Natchez, Mississippi is known for its grand antebellum homes any time of year, but during the holidays you can see them at their finest, all dressed up and open for tours. It just takes a little more than six hours to drive from Chattanooga to Natchez, well worth a holiday weekend getaway.
Christmas time in Natchez is a season of enchantment. Visitors hear the brilliant handbells pealing out the joy of the holidays from church choir lofts and carolers singing the songs of Yuletide. It’s an old-fashioned celebration that begins on Saturday, November 24, and doesn’t stop till the last fireworks light up the sky over the Mississippi River on New Year’s Eve.
This is the 10th year for Christmas in Natchez, a monthlong celebration that draws families from around the South to experience the sights and sounds of the Yuletide season.
“We’ve made it into an enormous event,” says Ginger Hyland, a woman who, when she moved to the city 12 years ago, walked through town during the Christmas season and found streets bare of any sparkle.
“There were no lights downtown,” she continues. “There was a tree, but it had no lights. There simply wasn’t Christmas anywhere.”
Not so, anymore, as Christmas in Natchez 2018 is ready to welcome the thousands who come annually for all of the activities thanks to Hyland, who spearheaded the movement to bring Christmas back to town. It all begins the Saturday after Thanksgiving with a gumbo cook-off putting the heat on some of the city’s best cooks to determine the best of the best. Take a taste and see what you think, then enter your pick for the People’s Choice Award winner.
“It’s serious competition,” says Stratton W. Hall, director of community and public relations for Visit Natchez. Folks can bring the kids for their first visit with Santa and share a cookie and hot chocolate with the jolly old man. There’s a playground for the little ones, too.
The centerpiece of it all is a 34-foot Christmas tree sitting smack dab in the middle of the intersection of Main and Commerce streets. Its lighting is a highly anticipated event that brings young and old to count down the seconds before the lights are turned on followed by a pyrotechnics show that lights up the night sky and emblazons the streets with color and holiday cheer.
The holiday spirit continues through the month of December with a Christmas parade of festively decorated floats, marching bands, candlelight tours, a tour of homes (not normally open to the public), holiday dinners and teas and more. There really is something going on every day in this city on the banks of the Mississippi.
It’s a celebration supported by the community—its leaders, businessmen and women, and citizens. But it’s also one that brings people from outside of town, says Debbie Hudson, executive director and CEO of Natchez Chamber of Commerce. Rooms tend to fill up (there are 48 bed-and-breakfasts in town as well as several hotels) and tickets for tours such as “The Jeweled Christmas Tour” at Hyland’s home and “The Towers” are hot commodities. Restaurants fill too, so planning ahead is key. Enjoy something new this holiday season; a trip to Natchez might just be the perfect getaway.
For a complete list of overnight accommodations, restaurants and holiday happenings see VisitNatchez.org.
A Few Sites To See:
* The Towers, 801 Myrtle Ave. Awarded by USA Today as one of the top-10 unique Christmas displays in the country, The Towers, circa 1798-1858, opens Wednesday through Sunday— through Christmas Eve—for its annual Jeweled Christmas Tours. Walk through room after room of the magnificent home and witness one of the most-treasured collections of jeweled Christmas ornamentation you’re likely to ever see. Tours begin at 2 p.m. There are also candlelight tours with food and champagne. For tickets: thetowersofnatchez.com.
* Dunleith Historic Inn, 84 Homochitto St. Surrounded by 40 acres of beautifully manicured lawn and forest, the inn—built in 1856 with outbuildings dating to 1790—is a showcase of grandeur during the holiday season with garlands, twinkling lights and a massive Christmas tree in the mansions grand entrance hall. On November 25, the 22-room inn offers a Christmas brunch in its Castle restaurant, followed by pictures with Santa in the mansion. Tours are offered daily. Information: dunleith.com.
* Stanton Hall, 401 High St. One of the grandest of all Natchez mansions, this home—built by Irish immigrant Frederick Stanton in 1857—is now owned by the Pilgrimage Garden Club of Natchez which annually presents its Nutcracker Christmas (daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. beginning November 23) and gingerbread house display (daily 9 a.m.-4 p.m. beginning December 7). Information: natchezpilgrimage.com.