer temperatures, says Balfour.

“Then the families could stay around and take advantage of all the other activities.”

Horse-drawn wagon rides, free apple cider and visits with Father Christmas constitute the “core” activities of Victorian Christmas, primarily offered from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., says Balfour. In another innovation for 2014, the jolly old elf will receive children in Jacksonville’s circa-1883 courthouse, 206 N. Fifth St.

“Father Christmas is a huge hit,” says Balfour, adding that the actor gets special permission from his employer to grow his beard for the role and brings along his own grandchildren in the guise of elves.

“The way he interacts with the kids is priceless.”

Father Christmas presides over both the tree-lighting at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov., 29, and the following weekend’s parade. Last year, nearly 300 people witnessed the tree’s illumination, says Balfour.

Once the “gorgeous blue spruce” is alight and the crowd has joined in traditional carols, Father Christmas will adjourn to an alcove behind the historical Beekman House, 425 E. California St., for photos, rather than remain at the tree-ceremony site, says Balfour.

“Watching the little kids’ eyes light up … was just a pleasure,” says Balfour of last year’s meet-and-greet with Santa Claus.

The next weekend, Father Christmas will hold court in a small room with a restored fireplace inside the Historic Jackson County Courthouse. The foyer of the stately building is an ideal waiting area, says Balfour.

Just as the historic courthouse is becoming more of a community gathering place, Victorian Christmas is becoming a community-driven rather than merchant-driven endeavor, says Balfour. For the first time in the event’s decades-long history, the Chamber appealed to Jacksonville residents’ enthusiasm for the celebration and solicited community donations to support it, he says. Whether depositing spare change in collection boxes or signing checks for $100, residents of Jacksonville and surrounding areas came forward with $2,000 to offset the budget of $14,000 for Victorian Christmas, says Balfour.

“It was very well received,” he says. “We were building on an incredibly strong foundation.”

SCHEDULE OF EVENTS

Saturday, Nov. 29

4:30 to 7 p.m. — Free coffee, hot chocolate, tea, popcorn and candy canes at Odd Fellows Hall, 175 S. Oregon St.

5 to 7 p.m. — Merchant open house, downtown

5:30 p.m. — Christmas tree-lighting and community caroling, downtown

Saturday, Dec. 6

8 to 10 a.m. — Breadfast burritos at Odd Fellows Hall, 175 S. Oregon St.

10 to 11 a.m. — Christmas parade, downtown

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Lunch will be available at Odd Fellows Hall, 175 S. Oregon St.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Father Christmas, 206 N. Fifth St.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Horse-drawn wagon rides, carolers, town crier and free hot cider; downtown

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Beekman House holiday tours, 425 E. California St., and historic St. Joseph’s Rectory open house, 210 N. Fourth St.

Noon to 3 p.m. — “Small Treasures” art exhibit opening reception, 216 N. Fifth St.

Sundays, Dec. 7, 14 and 21

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Lunch will be available at Odd Fellows Hall, 175 S. Oregon St.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Father Christmas, horse-drawn wagon rides, carolers, town crier and free hot cider

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Beekman House holiday tours and historic St. Joseph’s Rectory open house

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — “Small Treasures” art exhibit

Saturday, Dec. 13

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Lunch will be available at Odd Fellows Hall, 175 S. Oregon St.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Father Christmas, horse-drawn wagon rides, carolers, town crier and free hot cider

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Beekman House holiday tours and historic St. Joseph’s Rectory open house

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — “Small Treasures” art exhibit

2 p.m. — Youth Symphony of Southern Oregon chamber music concert, First Presbyterian Church, 425 Middle St.

Saturday, Dec. 20

10 a.m. to 2 p.m. — Lunch will be available at Odd Fellows Hall, 175 S. Oregon St.

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — Father Christmas, horse-drawn wagon rides, carolers, town crier and free hot cider

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Beekman House holiday tours and historic St. Joseph’s Rectory open house

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — “Small Treasures” art exhibit

Saturday, Dec. 27

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Beekman House holiday tours

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — “Small Treasures” art exhibit

Sunday, Dec. 28

11 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Beekman House holiday tours and historic St. Joseph’s Rectory open house

11 a.m. to 4 p.m. — “Small Treasures” art exhibit

Reach freelance writer Sarah Lemon at thewholedish@gmail.com.

Costumed carolers entertain shoppers outside of Bella Union Restaurant and Saloon as part of Jacksonville's Victorian Christmas. Mail Tribune file photo
Jacksonville's Victorian Christmas celebration will run longer this year, giving visitors more time to explore the town during the holidays. Mail Tribune file photo