St. Charles, Missouri’s annual Christmas Traditions festival celebrates the season with stories and song.
By Lazelle Jones
When it comes to re-creating the warm and fuzzy feelings of the Yuletide season, few, if any, cities put together a better celebration than St. Charles, Missouri.
It all starts this year on the day after Thanksgiving, November 27, and continues to December 24. This will be the 41st time the town has celebrated the holiday season, sharing it with all who come. And come they do!
The monthlong celebration is called Christmas Traditions. This year, as in the past, St. Charles guarantees that the festivities will be joyous and memorable. Shopping, dining, caroling, meticulously decorated streets, costumed characters, and much more will get kids from 2 to 102 reacquainted or acquainted for the first time with holiday stories and traditions.
Many of the festivities take place in parks or along the brick-covered Main Street downtown. St. Charles is 23 miles northwest of St. Louis, easily accessible via Interstate 70. And while St. Louis is on the Mississippi River, St. Charles’ downtown lies right along the Missouri River. Many who visit for the first time characterize historic St. Charles as the Williamsburg of the West, and during Yuletide its many opportunities tantalize the senses.
Hang Out With Legends
People who portray various holiday-related characters during the Christmas Traditions festival are called the Christmas Legends. They include the cheery Sugarplum Fairy, the energetic Master of Revels, and even the scowling Ebenezer Scrooge. More than 40 holiday characters make a trip to St. Charles an adventure.
The Christmas Legends are part of the opening ceremony on November 27 at Kister Park Gazebo. It begins with the Santa Parade, when Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive by horse-drawn carriage, escorted by the Lewis and Clark Fife and Drum Corps. In addition to this procession, a Santa parade is held every Saturday and Sunday afternoon until Christmas Eve. Every parade also includes international Santas, with each carrying the flag of his native land.
At the opening ceremony, the Christmas Legends characters hang the ceremonial last piece of greenery, marking the official start to the holiday season. At 5:00 p.m. that day, the St. Charles City Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony is held in Berthold Square, with the mayor and other dignitaries in attendance. The edge to any chill that may be lingering in the crisp air quickly disappears over a complimentary cup of wassail (hot cider).
The Legends characters eagerly share their stories by passing out trading cards that feature their image, along with a bit of Christmas history. Collecting these cards has become a tradition.
The characters also figure prominently in the holiday lunch and Yuletide dinner events. The lunches are offered on Wednesdays (this year, December 2, 9, and 16), and the dinners are on Thursdays (December 3, 10, and 17) at Old Stone Chapel. The reservation-only meal is served buffet-style and includes music, activities, and personal interaction with the festival personalities. Call (636) 255-6155 for more information.
Characters of questionable repute will gather this year on Wednesdays from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Their event is called Krampusnachts. You can meet the Krampus, the Mouse King, and Jacob Marley, among others. Plus, be sure to collect their limited-edition cards.
On Fridays from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the Master of Revels hosts a marshmallow roast at Berthold Square, where everyone enjoys a complimentary roasted marshmallow with St. Charles’ resident clown.
St. Charles’ official Victorian carolers, the Cobblestone Wassailiers, serenade the Christmas Traditions festivities with familiar holiday melodies. During the opening day celebration and every Saturday and Sunday until Christmas, the Wassailiers sing carols both young and old will enjoy.
The USO Evergreens singers will perform popular Christmas pop songs from the 1940s and ‘50s, and the Sleighbell Singers will provide holiday tunes from the postwar era. These singers get a workout on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday evenings at 8:45, as they join a procession to Berthold Square and then lead a Christmas sing-along; a similar event takes place on Sundays at 4:45 p.m. at the Kister Park Gazebo.
The previously mentioned Santa Parade concludes at Katy Train Depot in Frontier Park, the site of Santa’s Cottage. All of this is just a short walk from Main Street.
At his cottage, Santa and his elves demonstrate a little North Pole magic. Photos with Santa are available. Plus, visitors step inside the beautiful depot and experience Santa’s Train Land, an interactive toy train display. Train hours and Santa’s Cottage hours are opening day, November 27, noon to 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Fridays from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.; Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; and Sundays from noon to 5:00 p.m. Admission to the Train Land is free, but donations are accepted.
