Today is the first Friday of December which, in our little town, is a big, big thing.
Before we'd ever attended, I was hearing about it from others. The first year we happened to be in town on December's First Friday, we bundled up and headed to Main Street to see what all the talk was about. I was stunned by what we found and I wrote about it when I got back home:
Last year at this time, we were in Portland to do an art show. Several people told us we were really missing out by being gone on First Friday in December because, "Stevensville really does a nice little Christmas event."
We skipped the Portland show this year, which meant we would be available for First Friday. Plus, Tano's Cub Scout pack was going to be in the parade, so we were pretty much required to be there, although we didn't really know what to expect.
I will make a concerted effort to never miss it again.
I can't think of a more wonderful way to kick off the Christmas season. Really. I wish you could have all been there, but my words and perhaps a few second-rate photos will have to do. Where shall I even begin?
We bundled up for an evening in the cold and snow, and met at 6 PM in the parking lot of that new antique store--you know, the old Feed & Farm building. The two dozen or so scouts, along with a handful of younger siblings piled onto hay bales on a wagon decorated with colored lights, a Christmas tree and a kind citizen dressed as Santa. Another kind citizen showed up with a replacement tractor to pull the wagon, as the intended tractor and the trailer hauling it had slid off an icy road into a ditch a half hour before (no damage or injuries, but rather inconvenient).
Andy was recruited to be the song leader and he climbed aboard the float and handed out song sheets to all the kids. They practiced each song once and then it was time for the parade to begin. Elli rode proudly on the float with Daddy and all the big boys. I walked alongside with the other parents.
Downtown Stevi was crowded with people, waving and cheering. Children were climbing up and sliding down the big piles of snow left behind by the snow plows. Shops were decked out in tiny white lights and evergreen boughs. People circled around bonfires on street corners to warm their hands and laugh together.
On street corners.
The high school's choral group was gathered casually on the steps of the bank, using them as bleachers to give an informal concert of carols. Bundled up tots were pulled along the sidewalk on sleds or in wagons by one parent, while the other parent held the leash of the family dog. People were calling out to friends and hugs were being exchanged all around. It was all so cheerful and festive that I thought I must be trapped in a Norman Rockwell reality show.
When we got to the main corner in the middle of the tiny downtown, the little procession stopped and the crowd pressed in. The Master of Ceremonies handed the microphone to Father So-And-So from one of the area churches for the reading of the Christmas story. He read straight from the Gospel of Luke while the whole town stood quietly and listened. While he read, I pushed further into the crowd, trying to get a glimpse of who was reading. It was an older man sitting in a chair on the street corner, with someone else pointing a flashlight at his Bible. As I pressed in, I also found a live nativity scene in the street, made up of children in homemade costumes and real animals, miniature donkeys, sheep and such. The two (two?) angels stood in the open bed of a nearby pick-up truck, so as to "hover" above the manger scene. As I gaped at the sight before me--sponsored by the Stevensville Main Street Association, not a local church, I realized that Father So-And-So had finished reading from Luke and had begun to pray, a real prayer, to a real God. He said Amen and the crowd echoed it respectfully.
The M.C. then asked everyone to join in the countdown to light the strings of colored lights that stretched back and forth across Main St. 3-2-1...the lights flickered on, and all of Stevensville cheered.
At that point, the M.C. led the whole town in several sacred carols--no Jingle Bells here. Everyone knew the words and sang along enthusiastically.
It was almost too much for me, and I was really feeling the need to pinch myself--this can't be for real, I thought--until I realized the smiling face coming toward me was my friend, Nancy. She didn't stop singing to say hello. I didn't either. We just smiled our warm greetings and then stood side by side, with her singing melody and me dropping easily into a familiar harmony part. It had to be real, because I could hear my own voice blending so naturally with my friend's. I must belong here, I thought with a smile, and I felt warm despite the bank sign that flashed 25 degrees.
The rest of the evening was nice, although not as magical as that beginning. The Cub Scouts' float went down to the end of Main, circled around, and went back to the Feed & Farm, oh, I mean the antique store. We then wandered in and out of all the local businesses, most of whom stay open late for First Friday, munching on endless free Christmas cookies and candy, sipping cocoa and spiced cider, and admiring art, crafts and trinkets. We ran into dozens of people that we knew. Two teams of draft horses, their harnesses covered with jingling sleigh bells, pulled wagons filled with revellers up and down Main St. We did all there was to do, and sampled the complimentary baked goods set out on platters in every business. In one store, we listened to a ten year old boy in a tuxedo play his violin beautifully. In the Episcopal church, we sat and listened to a bunch of grizzled old cowboys play bluegrass. In the Catholic church, the kids got their faces painted and sat on Santa's lap.
After a final snowball fight and fun slipping and sliding on icy streets, we walked back to the truck and drove four weary bodies home.
I can't believe I get to live here. I can't believe my kids are growing up to think this is normal.
Magical. Absolutely magical, I tell you.
And now, to get bundled up with my family and head downtown to kick off the Christmas season. I love this event.