The Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries illuminated Jackson County’s mountain village for the kickoff of the festival’s 28th year.
Modeled after the Scandinavian custom of lighting the way for the Christ child, more than 2,500 candles in white bags lined the streets last weekend and the festival will continue this Friday and Saturday evenings, Dec. 9-10.
In addition to luminaries lining the sidewalks, Dillsboro’s merchant “elves” trimmed their buildings, many of which date to the 1800s, in traditional white lights. Once the town was lit up with festive decorations, carolers filled the streets singing Christmas favorites, a horse and carriage was on hand to take visitors around the village, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus visited with children at Town Hall.
Shopkeepers added to the merriment by staying open late and serving coffee, warm cider, hot chocolate and homemade goodies to visitors. Robert Williams, one of the owners of the Dillsboro Chocolate Factory, said the luminaries are one of the biggest weekends the store has all year. “Luminaries is a huge weekend for us,” said Williams. “We get a lot of local visitors that typically avoid Dillsboro because of its “touristy” feel. Some businesses it doesn’t help at all, to some it’s everything. It is a really important boost for our December.”
According to Williams, compared to last year’s opening Saturday for the festival, the Chocolate Factory nearly doubled the sales. “The weather is a lot better this year, and it was a lot warmer, too,” he noted. “We have a lot of products that people come to the region to buy. They often come once a year during the luminaries.”
The Dillsboro Chocolate Factory was a favorite last weekend because they offer a wide selection and variety of hand-dipped chocolates, homemade fudge, gourmet coffees from around the world, Jelly-Bellies, Joseph Schmidt truffles, and lots of other goodies perfect for the holidays.
Amy Grey travelled from Newnan, Ga., to continue the tradition of attending the luminaries with her sister Meredith Grey of Sylva. The sisters have been attending the festival since they were kids and have now passed the tradition on to their children. After stopping into the Chocolate factory for some hot chocolate and homemade fudge, the sisters headed to Town Hall so their children Abigail and Mason could ride the horse and carriage and meet Santa Claus. Fiveyear- old Mason insisted that his mother and aunt get extra fudge from the factory just to take to Santa.
The festival kicked off Friday night with “WCU night,” which allowed merchants to offer special discounts to Catamounts who showed their Cat Cards. On top of special discounts for Western students, a portion of the evenings proceeds were donated to CARE in support of the WCU Poverty Project.
WCU night at the luminaries was started in 2009 by Chancellor John Bardo as part of the Dillsboro/WCU partnership. This year, WCU’s new Chancellor, David Belcher, and his wife Susan joined in on the holiday fun and were able to experience the festival for the first time.
“Folks tell us every year how genuine this event is and how much they enjoy it,” says Julie Spiro, tourism director for Jackson County. “It’s a nice combination of cool winter weather and warm holiday spirit.”
The Festival of Lights & Luminaries begins each evening at dusk and runs until 9 p.m.