1928 - Alderson High School - 1968



Let There Be Lights…Old Traditions Shine Like New in Alderson

Sarah Alderson - November 7, 2016

The Magic of Christmas is best experienced through the eyes of a child. Whether revisiting our own childhood memories of Christmases past or watching a little one discover it for the first time, we all look for ways to capture that wonder of the season.

When I was little, I thought the Christmas parade in my hometown was the most magical event of the holidays. It was always the first Friday night in December that the lights in downtown Alderson were turned on for the first time. The focal point of the festivities was the historic train depot, where the Queen of Lights would wave her wand to magically illuminate the arches of lights across the bridge, the brightly colored bulbs on the huge Christmas tree, and the lighted star on the hill that overlooked the town. Afterwards, we could drive across the bridge gazing up at the lights. It was then that we knew that the Christmas season had begun.

By the time I was a teenager and the magic had begun to fade a bit, I was fortunate to have a little sister who helped me feel like a kid again. Our family Christmas traditions included driving around town to look at the Christmas decorations, and I loved to watch my sister’s eyes light up along the way. I can still see her little hand pointing at the window. “See yights?” she would inquire with wonder. The rest of us certainly did see the lights. And at that moment we felt they were just as magnificent as she did.

When I was well into adulthood and living in Virginia, local Christmas traditions included Colonial Williamsburg’s “Grand Illumination.” Not long after I first experienced that event for the first time, my adopted home of Richmond began to create their own downtown light display with a winter wonderland that included a herd of lighted reindeer. Once again, I was lucky enough to be able to experience a bit of childhood wonder by watching my young nephew toddle over to the reindeer, gaze up at it in amazement, and tentatively pat its lighted nose.

So many of my favorite holiday memories specifically involve Christmas lights, and I imagine it has a lot to do with those early memories of Alderson’s own annual illumination. The ceremonial turning on of lights in Williamsburg and Richmond always reminded me of the Christmas lights of Alderson. And as grand as the other celebrations were, they never quite captured my hometown’s magic.

Of course, many years have gone by since then. The Memorial Bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in the 1970s. At one point in the 1990s, the huge old pine tree was said to be too large to decorate. The focal point of the whole event along with visiting Santa was moved to another part of town away from the depot. The parade was diminished and the simultaneous turning on of all the lights downtown was de-emphasized.

They say you can’t go home again, and when I first moved back to Alderson I grudgingly tried to accept that the Christmas events I remembered had changed. But then I realized that old traditions can be revisited and even improved upon. And I found others who wanted to bring that Christmas magic back home, too.

So this year, Alderson is bringing back our own Grand Illumination again - during our annual Christmas parade the first Friday of December. We are also adding to the holiday displays in the Historic District and planning events to celebrate the lights every weekend until Christmas, including old Alderson traditions like driving under the lights of the bridge. But that’s not all, we’ll be incorporating many Appalachian Christmas traditions along the way, including bonfires, candles in the windows, serenadin’ and more. Watch for posters, flyers, and advertisements with specific dates and times. Check out the Alderson Main Street Facebook page, call the Alderson Visitors Center, or contact the Greenbrier County Convention and Visitors Bureau for more information and updates. And consider this your invitation to come celebrate with us all month long.

Whether you have little ones to bring along, or you’re still just a big kid at heart…come see the lights of Alderson, where we’re bringing back the magic of Christmas by making old traditions new again.

Please enter your name to comment.  Comments should be read from the bottom up to get continuity.