This display is hosted by the Frenchtown Heritage Museum, a fascinating spot that tourists might want to include in their itinerary. It is open Wednesdays through Saturdays during the Christmas Traditions event; call (636) 724-2106 for details.
A buffet-style breakfast with Santa is offered Saturdays and Sundays at the Garden Café ala Fleur. For reservations, call (636) 255-6155.
At 1:30 p.m. on December 24, the closing ceremony and the Santa send-off at Frontier Park let you bid farewell to Santa and Mrs. Claus as they board their horse-drawn carriage for their return trip to the North Pole.
Observances of Christmas around the globe also are highlighted during St. Charles’ Christmas Traditions. One of the most poignant is the evening when people line the streets with candles as they watch a re-enactment of Mary and Joseph’s search for a place to stay in Bethlehem, a custom called Las Posadas in Hispanic nations. This year, it takes place on December 5. It starts at Boone’s Lick Road and South Main Street and follows the couple until their journey ends successfully at a live nativity scene along the banks of the Missouri River.
The next day, December 6, St. Nicholas Day is celebrated in St. Charles. Children of all ages join him in a children’s parade at 4:00 p.m. The procession travels a short distance from the North Main Colonnade to Berthold Square. There, a classic custom is observed — with a twist: St. Nick hosts a shoe drive, and everyone is invited to donate a new or gently used pair of shoes.
On December 13 at 4:00 p.m., a St. Lucia Day celebration happens at the North Main Colonnade. The centuries-old celebration observes the return of light to the world; it is popular in Sweden, Norway, and the Swedish-speaking parts of Finland. A children’s parade led by the Saint of Light starts at 4:00 p.m., and all ages are encouraged to meet at the Colonnade, where under the glow of lantern light the procession travels to Berthold Square. The evening ends with interactive storytelling by St. Lucia.
Kids and adults can meet the reindeer flight instructor and her live reindeer pals on December 19 and 20 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. and get acquainted with some of the antlered brethren of Dasher, Dancer, and Prancer. Join her in the backyard of the historic First Missouri State Capitol as she regales the crowd with funny stories about her reindeer pals.
Chestnuts And More
Other festival attractions include the Chestnut Roasters (next to the Daniel Boone statue). The chestnut vendors’ antics and wit can be enjoyed as they demonstrate the art of roasting this holiday snack.
A gingerbread village at Main Street Church offers sugar-coated sights and smells, plus magically decorated gingerbread houses from the church’s decorating contest.
A holiday kissing ball under the Kister Park Gazebo includes a bundle of mistletoe, holly, ribbon, and evergreen, representing peace, love, and long-lasting happiness. It is a perfect place to share hot cocoa with your sweetheart.
Christmas Traditions photo stops have holiday backgrounds, so selfie-takers and group photo fanatics can indulge in creating a personal trading card — and a one-of-a-kind souvenir of a holiday visit to St. Charles.
All along Main Street, shops cater to appetites for food and gifts. You’ll find antiques, local art, clothes, and other items — even dog treats produced at a bakery. The majority of the Main Street shops are open during the Christmas Traditions time, but some are closed on Mondays. Visit www.historicstcharles.com for a listing of stores and restaurants and their hours.
Visitors might also check out a popular classic car restoration company located just north of Main Street. Fast Lane Classic Cars has a showroom filled with gorgeous muscle cars, classic cars, street rods, motorcycles, and more. You may decide to ask Santa for a particular vehicle this year.
And even if he can’t quite fit one into his pack, you’ll be glad you got in the Christmas mood and joined in the Christmas Traditions festivities in St. Charles.
All Christmas Traditions events are free except for the special breakfast, lunch, and dinner meals mentioned above, which require reservations.
Room for motorhome parking (not overnight) is available at the Lewis & Clark Boat House and Nature Center parking lot near the Missouri River; see www.lewisandclarkcenter.org for details. Also, a parking lot located at Second Street and Water Street may be used (not overnight).
For a schedule of events, a downloadable festival guide, and information about other area attractions, contact:
The following may not be a complete list, so check your campground directory or the RV Marketplace, found online at FMCA.com and in the June and January issues of FMC.
Sundermeier RV Park
111 Transit St.
St. Charles, MO 63301
370 Lakeside Park RV Campground
1000 Lakeside Park Drive
St. Peters, MO 63376
St. Louis West Route 66 KOA
18475 Old U.S. 66
Eureka, MO 6 3025