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'Tis the season: slate of holiday events focuses on simpler times, natural heritage.

THE CHRISTMAS SEASON in Arkansas harkens back to a simpler age with events that draw communities together to sing carols, marvel at decorations and share traditions.

Around the state, virtually every booming city, sleepy hamlet and historical park plays host to holiday celebrations from the predictable parades, lighting celebrations and Santa Claus visits to elaborate non-secular observances of the season such as living nativity scenes. Events such as these highlight the winter tourism attractions in Arkansas.

Celebrations built around Arkansas' natural heritage are popular at state parks. Queen Wilhelmina State Park near Mena is gearing up for the 10th annual Christmas on the Mountain celebration, Dec. 21-24. One of the more nostalgic activities is a hay ride, during which a Christmas tree is cut down and hauled back for display in the park lodge. Tree decorating, food, fellowship and live entertainment follow.

"We just make a real party out of it," says Joyce Tinsley, assistant park superintendent.

For more information about the celebration or to make reservations at the 38-room lodge, call (800) 264-2477.

The Dec. 4 Christmas & Candlelight celebration at Old Washington Historic State Park combines the merriment of the season with a fund-raising event to boost the museum's archives. Guides in period dress will give tours of historic park structures that feature old-fashioned Christmas decorations. Luminaries, strolling carolers and minstrels will add visual and musical flair.

"It's like going back to the early 1840s and '50s," says tour guide Jim Rogers.

Advance tickets for the event are $5 for adults and $2 for children. For more information, call 983-2684.

Civil War buffs may want to partake of Christmas festivities Dec. 4-5 at another historic park, Prairie (Washington County). Historic structures, including a Confederate headquarters building, will be open for free tours. Demonstrations in weaving, spinning and fireplace cooking of traditional Christmas foods will take place, as well as an encampment recreation. Caroling and candle lighting will conclude the event. For more information, call 846-2990.

New Festival Debuts

In nearby Fayetteville, the city is stepping up its celebration of the holiday season with the first Lights of the Ozarks Festival from Nov. 24-Jan. 15. As the name suggests, the centerpiece of the festival will be lights -- 1.3 million of them -- blanketing the downtown square, Dickson Street, various neighborhoods and along U.S. Highway 71B from the airport to the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

The festival is modeled after a similar one in Marshall, Texas, that raised about $200,000 for tourism development. The Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce ordered the bounty of lights and is selling them to area businesses and area businesses and residents. The festival is already exceeding expectations, says Marilyn Johnson, director of convention and visitor development with the chamber.

"It's just bigger than we ever thought possible for the first year," she says. "We've had wonderful response."

In Little Rock, a Christmas observance that grows in size, sophistication and popularity each year is the sixth annual Drive-Through Live Nativity, hosted by the First Church of the Nazarene at 1200 N. Mississippi Ave. The church uses a variety of live animals and a cast of more than 125 to depict multiple biblical scenes of the birth of Jesus. This year the nativity will be on display from 6:30-9 p.m., Dec. 15-19.

"It's a gift to the city that we like to do as part of our ministry," says Dave Hoover, music director of the church.

Last year, the free event drew more than 17,000 visitors. Hoover says this year's nativity will feature additional scenes, upgrades in existing ones and possibly another live animal for the menagerie.

"It's not 100 percent firmed up, but we think we have a camel coming," he says.

For those who want to entertain holiday guests by showing why Arkansas has the nickname, "The Natural State," an eagle-watching event Dec. 17-19 at Lake Ouachita State Park in Mountain Pine might fit the bill. Participants are encouraged to bring binoculars and cameras for an interpretive barge tour of Lake Ouachita, which covers the history of the park, as well as the breeding and nesting habits of eagles.

James Wilborn, a park interpreter, says the tours regularly uncover eagles.

"We range between |sighting~ two and eight on average during a one-hour tour," he says.

Another component of the eagle-watching event is a Dec. 18 lecture and presentation of various birds of prey by noted animal rehabilitator Jane Gulley. The program, which drew hundreds of people last year, will be at 10 a.m. at Woodlands Auditorium in Hot Springs Village. For more information and reservations for either event, call the park at 767-9366.

A sampling of other holiday events around the state and telephone numbers for more information include:

* Nov. 25-Jan. 1: Holiday in the Park, Hot Springs National Park, Hot Springs. Music, luminaries, theater, tree lightings, craft shows, cookie sales, caroling, gallery walk and a parade. Call 321-2277.

* Nov. 26-Jan. 2: Christmas in Lights, Eureka Springs. The downtown historic district, Pine Mountain Village and many of the town's Victorian homes are outlined with thousands of Christmas lights. Call 253-8737.

* Nov. 27: Steamboat Days Holiday Bazaar, Helena. Traditional crafts, Christmas recipes, caroling by local choirs, all coinciding with the arrival of the Delta Queen. Call 338-7663.

* Dec. 1-2: 29th Annual Candlelight Carol Service at Hendrix College, Conway. A festival of lessons and carols, the service retells the Christmas story in an alternating pattern of scripture readings and choral responses. Performed almost entirely by candlelight. Reservations required. Call 450-1223.

* Dec. 1-31: Old World Christmas, Rogers Historical Museum, Rogers. Special 1895 Hawkins House tours portraying Christmas brought to America from other lands. Call 621-1154.

* Dec. 3-5: 14th Annual Ozark Christmas, Ozark Folk Center State Park in Mountain View. Guest craftsmen sell holiday decorations and crafts for gift giving. Christmas programs by professional musicians, as well as caroling by participants. Call 269-3851.

* Dec. 4: Christmas Open House, Plantation Agriculture Museum in Scott. Activities include making Christmas decorations, stringing popcorn, readings, refreshments and Christmas music. Call 961-1409.

* Dec. 11: A Hometown Christmas, downtown Eudora. Christmas parade, live Nativity, play by the Arkansas Arts Council, visits from Rudolph the Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman, breakfast with Santa, tour of homes and the historic Dr. A.G. Anderson Home, the oldest standing structure in town. Call 355-8443.
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Author:Walters, Dixie
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 8, 1993
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