In Europe, Christmas markets are an indelible part of the holiday season.
“Every town has a Christmas market,” explained Hometown Holidays co-founder Don Combs.
Before putting together the first Hometown Holidays event nine years ago, Combs and his late wife Debra had taken a Christmas tour of Europe, where the couple were struck by the Christmas markets they would find in communities “all up and down the river.”
They usually start around the first of December, Combs explained, and are set up in semi-permanent wooden structures in the center of town. Dozens of vendors will be set up, he said, selling crafts, foods, baked goods, and other things related to the holiday season.
Though they are mostly “small modest gifts,” he said, they are such a part of the season that, regardless of the weather, people will come out to shop in the markets.
That's the kind of environment the couple hoped to recreate with their plan.
“Something like an old time Christmas,” he said. Though the Chamber of Commerce Christmas parade had been an established tradition for years prior to the founding of Hometown Holidays, they wanted to build on the energy of that event, and put together something that would complement the things Grayson was already doing to celebrate the holidays.
“We wanted to do (the Christmas market) here, and connect it with the existing events like the parade and the tree lighting,” Combs said.
Debra was on the tourism commission at the time and initially they focused purely on the Christmas market end of things. Since then the event has grown to include decorating contests, visit with Santa and book giveaways from the library, among other events, but the market is still central to the event the Combs envisioned.
“I'd love to see it where it was more of a permanent thing,” Combs said of the market. “Where we could do it over the course of a week.”
The concept of Market 474 is similar to what Combs has in mind, he said, but with a pure holiday focus. And while that week long event isn't going to happen this year, there is another aspect of the European tradition that is being added to the Christmas market this year – the tradition of mulled wine.
“That's a big part of the European Christmas market,” he said. “They serve wine, mulled wine, and each city develops their own mug.”
Those holiday mugs become seasonal collectibles in their own right, he said, and folks will visit neighboring communities just to have some wine or a seasonal beer and to collect that town's mug.
While he hopes that next year Grayson can have its own collectible mug, and maybe even work with a local brewery to provide the city with a seasonal beer, for this year it's just the wine.
Combs explained that he has been in contact with Savage Farms and they have worked to produce a mulled wine for a tasting in Grayson during this year's event. The wine will be low alcohol, only four percent alcohol compared to the typical eight percent for Savage Farms maple wine, but it will still provide event goers with the opportunity to have that “taste of Christmas” Combs said.
For those who want to take the taste home, Savage will be selling mulling spices for making the drink at home.
The Christmas market will be hosted inside the Grayson Gallery & Art Center, as it has for the past five years, Combs said, noting that before they secured permission to use the gallery they held the event outside in tents. He said the gallery location definitely makes the market more inviting to those who don't want to brave inclement weather. But other outdoor events have been at the mercy of the weather in the past.
This year, however, the event has a contingency plan in place in case it is excessively cold or raining on the days of the event. Outdoor activities, like meeting with Santa in the park, will be hosted at the family life center of the First Church of Christ if rain threatens to shut down the outdoor events, he said.
In addition to the market and the chamber Christmas parade, this year's Hometown Holidays will include an expanded light show at the Grayson fire department, who Combs praised as a partner as the event has grown. It will also include the annual Pancakes and Pictures with Santa event, a free story time and book giveaway sponsored by the Carter County Public Library, and new characters for the parade and park events, including the Grinch, Elmo, and Frosty the Snowman.
First Baptist church will also be sponsoring a mini Christmas Vacation Bible School on Saturday afternoon.
“It seems like there are always a few new ideas (every year),” Combs said of the event, saying that his goal in moving forward is securing more space so the event was “not (at the mercy) of the weather so much.”
Hometown Holidays events, including the Christmas Market, are scheduled for the weekend of Friday and Saturday, December 6 and 7.
For more information, and a complete schedule of events, check out the Grayson Tourism & Convention Commission on Facebook.
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