Knoxville’s Holiday Season Kicks Off with Regal Celebration of Lights

Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023
Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023

The transformation of downtown Knoxville into a holiday wonderland begins well before Thanksgiving. The large Christmas tree on Gay Street that looks so beautiful when the lights explode into the night? Starts out looking like a larger, sadder version of Charlie Brown’s tree. The skating rink, soon to be covered with the graceful dance of skilled practitioners of the art — and the crumpled bodies of the rest of us — begins life as a giant sandbox. By the day after Thanksgiving, however, the lights dazzle, the ice glistens, and Santa arrives from the North Pole to make those Christmas lists (and to make a few babies cry in terror).

I stepped out early in the day to find the ice skaters already in motion, some forward, others in more of a downward trajectory, smiles freely intermingling with faces riddled with horror. I think (and I could be wrong on this) the rink is a bit more open and the interior seating area a bit bigger. Maybe it was the small crowd that had gathered early on the first day.

Urban Girl and Urban Boy with Santa Dog, Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023
Urban Girl and Urban Boy, Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023

Santa greeted children with photo ops for their parents and negotiating availability for those children thinking big for that special day. I saw one infant that simply could not get enough breath to scream adequately. Helpless parents clicked numerous photos with their cell phones, hoping Christmas magic might make one of them adequate for social media.

Not one, but two Santa dogs lurked about. Large enough to pull a small sleigh, the two docilly mugged for photographs with any interested passersby. Urban Boy, at eight, eats up any photo op, while Urban Girl, at fourteen, avoids cheesy photographs from others like poison, while snapping selfies incessantly. Go figure. They did pose for the Instagram-ready backdrop behind the skating rink.

Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023

Early on, the massive train set, inflatable arches, craft booths and more sprang nearly whole cloth from the nether. Lights throughout the southern end of Market Square and Krutch Park had been in place for days. Soon the massive crowds set in filling Market Square and much of downtown. Krutch Park, a sea of humanity, filled by around 5:30 and crowds spilled into the closed section of Gay Street.

Our crew had a ninth-floor view from the Holston at the home of generous friends. The city sparkled from on high as the Mikki Norwood Band warmed the crowd below. A laser light show danced off the walls of the Holston and the Embassy Suites across the park. At the appointed hour, Santa arrived, prepared to set those Christmas lights sparkling. And that he did, as fireworks exploded and the star across Gay Street simultaneously lighted, guiding wise men (and women), as well as a few of us less wise to the heart of downtown.

Regal Celebration of Lights, Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023
Lighting of the Christmas Tree, Regal Celebration of Lights, Holiday Kickoff in the City, Knoxville, November 2023

Perhaps the largest crowd in years, bodies shuffled throughout the downtown area into the night. For a minute, I could remember the press of Christmas crowds in Manhattan. Then it thinned and it was our sparkling little city once more. The festive beginning to the holidays reflects only a fraction of what the city has to offer over the next month. For a look at some of the highlights, check out Heather’s overview from last week.

And please visit our little neighborhood for some hot chocolate, spicier adult beverages, or dining in some of our wonderful downtown restaurants. Let the kids find that elf lurking about on area shelves, and wander after dark to take in the beautiful lights. Come on a Saturday and enjoy ice skating and the outdoor holiday market. We are lucky to have such a beautiful downtown and to have the city take care to celebrate the season in such a wonderful fashion.

I’ll look for you on the streets.