Saturday, June 15, 2024

Six holiday traditions, village style

| December 19, 2023 1:00 AM

On Christmas Eve in the quiet town of Arlington, Vt. — the state’s first capital — the town’s 2,400 residents have a sweet tradition (Vermonters love to say, "sweet"). At precisely 6 p.m. they step outside and ring a bell, for precisely two minutes. Imagine it: stars shine above the mountains flanking the Battenkill River, no sound but bells ringing in the holiday spirit. Giving Santa that extra boost to help him through the night.

After the jingle bells ring, some of Arlington’s residents sing — you guessed it — “Jingle Bells.”

At Roscoe Village along Ohio’s Erie Canal, much like Coeur d’Alene’s tradition the day after Thanksgiving, villagers gather after sundown to sing Silent Night. Next is a reading of the Christmas story before the candle ceremony begins, one candle lighting the next until all faces are gently illuminated against the darkening sky.

Small towns give holidays an old-style charm that somehow feels more authentic.

Take quaint old Weston, home to the very first and very famous Vermont Country Store (and probably the smallest wood-gabled library in the nation). At Weston village’s holiday festival you can ride a horse-drawn wagon from the store’s barn-style rear door to the village green, circling back toward the parish church built in 1803. Within those old walls, the town’s dramatics society hosts an annual recitation of the Dickens Christmas Carol, with members of the audience playing Cratchit and Tiny Tim.

Before we leave New England, picture the popular holiday tractor parades. Tractors are plentiful wherever there are big swaths of rural land, so why not put 'em to use in winter, too? Tractors big and small are trimmed with lights, ribbons, tinsel, and greenery, parading throughout town while locals and visitors cheer them on. Some tractors pull trailers with angels and beauty queens, Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and, of course, the Grinch. Kids big and small love the big fire engines (with mostly volunteer firefighters, bless them) smothered in so many strings of lights they could give Clark Griswold a run for his money.

Just don’t forget to check every bulb.

Who says you need snow to feel the holiday spirit? The north has no monopoly on holiday charm. Sunny and very Danish Solvang, Calif., sports a highly decorative, European style Christmas with a touch of mystery. Julefest-goers use clues to hunt for the elusive Solvang Nisse (elves) hidden throughout downtown.

Speaking of old Juletide, itty bitty McAdenville, N.C., takes its yule log tradition seriously. Each December since 1949, most of the town’s 900 residents join the high school marching band in the parade, singing along as they follow a festively decorated yule log (yes, an actual log). When it reaches the “Memorial Yule Log Fireplace” at Legacy Park, it’s reverently placed and set alight with great exuberance.

Who needs big bucks to celebrate the holidays? A little creativity and a lot of community feeling is all it takes.

May the small-town holiday spirit burn bright in each of us, all year long.

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Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who’s had it with spendy gifts and glitz. Bring on the tractors and story time. If you prefer a used book swap and a cozy fire over a hefty credit card bill, email