Christmas in the Square

One Up on the Triad and the Triangle

Story by Norwood Walker

Christmas time arrives at the mall even before Halloween can make an appearance and don’t even think about finding any trace of Thanksgiving.  Christmas music begins to appear earlier and earlier and even the Hallmark Channel pushes Christmas movies as early as July.  It is enough to make anyone wonder what ever happened to old-fashion, simpler, less commercial celebrations.  Simple, they can still be found if you just know when and were to look.  And that place is here in our own backyards.

Using Danville, South Boston, Roxboro, and Yanceyville as the four corners of a somewhat irregular square and not forgetting Milton which is located within the square, a variety of celebrations can be found starting in the month of November and extending into the new year.  These five communities varying in size from Danville with a population of just over 40,000 to Milton with a population of under 200, offer a surprisingly similar array of Christmas events including shopping opportunities at Christmas themed craft shows and markets, lighted trails to traverse by either vehicle or on foot, Christmas tree lightings and entire community events, Christmas plays and programs both religious and secular, and of course parades.

Christmas parades can trace their history all the way back to 1888 to the town of Peoria, Illinois.  In this first parade Santa made his appearance in a Conestoga Wagon which has appeared in every parade since.  For the first 72 years of the parade, it was sponsored by the department store Schipper and Block.  Being a success from the very beginning, this particular parade grew and the idea spread like wildfire.  At the end of every parade during the sponsorship of Schipper and Block, the parade ended with Santa climbing a fire escape ladder and disappearing through the fifth story window of the store into the toy department. Christmas parades became a holiday tradition in every community, town, and city across the country.

Milton, North Carolina

While not having a parade, the town of Milton does have a celebration that involves the entire community and is certainly worth taking in.  This year the event will take place on December 1st and will be a full day of family fun, food, and entertainment culminating with the lighting of the town Christmas tree at dusk.  For the shoppers, stores like Aunt Millie’s Antiques, The Milton Art Gallery, Bohemian Bodyworks Soaps (being sold at the Milton Tire and Grill, and Carolina Vintage Company will offer gifts not found at Macy’s or Wal-Mart.  Many of the items sold in these stores are either locally crafted or items from yesterdays.  In addition, many vendors will be set-up throughout the town offering their own unique wares.  The Milton Woman’s Club will be there with tasty baked goods.  Proceeds from their bake sale fund the upkeep of the Cedars Cemetery and the old Christ Church Episcopal church building.  A scavenger hunt is planned for the kids in which they will have their cards punched after spotting certain “hidden” items at businesses and other sites.  After completing the punches, they will receive a small prize.

The scavenger hunt will begin at the Thomas Day House/ Union Tavern which will be open with no required donation for this day.  In addition to the start of the hunt, the popular Christmas Tea for visitors will be hosted by the Thomas Day House.  This historic structure built in 1818 first served as the Union or Yellow Tavern, a popular stop on the busy stagecoach line between Hillsborough, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia.  Thomas Day purchased the property in the 1840’s for his cabinet making workshop and home.

Across the street from the Day House is located the Milton Renaissance Museum and Visitors’ Center which is housed in the Old Milton State Bank built in 1860.  Visitors to the museum will be able to view the exhibits and also experience some old-fashioned decorations.  They will be entertained by Jami Eckemoff who will be playing Christmas songs on the piano at various times throughout the day.  In the past young carolers have also been present and will likely be again this year as well.  The Little River Cloggers from Rougemont, NC will also be performing.  Like the events at the Thomas Day House these are admission free.  Christmas music will also be ongoing at the Milton Presbyterian Church.   A Milton Gift Basket raffle will be part of the day, as well as a visit from Santa at some point.  While free refreshments will be available at most places those wanting more substantial fare will not be disappointed in Aunt Millie’s Pizza, Milton Tire and Grill, and the Milton Baking Company Café and Pub.

This is the place to make Christmas memories like the one shared here by Caswell Messenger Columnist Jean Scott, 93: “Even when my children were young, there were Christmas pageants in all the churches with Santa Claus always arriving with his big bag of gifts. My older sister, however, remembered the tree at the Presbyterian Church was lighted with real candles, actually burning.  One-year Santa caught his beard on fire when he reached into the tree.  Pandemonium ensued.”  For the last 30 years or more there has been a community service at either the Methodist of the Presbyterian Church focusing on the Advent service, but with no Santa.

