For Cookie Crowson and the staff at Maryville Alcoa Blount County Parks and Recreation, Hometown Christmas is as much about timing as it is about tradition.
Each year the turkey leftovers are still in the fridge when Parks and Rec kicks off the Hometown Christmas events. While this year’s event has a few changes, the schedule remains the same for a reason.
“The Saturday after Thanksgiving, here we go,” said Crowson, assistant director of Parks & Rec. “We try to do it and get it finished before you get into the heart of the holidays because people get so busy. I don’t think our attendance would be what it is if we did it later.”
Four events make-up Hometown Christmas for 2007, up from three events from the past years. Each event has its own traditions, but all go a long way in lighting up Blount County.
The events always are fun for children and for families and no one has to spend a dime as the costs are underwritten by sponsors. “For our staff, it’s always about the children. A lot of people will come to this because they don’t have to pay for this. All these events are no charge,” Crowson said. “They can bring their family. There’s no pressure to purchase anything, and they get refreshments and see something unique and fun, and kids walk away with large bags of candy.
“The crowds are diverse all across the community,” Crowson said. “It’s something anybody can do. You don’t have to have money, and it is accessible.”
Crowson said the down-to-earth feel of Blount County is evident during Hometown Christmas.
“That’s what draws all these people to our community, that hometown feel. You stand there in the midst of the night and the starry skies, and its very enriching,” she said. “This is the pathway that leads you into the holidays. The message is simple. Come out and enjoy. Have fun and get a start on the holidays.”
The first event will actually be new to the Hometown Christmas line up, but not new to the residents of the Hall and Oldfield communities. The M.L. King Community Center and Hall Oldfield Maryville Empowerment, Inc., will host H.O.M.E. for Christmas starting at 6 p.m. on Nov. 24. Refreshments will be served from 6 to 7 p.m. and, at 7:15 p.m., the tree on the lawn will be lighted, Crowson said.
Anthony Dunnings, executive director of the M.L. King Community Center, said that for two or three years the center has had an event where neighbors came out to watch the lighting of Christmas tree on the lawn. “They really wanted to make it into more an event,” Dunnings said. “That’s how that evolved. This is not first year we’ve done it, and have instead incorporated it into Hometown Christmas. This is a joint venture of the center and of HOME, Inc., and what we do is have a tree, and decorate it, and light it.”
In addition, members of the Hall High School class of 1968 sell “In memory of” and “In honor of” ornaments for $2 each. High winds and inclement weather last year blew many of their ornaments off the outdoor tree, so a change is being instituted this year, Dunnings said.
“The last couple of years we’ve put them on the tree outside,” Dunnings said. “This year we will put them on a tree inside and still decorate the outside tree.”
Other activities are planned as well. “We’ll do some traditional caroling and then we’ll have free food. All the activities take place inside except the tree lighting.”
Dunnings said folks enjoy coming to the community center for the event. “It helps to kick off the holidays. There are so many things going on during holidays,” he said. “This is more or less, it is geared for people to get into the holiday spirit.”
The second Hometown Christmas event is Springbrook Splendor at 6:15 p.m. on Nov. 26 in Springbrook Park. Featured during Splendor is the lighting of the Alcoa Christmas tree. There also will be musical performances by Edna Riddick, the Alcoa Elementary Thursday Trebles and Tuesday Choir and the singing group Hannah featuring Hannah Seiple. “The Alcoa Fire Department will bring Santa to this one,” Crowson said.
The third event is Hometown Christmas at the Courthouse featuring the Festival of Trees. Kick off will be at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 29, at the Blount County Courthouse. There will be performances of holiday music by the Hometown Choir, the Mary Blount Bell Choir and Janice Cunningham.
The fourth event, the City of Maryville’s event, will be at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 3 at a different location from last year’s event. “Instead of at the Theater in the Park, it’s going to be at the Pistol Creek Station at the bridge connecting to the Blount County Public Library on McCammon Avenue,” Crowson said.
Crowson said Foothills Intermediate School is providing musical entertainment and East Maryville Baptist Celebration Choir is also performing that night. That will be a candy hunt for children, a visit by Santa, who will arrive on Sanitation Santa’s truck. The truck is cleaned up and used to collect food and toys for children, Crowson said.
“That was a City of Maryville decision,” Crowson said. “The amphitheater is beautiful but we had the two trees decorated and once the event is over, unless you walk at night, they’re really not very visible,” she said. “They thought if they went in the Founder Square area and brought in a 25-foot tree, the community would be able to see that from all angles. That’s another new venue they can program from.”
This is the sixteenth year Parks and Rec has held Hometown Christmas, which is sponsored by Parks and Rec and Blount Today.
“Parks and Rec started out wanting to do something special in each community, and it has evolved from that,” Crowson said. “People watch for it and expect it. It still has that hometown feel.”
A few things have been added throughout the years, such as the candy hunts and the train rides, Crowson said. The community consistently comes out to enjoy the events, especially the Festival of Trees. This event kicks off during the Hometown Christmas activities at the courthouse when the trees are lighted amid much fanfare each year. After the crowds leave, the trees are there on the courthouse lawn until the end of the month for people to visit and enjoy, she said.
“We’ll have 500 to 600 at the event. Even if it is blistery cold, they still turn out. We’ve had winds and rains and freezing cold temperatures or it has been 70 degrees and warm and they’re all there. It kicks off the holidays for us,” she said.