So What Makes Christmas in the City a Top Twenty Tourism Event?

Lighting of the Christmas Tree, Krutch Park Extension, Knoxville, November 2016
Lighting of the Christmas Tree, Krutch Park Extension, Knoxville, November 2016

While I haven’t run a poll, I think it is safe to assume that every city in the U.S. has holiday celebrations of various sorts starting this time of year. No doubt many of them are wonderful. So, why would the Southeast Tourism Society name Knoxville’s Christmas in the City as a “Top Twenty Event,” in which they consider all events across the southeast throughout the year? Why would Travel and Leisure magazine say it’s the #9 on its list of “America’s Favorite Cities for Christmas Lights?” (Shout out to Nashville at #13!)  It’s not as if the competition isn’t stiff.

In making the designation, here’s what the Southeast Tourism Society had to say:

Christmas in the City (November 25 – January 8) is Knoxville’s most anticipated winter festival. The city dresses for the holidays with lighted trees and decorations,  Up on the Rooftops displays – plus dozens of events guaranteed to bring holiday cheer. The season kicks off with the celebration of Lights and the lighting of the 42-foot Christmas Tree at Krutch Park. Additional festivities and events include Holidays on Ice, open-air skating on Market Square, a Window Wonderland display, Tour de Lights for holiday bike riders, a Christmas Parade down historic Gay Street and New Year’s Eve on the Square.  Returning in 2017, to Christmas in the City, is Peppermint Panda and the Peppermint Trail, featuring peppermint drinks, desserts and gifts.

And Travel and Leisure:

Downtown Knoxville does the holidays up by turning itself into a “Peppermint Trail” for the holidays, with every shop and restaurant committing to peppermint specials through January 8th. Market Street is strung up with lights, adjacent to Market Square’s seasonal ice skating rink and Krutch Park’s 42-foot tree. Outside of downtown, the Southern Market has the best of artisan design products for the season. Private home light shows are also abundant here: Check out spots like the West Knoxville Light Show, or head to Historic Old North Knoxville for Victorian style lighting displays and home tours.

Regal Celebration of Lights, Knoxville, November 2015

It’s often easy, I think, to assume that other places are like ours. Other people probably celebrate like us and enjoy city life similar to ours, right? Well, not necessarily. Knoxville has spent years nurturing the series of events and activities happening around the city each November into December – and this year, into January! Some of the activities were generated by Knoxville’s events staff and others by various community groups, Visit Knoxville, CBID and more. Let’s take a look at some of what’s coming up.

For probably thirty years or so, our family’s holiday season has started with the Fantasy of Trees. It opens this year on November 22 – next week – and offers interest for everyone, from the smallest among us to the adults. With music, decorated room vignettes, beautiful trees, gifts, children’s activities (and the last two years: decent coffee!), it is the perfect way to get everyone into the spirit and snag some early decorating ideas.

Regal Celebration of Lights, Knoxville, November 2015
Fantasy of Trees, Knoxville Convention Center, November 2013

The day after Thanksgiving is when things really get started, with the Regal Celebration of Lights, which includes a number of activities from 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM that evening. From the lighting of the 42 foot Christmas Tree, to the WDVX Ho Ho Hoedown on the Market Square Stage and train rides down Gay Street for the children, lots of other activities, including a fun snow globe that you have to see to believe, food and more. The Henley Bridge will be lighted to fit the season, as well. And, of course, about 100,000 lights wrapping trees and lampposts downtown adds to the festive feel.

The ice skating rink is back this year and it will run from November 24, the day after Thanksgiving, all the way to January 7, which is the end of the Knox County Schools Winter Break. Peppermint Panda is the mascot for the rink and peppermint love will emanate throughout downtown with peppermint-themed decorations on storefronts (contest later in the month) and a “Peppermint Trail,” which will be marked on sidewalks all over town designating merchants with peppermint specials like confections, coffees and cocktails.

Tour de Lights, Knoxville, December 2016

In December it gets even more serious, with WIVK’s Christmas Parade and First Friday kicking off on Friday night, December 1. The Market Square Holiday Market opens (in place of the Farmers’ Market) on December 2 and runs consecutive weekends through December 23 (11:00 AM – 5:00 PM). “It’s a Wonderful Life,” a free showing of the classic film, which plays to packed house in the Tennessee Theatre each year, plays December 10 at 1:00 PM and 5:00 PM. The Bijou is the site for a free Christmas Concert by the Knoxville Community Band on December 3.

Market Square is the scene, once again, for one of my favorite annual events: The Tour de Lights on December 15 at 7:00 PM. It’s one of the prettiest, healthiest, funnest, familiest, funkiest things we do all year. Thousands of cyclists, including many families will parade through the city on lighted, tricked-out bikes and it’s a wonderful thing to behold (or in which to participate).

A ball drop with music and fireworks is always fun on Market Square on December 31. That’s where you’ll also find a new mural by Cody Swaggerty offering a perfect opportunity for Holiday Selfies! Normally the conclusion of the holiday events, two will continue: the aforementioned ice rink open until January 7 and one more major event: Elf on the Shelf®, which runs from November 24 through January 7.

This is a bigger deal than some of us older folks might realize. Based on a book by UT Alum Carol Aebersold, Chanda Bell and Christa Pitts, the idea of a mischievous elf that moves about the place has become ingrained in a generation of children. Knoxville is the only city in the world currently allowed to have an Elf on the Shelf® scavenger hunt. Mast is an official Elf Adoption Center and dozens of stores all around downtown will have a hidden elf for the children to find.. It’s a great way to entertain the children while shopping. (And don’t miss the chance to Drop n’ Shop offered by the Basement Community Art Studio.

When you look at it all together, the accolades start to make a lot of sense. There is so much here for people of every age. It’s easy to see tourists booking a weekend (or more) to downtown Knoxville to enjoy the holiday season. For those of us who live here, it is a magical time outside our doorsteps. Downtown Knoxville (CBID) has even compiled a list of “100+ Things to Love and Do in the Peppermint Village!”Get out and enjoy it!

Ed. Note: I’m calling it a week with this one so I can take care of some family business. I’ll be back with the Ten Day Planner on Sunday!