Yanceyville, North Carolina

Following NC 62S out of Milton a little over 12 miles lies Yanceyville, the first corner of the square.   Yanceyville’s population is just under 2,000 and is home to one of the most iconic looking courthouses in the state.  Completed in 1861, it is a blend of Victorian, Romanesque, and Classical architecture.  Sitting in the center of the town square, the courthouse is a year-round attraction, but during the Christmas season it serves as a backdrop for other attractions.  A new event going into its second Christmas season is the Trail of Lights.  The Arboretum, located directly behind the courthouse, becomes a magical place with over 5000 white lights outlining the walks throughout the area.  A completely community driven event, various groups and individuals work to bring this about. Businesses, local civic groups, churches and non-profits are invited to create displays in the open areas of the Arboretum for visitors to enjoy as they stroll along the lighted pathway.  Last year many more visitors than ever anticipated enjoyed this venue.  The trail opens on November 30 and remains open until January 13th.  The entire community including the kids work to make this happen.  Sounds of the season are offered by a Mennonite family as they sing carols around the square.

November 30th this year the trail celebrates its opening with Vendors on the Square which allows for early Christmas shopping.  Vendors will be located on the square and down Main Street towards the Lee Fowlkes Gallery at 43 W. Main St. in Yanceyville where the Caswell County for the Arts will present their annual Artisans Market.  This special event featuring a variety of artisans displaying their handmade works will be a great place to purchase unique holiday gifts while supporting our local artists. The Caswell County Local Foods Council will be serving homemade soup at the market as well.  Shopping for locally crafted gifts, enjoying homemade soup from local ingredients, enjoying natural beauty enhanced by tasteful lighting certainly exemplifies the spirit of the season.  Especially when everything is done with the sense of love and community that is found here.  Add to the lighting of a huge outdoor Christmas tree, the decorated courthouse, and a parade the next morning and even the Grinch and Ebenezer should be full of the Christmas spirits.  The parade is sponsored by the chamber of commerce and is also community driven.

Danville, Virginia

Less than 14 miles north on highway 86 lies Danville, Virginia the second and largest corner of the square.  With a population of over 40,000, larger more commercialized Christmas celebrations would be expected.  But Danville, regardless of the larger population still manages to present large events but with a non-commercialized air.   The Community Holiday Light Show takes place in Ballou Park each year.  Various organizations and businesses based in Danville and surrounding areas decorate a spot in the park to raise money for a non-profit organization of their choice.  The event is sponsored by the Parks and Recreation Department and uses the support of volunteers to work the gates of the events.  Displays in the past have run from the simplest to more elaborate themed displays.  Last year over 11,000 people attended the event over its run.  This year the event opens on Saturday, December 8th and runs nightly through December 25th with the exception of Christmas eve.  Hours Sunday through Thursday are from 6pm to 9pm and Friday through Saturday 6pm to 10pm.  Admission is $7 per vehicle and $15 for minivan and 15-passenger vans.  A special Children’s Village with free photos with Santa, holiday crafts, and hot chocolate will operate nightly until 9pm through December 23rd.

The Danville Christmas parade is on a bit larger scale than the Yanceyville Christmas parade but is still full of the community spirit and spirit of the holidays.  Sponsored by the River View Rotary Club this event takes place on December 2 at 3:00 in the afternoon.  Last year’s parade contained over 100 floats with expectations for that and more this year.  This year’s theme is A Storybook Christmas and all entries should follow this theme to present entertaining floats and displays aimed at children of all ages.

Two big markets highlight events in the River District of South Boston.  Both take place at the Danville Community Market located at 629 Craighead Street.  This is the big red building at the Crossing right across the parking lot from the Danville Science Center and near one of the main accesses to the River Walk.  On November 17 from 8 am till 2:00 pm, the Holiday Bazaar will offer the best of Danville crafters, bakers, and artisans. This is an ideal place to shop for unique gifts and baked items to be used in upcoming holiday family events.  With over 100 vendors located inside and outside, this is a looker and shopper’s paradise.  Over 75% of all the items on sale are homemade.  Then on December 1 from 8am to 2pm the emphasis is even more concentrated on the upcoming holidays.  The 9th Annual Holiday Market will offer live locally grown Christmas trees, baked goods, wreaths, jewelry, artwork, and other unique gifts. Everything needed to make for happy holidays and not a mall in sight.  The Annual Breakfast with Santa Claus will take place from 9am until 11 am with pancakes, pictures and visits with Santa.  This part of the event is sponsored by the Danville Girl Scouts.

The River District in past years has hosted the tree lighting in the Plaza with many local groups providing a night of music around the tree, and other events such as events at the Science Center such as a showing of The Polar Express, and Christmas Storytime at the Brewed Awakening.  Be sure to check River Walk District and Danville Parks and Recreation websites as many events such as these are still in the planning stage for this year.  But these four above events give you some idea of varied opportunities available in Danville.

South Boston, Virginia

South Boston is little over 30 miles to the east of Danville if you travel highway 58W.  Not as large as Danville in population and area, they both have the Dan River running right through them.  They also share a celebration of the holiday spirit with a parade and large Christmas markets.  South Boston’s Christmas Parade has undergone some changes during the past few years.  Now each parade has a theme and grows in the number of floats, bands, and other entries.  This year the theme of the parade is A Charlie Brown Christmas that will be held on December 1st at 5 pm and is truly a community event.  Destination Downtown South Boston is the organizer of this year’s parade as well as for the past several years.  More information on this year’s parade will be available soon.

