Small towns celebrate Christmas in big ways By Andrea Gross
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t. Augustine, Florida, which was founded by Spanish conquistadors in 1565, is festooned with three million lights. These represent the candles that brighten Spanish homes during the Christmas season. The town of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri features a parade of les petits chanteurs who sing French carols, while the Kansas community of Lindsborg, settled by Swedes in the late nineteenth century, celebrates Christmas with Scandinavian music and folk dancing.
St. Augustine has one of the world’s top-rated holiday light displays. (Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com) And so it goes. Across the United States, people come together to observe the holidays in ways that combine quintessentially American customs while at the same time honoring the traditions of their ancestors. Here, a spotlight on three towns that speak to the best of America: its commonalities as well as its diversity.
St. Augustine honors its Spanish heritage by putting lights in the windows of downtown buildings. (Photo courtesy of FloridasHistoricCoast.com) Convinced that they’d found the storied Fountain of Youth, the Spanish, along with enslaved African Americans and native Timucuan Indians, established the first permanent settlement in what became the United States. Then knowing that their families back in Europe were celebrating the Fiesta de Navidad, they said a Christmas mass. It was the first Christmas in the New World. I swallow the water, but it’s laden with sulfur and smells like hard-boiled eggs. I’d rather have eggnog. Today St. Augustine’s annual “Nights of Lights,” which has been selected by both National Geographic and the Smithsonian as one of the world’s best holiday displays, begins the Saturday before Thanksgiving and runs through the end of January. Ste. Genevieve’s French Connection
Saint Augustine’s Spanish
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Folks at ASL Foundry in Ste. Genevieve use old-time methods to make pewter Christmas ornaments. (Photo by Irv Green) The Colonial Spanish Quarter in St. Augustine is ﬁlled with museums, eateries and shops that reﬂect the town’s heritage. (Photo by Irv Green) Heritage I take a sip of water. According to legend, this water, which comes from a natural spring near St. Augustine, Florida, is going to bestow upon me a magical gift — the gift of eternal youth.
Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, 60 miles south of St. Louis, is a charming town of 4,500 people, most of whom trace their ancestry back to France. We explore streets filled with intriguing shops and eateries, stopping for nearly an hour at ASL Foundry where we watch folks craft pewter plates, goblets and — to my delight — Christmas ornaments. Finally we make our way to the town’s historic district, which has gained