Downtown Fayetteville will celebrate Christmas present and Christmas past with festivities the day after Thanksgiving.
The Arts Council of Fayetteville/Cumberland County will launch Holidays on Hay … A Season of Light, bringing a state-of-the-art light magic to the streets. Meanwhile, the Downtown Alliance will keep a 22-year tradition glowing with candlelight as it becomes the new sponsor of A Dickens Holiday.
In August, the Arts Council announced that it would end its sponsorship of the Dickens festival, when celebrants don Victorian-era costumes and wander the streets in a return to the days of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.”
But members of the Downtown Alliance, made up of about 65 downtown merchants, did not want A Dickens Holiday to fade away.
“I’m excited the community understands the importance of this event and its continuing,” said John Malzone, vice president of the alliance. “We’re trying to make it as much as we possibly can, reminiscent of ‘A Dickens Holiday.’”
On Sept 16, the city approved the alliance’s application for a permit to continue the event, according to Jodi Phelps, chief of staff for the city.
“We agreed to produce the event and get the permit,” said Elaine Kelley, owner of Turner Lane off Hay Street and chairwoman of the Downtown Alliance.
The street fair — complete with Victorian-era personalities and fashionable attire that was an expression of one’s place in society in the 1800s — will be held from 1 to 9 p.m. on the day after Thanksgiving.
Activities will be confined to Russell, Franklin and Maxwell streets in the downtown core. Music will be performed by the Highland Brass Quintet, the Dickensian acapella group Oakwood Waits, Cross Creek Pipe and Drums, and the Coventry Carolers. Craft vendors, artisans and activities for children — including a gingerbread house contest — also are planned.
The crowd will relocate to Hay Street in front of the Arts Council headquarters for the community Christmas tree lighting. They will then be invited to celebrate “Dickens After Dark.”
Admission is free, although the city will charge for parking. Parking outside the Cumberland County Courthouse is free.
“It is a tradition,” Kelley said of A Dickens Holiday. “It was formed for the purpose of attracting people to come down and shop and spend money downtown on the biggest spending holiday of the year. We had nothing to make us stand out from Walmart, Best Buy or the malls or other shopping places. We have lots of wonderful shops. We think it really showcases our businesses and what we’re able to bring to the area as part of an event.”
“It grew for the last 20 years, and it’s something people are excited about,” she added. “It’s important to businesses downtown.”
Meanwhile, the Arts Council has rebranded its downtown holiday observance as “Holidays on Hay … A Season of Light.”
The fun will begin at 3 p.m. and include the tree lighting, a drone light show, art and performances, food and craft-making.
In a news release, the Arts Council said the celebration will “make the holiday season a little brighter, a little sweeter and a lot more caring.”
The free showcase will feature aerial displays of three-dimensional seasonal shapes and characters that can be seen as far away as 4 miles. About 200 drones will light up the sky.
According to Kelley, more than 10,000 people were estimated to take part in "A Dickens Holiday" in 2018.
"The total downtown (for Friday's two events) should draw about the same amount,” she said. “This year, we've expanded the footprint. It allows more people to participate. I think it's a good thing for downtown to do that."
When it announced the end of its sponsorship for the Dickens event on Aug. 22, the board of directors of the Arts Council said Holidays on Hay will “reposition the holiday festivity by broadening the appeal of its programming to be a more inclusive, engaging and memorable experience for all to enjoy. These efforts embrace the Arts Council’s commitment to providing quality, culturally enriched programming that welcomes all communities throughout the region to participate.”
Malzone, of the Downtown Alliance, said the two celebrations are not in competition with each other.
“The Arts Council did a wonderful thing growing (A Dickens Holiday),” said Malzone. “It’s not us versus them. Think of how many people get a good feeling about the community because of the love and harmony and just great vibe that they got for all those years at Dickens. I’m so excited the community rallied around us.”
Deborah Martin-Mintz co-founded the event when she led the Arts Council.
“I am excited for anything that brings people downtown to enjoy our downtown,” Martin-Mintz said. “That was our intention in developing this. We wanted to celebrate the community. Whatever it may be — A Dickens Holiday, Holidays on Hay — the more energy we have downtown, the happier I am.”
Heidi Bleazey, who is with the Fayetteville History Museum, said the combination of the two events on the same day only adds a larger footprint for downtown to draw a crowd on Black Friday.
“I think it's going to work out brilliantly,” Bleazey said. “They're very symbiotic. Both of them are the type of events that make downtown the spectacular place that it is. I think the new elements that Holidays on Hay is bringing gives a new flavor to what people have come to know and expect. Dickens gives people the traditional elements of A Dickens Holiday and what they expect to experience in downtown Fayetteville. We've got new and traditional elements downtown. Double street coverage. More bang for your buck. It's a win-win for both of us. The biggest winner is the visitor who comes downtown."
Michael Futch covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org