Iceless ice skating and a fireworks show headline the activities for the 30th annual Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries Festival, which is always the first two Fridays and Saturdays in December in downtown Dillsboro.
The festival opens with Western Carolina University Night on Friday, Dec. 6, from 5 to 9 p.m., during which an iceless ice skating rink sponsored by WCU’s A.K. Hinds University Center will be open to all festival-goers. Admission is free and skates will be provided. Participants also can bring their own ice skates. The rink will be located in front of Dogwood Wellness and may be accessed via the footbridge behind the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad’s depot. The rink will be available only on Dec. 6.
The WCU Holiday Dancers will kick off the event at 5:30 p.m. with a performance down Front Street. The dancers are led by Karyn Tomczak, a former Radio City Music Hall Rockette and director of WCU’s dance program.
Then, several WCU guests of honor have been invited to experience the first horse-drawn carriage ride of the evening at 5:35 p.m. They include Sam Miller, vice chancellor for student affairs; Carol Burton, associate provost for undergraduate studies; Jeff Hughes, director of the University Center; Ryan Hermance, president of the Student Government Association; and WCU Homecoming king and queen Brandon Truitt and Mary Hannah Hughes.
In addition to a variety of musicians and singers who will provide entertainment in individual shops throughout the town every night of the festival, entertainment for WCU Night will include:
•Voices in the Laurel at 6 p.m. – A nonprofit youth choir in Western North Carolina that combines classic choral instruction with an extensive assortment of music will be caroling at Dillsboro businesses on Front Street. The goal of the choir is to provide young people quality choral education in fun and innovative ways.
•Sing-A-Long with Susan Belcher at 6:30 p.m. at the Front Street Courtyard – Cullowhee Valley elementary students, under the direction of music teacher Katee Johnson, will join Belcher, an accomplished opera performer and wife of WCU Chancellor David Belcher, singing favorite holiday tunes.
•Broadway Cat Singers at 7 p.m. at the Front Street Courtyard – The WCU Broadway Cat Singers will perform Christmas songs in a classical musical theater style.
•WCU Horn Choir at 7:30 p.m. at the Front Street Courtyard – The WCU Horn Choir is a student French horn group.
•The Trantham Family Band at 8 p.m. in the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot – The Trantham Family has been prominent in the music scene of the Western North Carolina mountains for three generations. In addition to playing music for all ages, the musicians teach audiences about Appalachian culture.
•WCU Inspirational Choir at 8:30 p.m. in the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot – The Inspirational Choir promotes African-American culture and diversity through song.
Additional free activities on WCU Night include paint-your-own ornaments at Claymates while supplies last and face painting provided by Macon Faces at K.J.’s Cross Stitch Store and Emporium from 6 to 8 p.m.
During WCU Night, merchants will offer special discounts to faculty, staff and students who show their Cat Cards. WCU participants will be able to enter a drawing for a basket of merchandise and gift certificates totaling more than $500 donated by the merchants. No purchase is necessary in order to enter the drawing and the winner does not have to be present to win. Santa and Mrs. Claus will draw the winning entry at 9 p.m. Dec. 6 in front of Town Hall.
Also on WCU Night, free round-trip shuttle transportation will be available for faculty, staff and students and their families. The shuttles will leave from the University Center beginning at 5 p.m. and will run every half hour until 7:30 p.m. Shuttles will return to WCU from Dillsboro beginning at 7 p.m. and run every half hour until 9:30 p.m. To reserve seats, email Caitlynn Pitts, a WCU student majoring in communication, at firstname.lastname@example.org by Wednesday, Dec. 4.
“We are expecting rain on Friday, but we really hope the rain won’t keep people from coming out,” said Betty Farmer, professor of communication and special assistant to the chancellor for Dillsboro. “There will be plenty of things to do inside, and it will be a great time for folks to get a jump on their holiday shopping.”
In the event of inclement weather on WCU Night, entertainment currently scheduled to be held outdoors, including the iceless ice skating rink, will move to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad depot and warehouse spaces.
WCU Night at the Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries is an activity of the Dillsboro/WCU Partnership, which was formed at the request of Dillsboro leaders in 2009 and matches the expertise of WCU faculty, staff and students with Dillsboro’s challenges and opportunities.
Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries is one of the longest-running holiday festivals in the region. Merchants started the tradition in 1983 as a way of saying thank you to customers for supporting them year round. The shops stay open late and offer a variety of free refreshments and entertainment. The historic village is adorned with more than 2,500 luminaries and white lights. A variety of musicians and singers provide entertainment in individual shops throughout the town every night of the festival, including Pick and Play Dulcimer Group performing holiday music from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Riverwood Shops on Dec. 6 and 13. Also, Santa and Mrs. Claus hear children’s wishes at Town Hall. The festival takes place from about 5 to 9 p.m. Friday, Dec. 6; Saturday, Dec. 7; Friday, Dec. 13; and Saturday, Dec. 14.
This year’s festival will conclude Dec. 14 with fireworks provided by Jackson County Parks and Recreation at 8:30 p.m. The county’s annual Independence Day fireworks celebration was rescheduled to this date due to heavy rain.
Free parking will be available at Monteith Park every night of the festival. The Cullowhee United Methodist Church will provide a free shuttle from Monteith Park to downtown Dillsboro on Dec. 6.