This time of year, the village of Granville becomes a living Norman Rockwell painting for a day.
That’s how Liz Stutzman, owner of a Granville boutique, describes the first Saturday in December. Add flurries, and it’s a Norman Rockwell painting inside a snow globe.
This magic happens during the Granville Christmas Candlelight Walking Tour, which returns Dec. 3. It’s one part nostalgia and holiday decorations that never change, one part strolling and catching up with family and old friends, one part cookies and hot chocolate, dozens of parts pine trees decorated or on their way to being decorated, one part Christmas train set at the library, one part kettle corn on the corner, two parts Santa and Mrs. Claus at Village Hall, and a heaping helping of holiday music in the churches.
It’s “easily our busiest day of the year, with hundreds of shoppers coming in and out,” said Stutzman, describing the bustle in her Green Velvet shop full of women’s wear, jewelry, gifts, and Christmas decorations.
For 37 years, the event has been at the center of the Licking County community. Originally started by Granville’s churches to share the talents of their choirs and musicians, the event now hosted by the Granville Chamber of Commerce creates a festive space for holiday memories. (Watch for updates and the event schedule on the Chamber website or on its Facebook page.)
“The event benefits everyone,” said Steve Matheny, executive director of the Granville Chamber of Commerce. “Local businesses always thrive that weekend.”
Walking along Broadway and down side streets, visitors can enjoy the scent of fresh-cut Christmas trees strapped to the rooftops of cars and SUVs parked along the streets. Many families from beyond Granville make a day of it by cutting trees at nearby farms, such as Davies, Homestead and Timbuk, and then stopping in town for music and a bite to eat at Granville restaurants.
Visitors will hear the chime of handbells, the clip-clop of a horse-drawn carriage and Christmas classics in churches and shops. Local vendors and artisans set up all over town, offering hand-made seasonal gifts and food.
Village workers were out the week before Thanksgiving to start setting up and lighting Christmas trees that line the main streets – all to be decorated with ornaments made by school children and funded by donations from residents and friends of Granville.
And when the day arrives, there are candles. Everywhere.
The streets are lined with luminaries to light the path for visitors.
“It’s just the best,” says Joy Hire, long-time Granville resident and director of the First Presbyterian’s Angel Choir. “You get this feeling of community and good will, which really is what the season’s all about.”
Hire will direct her 28th consecutive holiday concert at 7 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. Established in 1993, the youth choir has expanded from 10 middle school girls to a four-part choir of girls and boys in grades 7-12.
A Denison University alumnae, Hire has coordinated collaborative pieces with the Angel Youth Choir she directs and the Denison Hilltoppers and Ladies Night Out acapella groups. This year is no exception, as the university groups will join the 7 p.m. performance.
Making a post-COVID return to the Christmas Walk are singers and musicians from Denison University who will perform Christmas classics around town. The Denison Suzuki Strings and Flutes will perform at the United Church of Granville at 3 p.m. And the Hilltoppers all-male acapella group will perform at Cedar & Thread at 4 p.m.
The Denison Symphony Orchestra will perform a free Holiday Pops concert at 7 p.m. that day on campus in Swasey Chapel. And the following week, at 6 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 11, Swasey Chapel will host a free Candlelight Service of Lessons and Carols.
Through the music and decorations in downtown Granville, old traditions are made new again. The walking tour ushers in the holiday season, allowing families to create Hallmark memories in a Norman Rockwell painting.
“These are the moments when we’re able to let go of all that’s wrong with the world and focus on those small things that are right,” Hire said.
Jack Wolf writes for TheReportingProject.org, the non-profit news organization of the Denison University Journalism Program, which is funded in part by the Mellon Foundation.