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Wednesday, 04 December 2013




Starting the day after Thanksgiving, the feeling of Christmas is everywhere-garland is strung on everything that will stand still, and homes and streets are lit up for miles. For some people, namely in the south, it can be hard to feel the Christmas spirit because of the lack of snow and bare trees. That doesn’t mean that we have to miss out on Christmas festivities, however. The Northport Merchants Association is hosting a Northport/Tuscaloosa tradition, Dickens Downtown, held in historic Downtown Northport.

Featuring different shops in downtown, each holding its own small event, and locals in Dickens-style garb, Dickens Downtown promises to be interactive fun for all ages. Santa makes an appearance, along with Mrs. Claus. Merchant shops aren’t the only ones that participate, however. Vendors offer peanuts to passing festival goers, and bakeries offer snacks that are Christmas themed.

The attractions and snacks aren’t the only appeal. Parents would find the Dickens-style costumes to be an interesting educational tool for kids, showing what it looked like to dress in the story.Ladies in full skirts, a few people even donning bonnets, pass out information on different organizations and events.

"We have different costumes,” says Northport 5 & 10 owner Joe Hardy. “A lot of the merchants do have costumes that we use, and sometimes we change up on what we wear. But a lot of us, since it's only once a year, have our standard costumes."

With something of this magnitude taking up an entire street in Northport, one would think that it would take months of preparation, but 24 years into presenting this, it’s just like a morning routine. Cutting greenery and decorating the entire street does take time, yet the experience is less stressful thanks to the practiced hands of the volunteers and association members.

"We've done it so many years that we know the pattern,” said Hardy. "We have to wait close to the day to cut our greenery so it'll last, but we know a lot of the process that we have to do." 

“Every business does their own decorating,” said Emily Wolfe Leigh, the assistant director of Kentuck, making this a community project. “Our main focus is having the demo artists.”

The artist lineup for this year is as follows: potter Kerry Kennedy, blacksmith Steve Davis, ceramicist Daniel Livingston, toy maker Larry Glover, broom maker George Jones, Jr, and the West AL Fiber Guild.

Decorating and costuming isn’t just work, it’s also enjoyable for the members. “I do love to wear costumes and this is the one time a year I can wear a costume on the job. I don't have to be in a production or at a costume party, just going about my regular business, but wearing a bustle.”

Entertainment is never an issue. Both hired bands and school choirs grace the streets of Northport. "We have different musical entertainment and we try to coordinate based on the business, or if they have certain requests,” commented Hardy. “Some of the schools will come down and sing, and we place them on different corners of the street."

All of the shops stay open for business, allowing customers to browse the shops for business the next day. While it helps business, no one has to worry about having plenty of people at the event. One of the most popular events of the season, popularity and excitement begins early in the fall and winter season.

"I usually have people ask me in advance when it is, because it's something that helps start their Christmas season,” said Hardy. “It's always the first Tuesday night in December."

Another exciting thing about Dickens? The snow! A snow machine near a lamp post allows kids and adults to play in the snow, turning Main street into a winter wonderland for all.

This year will feature a horse drawn carriage, Father Christmas, Santa and Mrs. Claus, and the snow machine. Also, Theatre Tuscaloosa will be performing skits from A Christmas Carol, and music from the 5th Alabama Regimental Band. There will also be free hot apple cider served all night to warm hands and hearts.

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