Fireworks, twinkling lights, live music
and, of course, Santa Claus are but some of the ways the Louisiana
town of Natchitoches chooses to celebrate the holiday season. This
is no ordinary get-together; the town employs more than 300,000
brightly colored lights and 77 huge set pieces for the annual
Festival of Lights, which has been illuminating the northwest
Louisiana town since 1927.
Each year at this
time, more than 150,000 visitors flock to Natchitoches (pronounced
"Nack-a-tish"), one of six cities on the Louisiana-Texas border
that participate as stops along the annual Holiday Trail of
Natchitoches, there's the sister cities of Shreveport and Bossier
City in Louisiana as well as Marshall, Kilgore and Jefferson in the
Lone Star State.
revelry holds a certain appeal, for many people the celebration is
an opportunity to experience the family-friendly charm and elegance
of days gone by.
better way to showcase a town's history and traditions, I thought
to myself recently while on a Christmas light tour of the
presence of riverboat casinos that helped revive the Red River
cities in the 1980s, the tone in Shreveport and Bossier City is
Kids get a blast
from the Sci-Port Discovery Center and Imax Dome Theatre. For
little ballerinas there's the Moscow Ballet's "Great Russian
Nutcracker" at the Strand Theatre. Fireworks festivals at Riverview
and Earl Williamson Parks feature light sculptures, food, music and
As part of the
festivities, most downtown buildings are illuminated with sparkling
lights, and for those wishing to venture out into historical
neighborhoods there's the Highland-Fairfield District.
A town time forgot
within the Piney Woods of east Texas, Jefferson is a formerly
bustling riverboat town whose golden era from the 1850s to the
1870s came to an abrupt end when, in 1873, the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers blew up the natural log jam on the Red River south of
Shreveport, causing the water level at Jefferson to fall
today are the large and opulent Greek Revival and antebellum homes
of Jefferson's elite, four of which are included in a special
December candlelight tour featuring Victorian era-themed Christmas
decorations such as all-natural red cedar garlands festooned with
red ribbons and lace.
attraction is the Rail of Lights Christmas Train, an old-fashioned
steam train ride that passes through a wooded bayou landscape
adorned with more than 75,000 holiday lights.
Take a mule-drawn
wagon tour of town and don't miss the Excelsior House, a hotel that
was built in 1844 by Captain William Perry, who brought the first
steamboat to Jefferson.
have included Ulysses S. Grant, Oscar Wilde and Steven Spielberg,
who reportedly became spooked by a voice he heard in his room
during the night and promptly left.
reported to be one of the most haunted small towns in Texas, just
one more aspect of a sleepy Southern town brimming with colorful
Derrick the halls
instead of a bunch of colorful lights you get silvery stars atop
oil derricks with their spindly, towerlike frameworks serving as
symbolic podiums for everything that has made this city, population
11,753, what it is today.
were dirt-poor but happy," intones the narrator of a half-hour
movie at the East Texas Oil Museum, recounting the Depression-era
booming oil exploration that transformed "poor-boy cotton farmers
into high-rolling oil barons."
The museum, which
receives more than 1 million visitors a year, offers a glimpse into
the forces that shaped the region's character and should not be
Kilgore is also
known for its world-famous Rangerettes, the first-ever all-women
dance and drill team, whose history and traditions are on display
at the Rangerette Showcase Museum.
warm-hearted Texas affability and wearing cowboy hats and short
skirts, these fresh-faced ladies from Kilgore College won me over
with their winning smiles, impossibly high leg kicks and spirited
Wonderland of lights
Launched in 1987
after a small editorial appeared in the Marshall News Messenger
imploring residents to put the spirit of Christmas back into the
holiday season, today Marshall's Wonderland of Lights is perhaps
the largest of all Christmas light festivals in Texas, with more
than 10 million lights throughout the community.
At its center is
the Historical Harrison County Courthouse, which is outfitted with
over 125,000 tiny, white lights and located in the center of the
From Nov. 22
through Dec. 31, this Rockwellian town transforms itself into a
pulsating light display with such one-of-a-kind depictions of Santa
waiving from his train to gigantic gingerbread houses, 20-foot tall
poinsettias and a replica of the North Pole replete with penguins
and an ice skating rink.
in the Holiday Trail of Lights are no more than an hour's drive
from Shreveport-Bossier City along Routes 20 and 49.
information on times and locations, please visit www.holidaytrailoflights.com or call (888)
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