Bringing a Little Warmth and Spice to the City by the Lake
During the holiday season, many communities around the world host signature events that are built around local customs and traditions. These events, ranging from tree lighting ceremonies to parades, help bring residents together each year in a spirit of good cheer and fellowship. In Hendersonville, however, the holiday season is not limited to just one or two such events. Instead, the city has embraced a broader notion known as HolidayFest, which promotes multiple events each year spanning the October through December holiday season.
HolidayFest originated in 2007 as the brainchild of three Hendersonville residents, Lynda Evjen, Steve Luther and J.J. von Kessel. Conceived to be different from traditional fall events, the first HolidayFest was limited to a single weekend that featured a gingerbread house competition, the inaugural St. Nicholas Ball and the annual Hendersonville Christmas parade. Since then, HolidayFest has evolved into a multi-month series of events that attracts thousands of visitors to Hendersonville and the surrounding Sumner County area each year.
“HolidayFest brings together the many interests of our community, helps raise money for several organizations and gets us all into the Christmas spirit,” Hendersonville Mayor Jamie Clary says.
Now in its 11th season, HolidayFest has grown from humble beginnings into a season-wide phenomenon that helps raise thousands of dollars each year for multiple Sumner County charities. Each of the events falls under the auspices of a nonprofit community service organization, also known as HolidayFest. Overseen by a board of directors, HolidayFest officers and volunteers work year-round to plan, sponsor and promote holiday-themed events and to identify area charities in need of assistance.
HolidayFest “consists of holiday-themed events that combine community, traditions, businesses, charities and tourism,” Evjen, de facto HolidayFest executive director, says.
All HolidayFest funding is provided through supported events and the assistance of more than 30 area sponsors. In 2017, board president Larry Phillips says he “expects that this year’s slate of 24 events will raise over $75,000 for 12 area charities. One hundred percent of the funds stay in Sumner County.”
In addition to donating event proceeds, “HolidayFest volunteers work with participating nonprofits to help them improve their fundraising efforts,” Evjen adds.
Each year, HolidayFest features a variety of holiday-themed events designed to appeal to visitors of all ages. Major events include Christmas Tree Elegance, the Christmas 4 Kids Concert and Shopping Spree, the Indian Lake Loop Thanksgiving Day Classic, the Garland & Fashion Show, the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony, the Hendersonville Christmas parade, the St. Nicholas Ball and the Christmas Boat parade. In addition to these activities, 2017 has seen the introduction of two new events: the House on Haunted Hill Costume Party and the Canine Cutie Dog Pageant. All events are held at local historical and civic venues, including Rock Castle, the Monthaven Arts and Cultural Center and the Ryman Auditorium.
Traditionally, the HolidayFest-supported nonprofits include the Literary Council of Middle Tennessee, Bows & Ballcaps, Community Childcare Center, Christmas 4 Kids, Make-A-Wish Foundation and Mary’s Magical Place. In 2017, two additional charities are receiving assistance: the Sumner Teen Center (proceeds from the Garlands & Glitter Fashion Show) and the Salvus Center (proceeds from the House on Haunted Hill Costume Party).
Participating nonprofits are asked to nominate local men and women as the annual HolidayFest king and queen candidates. From the pool of candidates, the man and woman receiving the most votes are designated as the king and queen of HolidayFest for that year. Competition runners-up are selected to serve as members of the royal court during the HolidayFest season. The king and queen and their court are then invited to participate in a variety of seasonal activities, including riding in the annual Christmas Parade. The 2017 HolidayFest king and queen are Mike and Darlene Rawls, with court members Stephen and Stephanie Williams, Joan and Jim Blanich and Bob and Sue Olari.
In addition to the king, queen and the royal court, HolidayFest also selects an honorary chairperson to serve each season. Drawing upon Hendersonville’s abundant reservoir of country music artists and local television personalities, the HolidayFest team selects one person each year to serve as the honorary festival chairperson. This chairperson helps promote the events through personal appearances as well as by participating in the production of a television commercial which is aired throughout the HolidayFest season. This year’s honorary chairperson is Dana Williams, from the country music supergroup Diamond Rio. Previous year’s honorary chairs include Richard Sterban, Marty Stuart, William Lee Golden, Louise Mandrell, Lorrie Morgan, Ricky Skaggs, Kelly Lang and Ronny McDowell. Along with serving as honorary chair, Williams will also be the grand marshall for the Hendersonville Christmas parade on December 3.
Phillips says he expects the organization will continue to seek out new events and nonprofit partners.
“While growth will continue, it will likely occur by expanding the available dates beyond the October-December timeframe and through the solicitation of additional sponsors and volunteers,” he says.