As the December night settles on the village of St. Charles, nestled along the Missouri River, the clip-clop of horse hooves on brick and the faint sound of fifers playing holiday music can be heard on the streets outside, capturing that time in our history when life was less complicated, and simple holiday elegance prevailed in our early American Missouri River village of Saint Charles. Welcome to Christmas Traditions.
Christmas Traditions as an event that had very modest beginnings. In 1978, the South Main Street Historic District was in its formation stage. Renovations were underway as a forgotten area was being transformed into a pristine historic district with a collection of 88 buildings. A collection of beautiful buildings does not make a historic area come alive; it is people and activities that breathe life into a historic district. Five South Main Preservation Society members contributed $100 each for the first year's budget to create a traditional Christmas event.
In the middle 80s, the Christmas event was expanded to include representations of “Santa Claus” from around the world. The characters were dressed in each country’s Santa clothing and they greeted children with candy. Volunteer carolers lined the streets and the merchants contributed to the event by offering wassail and of course, roasted chestnuts. South Main Street was lined with luminaries and the buildings were decorated with live greenery. The event was still relatively small in attendance with a few thousand. During the late 80s, the event began to falter since its existence was highly dependent on volunteers. It was during this time that the City of St. Charles via its Convention and Visitors Bureau began to become involved by providing funding. This funding allowed the South Main Preservation Society to hire caroling groups and historic characters to entertain Historic District guests. The event began to rejuvenate and continued to grow along with the number of visitors.
Today, Christmas Traditions, with a multitude of holiday characters and music, attracts over 100,000 guests throughout the month of December. Las Posadas, held on the first Saturday evening in December, is now a procession of historically portrayed individuals who follow Mary and Joseph through the Historic District. The St. Charles Drum and Fife Corps plays holiday music and several choirs sing the traditional tunes. The official procession is followed by 5,000 guests who carry candles and lanterns.
This major production is a long way from the early Christmas event years with a few volunteers and a couple of choirs. It was from meager roots that the South Main Preservation Society grew the Christmas Traditions event that you see today. Listen and you may hear the voices of Christmas Past….they surround you in Historic Saint Charles.