If there is a Hall of Fame for mid-sized cities and their Christmas celebrations, I think it would be very fair to nominate ours. If you love Christmas or even a little grudgingly give in to it, you’re going to have plenty to choose from and you’re likely to find your spirits boosted in the process.
It’s a great mix of official events presented by the City of Knoxville and small-to-large events and activities presented by numerous groups around the city. The excitement begins to build as residents and visitors to downtown watch the assembling of the Christmas tree on Krutch Park Extension, the Ice Rink on Market Square and lights being strung on trees across the downtown area. Stores begin to decorate and we are on.
A centerpiece of the downtown Christmas Celebration happens the day after Thanksgiving. I can’t imagine spending that day fighting crowds at malls for “Black Friday” when downtown’s celebration offers so much charm and fun. And being downtown offers more shopping possibilities than you’ve been able to find in decades.
By that day, a couple of other city-wide efforts will be underway that add to the fun. The first is the Peppermint Trail. Sprinkled among the 100,000 plus lights, you’ll find that many downtown businesses have decorated with a peppermint theme. Markers along the sidewalks also indicate spots to find peppermint treats and specials for children and adults. Enjoy the windows in the Window Wonderland while following the peppermint trail.
The Regal Celebration of Lights is the focus of the evening, with caroling, marshmallow roasting, train rides for the children, Santa, hot cocoa and the lighting of downtown’s 42 foot Christmas tree. It’s one of the most exciting family-filled nights of the year. WDVX also hosts the Ho Ho Hoedown from the Market Square Stage, this year featuring Circus #9 and Soulfinger.
The ice rink is also in full use beginning that day and our family has traditionally (as in most of the last 30+ years) gone to the Fantasy of Trees, just a short walk away at the Knoxville Convention Center. It’s just a little walk away from the center of downtown and includes a universe of beautifully decorated trees, children’s activities, Santa and live music. The trees, wreaths and more are for sale and the best part: it benefits East Tennessee Children’s Hospital.
The Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt is back for another year and it’s a favorite not only of children, as it turns out, but of children of all ages. Lots of teenagers, young couples and even seniors enjoy trying to find the elf in participating shops. at any of the participating businesses, but Mast General Store is official start and where players return to register for prizes. Did you know we’re the only city in the world allowed to do the promotion? Yep.
If you want to avoid the biggest crowds, a pro-tip is to come downtown the next day. Ice skating, peppermint trail, Elf on the Shelf, beautiful store windows, Fantasy of trees, Christmas Market (every Saturday until Christmas on Market Square) and smaller crowds than the night before. The other big deal that day is that it is small business Saturday.
Please remember to set aside some of your Christmas money for independent and local shops, many of which you’ll find downtown in an area where you can ditch the car, shop all around, enjoy the rest of the fun and end your day with a great meal. Without a car. Did I mention you don’t need a car for all that? OK.
With the way the calendar falls this year, there is a weekend between Thanksgiving weekend and the WIVK Christmas Parade on Gay Street. It happens December 7 and the following Friday night, December 14 is one of my favorites and an event that grows every year: The Tour de Lights. Come cheer on the hundreds (thousands?) of cyclists with their fun costumes and bedazzled bikes – or trick your own ride and join the fun.
Of course, there are numerous Christmas-related events at the Tennessee Theatre, the Bijou, Clarence Brown Theatre and many other venues around town. There are also a number of beautiful events anyone can enjoy whether Christmas is your thing or not, like the Christmas Lantern Express train ride on the Three Rivers Rambler or the Old North Victorian Home Tour. Churches also offer special Christmas programming, so there is something for everyone.