The Carlinville Christmas Market is anything but static as it heads into its 23rd year of kicking off the Christmas season for Carlinville area residents and visitors from around the Midwest. It is a tradition-based festival but is also committed to bringing new experiences to the thousands of visitors who attend each year.
New this year, for example, will be the whimsical portraits of a caricature artist, who will sketch his “models” in the Knights of Columbus hall on the north side of the square.
Entertainment by local artists also is on the bill, including Allie Durbin playing guitar and ukulele and Brian Zilm singing to his own guitar accompaniment.
The famous white arts and crafts tents will have the same configuration as in 2011 – the main tent running down East Main Street to a T at East Street – but the inside this year will be decorated with large mounted photos from Christmas Markets past, including the gazebo in the center of the square, the old-fashioned red trolley, the famous Courthouse and Old Jail, the Anderson Mansion Estate’s Christmas Show, and festival entertainers.
As with the Market itself, the vendors in the big, white tents will offer both new, original hand-made goods and past favorites. Vendors who return do so because of popular demand and because, as they have stated, they recognize the Christmas Market as one of the top festivals in Central Illinois.
Another new feature is a gift basket to be given away in a random drawing from among surveys completed and turned in by visitors to the Market. The basket will contain a colorful $40 Carlinville throw, the Market’s “Holiday Traditions” cookbook, and merchandise from a variety of Carlinville merchants.
“It’s very important for us to know where our visitors come from and how they heard about our festival,” explained Carlinville Christmas Market Foundation President Doug Downey. “We keep a close rein on our advertising and promotional budget, so we need to know where to advertise and who our target market is. We hope our visitors will take a few moments to help us gather that information and, in the process, win the drawing and take home a big basket of holiday prizes.
While not an attraction as such, a complete new public address system, donated by the Goodman Agency in Carlinville, will improve communications and the sounds of Christmas around the square. Downey urges visitors to be listening for announcements throughout the three days to better enjoy everything that Carlinville and the festival have to offer.
Some additions to the 2012 Market are a kind of hybrid, a combination of old and new. The Market Guide booklet, for example, is an “everything-you-need-to-know” source of information similar to the program booklets from previous festivals. It includes a map of the square, restaurant listings, merchant coupons, an entertainment schedule, and other information to help visitors wend their way around Carlinville.
After a six-year absence, the famous “Million Dollar Courthouse” will be open this year for tours from 1 to 5 p.m. on Christmas Market Saturday, Dec. 8.
Also returning after a one-year hiatus is the Christmas House Tour, which takes visitors through selected homes that have been specially decorate for Christmas. The tour takes place from 1 to 5 p.m., also on Saturday. This year’s event is sponsored by the Carlinville Community Chamber of Commerce.
As with any good website, the Christmas Market’s site is a mix of old and new. It includes historical information about the festival, as well as the current list of 2012 corporate and private sponsors, and highlights of this year’s event. New for 2012 is a drop-down window with 40 some Market related photographs that visitors can ponder or click through at their own pace.
So what are the standby favorites that the Market brings back each year? Two of them are Professor Longhair, a kids’ favorite, and Hiroshi Tada, a favorite of all ages who performs almost magical feats with his spinning tops. Another is the always popular ice sculptures carved by ice artists in the center of the park near the gazebo. Local churches will host their traditional events, including the bell choir at the Methodist Church Friday evening and the daytime Holly Jolly Playhouse for children at the United Church of Christ.
Good news for all is that admission to the arts and crafts tents remains at $1 per person. There are no fees for strolling the square. Most attractions are free; some are available at minimal cost.
The Bluff City Trolley will run again this year, starting on the square and taking visitors on a narrated tour that includes the Macoupin County Historical Society’s Anderson Mansion Christmas Show, the Standard Addition Sears homes, Blackburn College, the Courthouse and Old “Cannonball” Jail, and the Christmas-decoration extravaganza on the west side of town just past Carlinville High School. “Anyone who hasn’t seen the Eschbachers’ block-long display is in for a real treat,” Downey said. “Kids love it, and it dazzles the moms, dads, and grandparents, too.”
The Carlinville Christmas Market starts at 3 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 7 and ends at 3 p.m. Sunday. For more detailed information and a comprehensive view of past Markets, visit the website at: www.CarlinvilleChristmasMarket.com.