Another traditional event in South Boston is the Christmas Open House.  This event occurs in November and this year is scheduled for November 18th.   On this Sunday afternoon, participating businesses will be open for early holiday shopping.  They will all have holiday themes and be open from 1 until 5.  This annual event is highly anticipated and well attended.  Many families make the trek from church to downtown and spend a leisurely afternoon of fellowship and shopping.  Many are still dressed in their “Sunday clothes” and this adds to the kind of special atmosphere generated by an event of this kind.  Santa also makes an appearance from 1 until 4 for the kids. This low-key event helps ease everyone into the holiday spirit in a more laid-back way.  Also happening in November, the Prizery does its part to help usher in the season.  This year they will provide the venue (as always) for the Halifax Little Theater’s production of The Christmas Belles, showing nightly November 16,17, 23, 24 with matinee performances on November 18 and 25th.  This laugh out loud show will ring all kinds of holiday bells for anyone who has ever had to help put on a Christmas pageant.

The Holiday Living Show sponsored by the Business Women’s Association of Halifax County will hold its annual Holiday Living Show November 10 from 9am to 5pm and November 11 from 1pm to 5pm at the Halifax County High School. A small admission fee of $2.00 is charged for this event and all the proceeds go to fund scholarships for local high school students.  The Holiday Living Show is a way for the organization to give back to the community by offering an event that is anticipated each year.  For over 30 years the event has been held and has grown to having artists and crafters from all over Virginia and other states.  It also offers the opportunity to get those special Christmas gifts early and be able to more truly enjoy the spirit of the season.   Many of the local churches located along the North Main Street of South Boston will also be offering Christmas programs and special music.  Check the Destination Downtown website for more events that will be occurring in South Boston.

Roxboro, North Carolina

The last point of the square is reached by traveling highway 501 south out of South Boston back into North Carolina and the town of Roxboro.  Many childhood memories of Christmas in this small town come to mind.  I remember attending Christmas parades as a child and then later as a parent and grandparent.  Parades at night, parades during the day, freezing cold parades and short sleeves.  Parades that were sponsored by a vibrant downtown merchant’s association with stores open and bustling with shoppers. Parades that sometimes were the only life that could be found in the downtown area as one by one the stores moved out.

This year’s parade will find a re-emerging downtown.  A new restaurant, a brewery, a newspaper office on Main Street, a town on the cusp of revival.  The Kirby Complex continues to be a vital part of this revival, as well as an active Chamber of Commerce, the TDA, and the Uptown Roxboro Group.  The Christmas parade will be on Saturday, December 15th and will follow its traditional route.  The theme for this year’s parade will be Christmas of Yesteryear.

On the night of December 6th, Jingle on Main will be held.  This recently added annual event lights Main Street from the Pavilion at Merritt’s Common all the way to the Kirby and beyond.  Shops are open and foods are available for a night of family fun.  Pictures can be taken with Santa and local choral and high school bands, dance schools, children’s groups and many others add to this festive night.  In the past movies have been shown at the Kirby along with other forms of entertainment offering something for any age range.  One year there was actually snow blowing from a machine on the Kirby marquee.  The following night a free viewing of the movie The Polar Express will be held at the Kirby.  Also, being held at the Kirby December 14, 15, and 16 will be the Roxboro’s Little Theater production The Christmas Belles.  If you missed the performances in South Boston or just want to check out another performance this is your chance.

A holiday shopping favorite and another recently added annual community event is the Roxboro Community School’s Holiday Extravaganza.  This year the event will be held on November 3 from 9 am until 3 pm.  Vendors from area businesses and individuals will have tables and offer special holiday wares for sale.  In the past live music has been offered as entertainment.   Many churches in Roxboro will also be holding special Christmas music services as well as local schools holding band and choral performances. Be sure to check websites including the Kirby’s, the Chamber of Commerce’s, and TDA’s for more events that are just in the planning stage.

Something for everyone to bring a smile to the face, a tear to the eye, a tug to the memory, and warmth to the heart exists within this square.  No trips to the mall necessary, no big box stores in which to fight crowds and parking spaces, just people enjoying the season and finding ways to celebrate in a new old-fashioned way. Make Milton, Yanceyville, Danville, South Boston, and Roxboro part of your holiday plans and discover the spirits of Christmas in our Square, one better than a Triangle or Triad.

Norwood Walker has spent much of the last 60 years in a classroom on one side of the desk or the other.  Loving to write poetry and stories in high school, his English teacher of 3 years once told him he might become a writer if he overcame his radical period. She is still waiting. He can be reached at norwoodwalker@gmail.com or Rainbow's End on Facebook.

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