By Joanna Grey Talbot
There are so many wonderful Christmas traditions around the world from the European Christmas Markets to Advent to the many varieties of Santa Claus. Yet for me, one of the most magical will always be the Southern Christmas Show. Held every year at The Park Expo and Conference Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors from all over the country during its two-week run in November. The Southern Christmas Show is much more than a “craft show” – it’s closer to a festival filled with shopping, music, art, and food.
Except for the three years I lived in Florida and Virginia my mother and I have attended almost every year since our first visit about twelve years ago. At this point we have our visit down to a routine, as do many repeat showgoers. With over 400 vendors and artisans spread out over three buildings it can be overwhelming so you have to allow yourself time to wander and explore. Each year has a theme and this year’s was “Carolina Christmas.”
Every year just inside the main entrance the show management creates a beautiful display according to that year’s theme. This year it was a large model landscape paying homage to the state’s natural beauty and landmarks, beginning with the Blue Ridge Mountains and ending at the Atlantic coast. One of my favorite displays was the year they celebrated a Victorian Christmas and borrowed the previous year’s gorgeous window displays from one of the large department stores in New York City.
From the front display you travel past a series of room displays decorated for Christmas by local interior designers. Photographs are encouraged so that you can get ideas for your own home Christmas decorations. After ooing and aahing over beautiful centerpieces and garlands you walk through Christmas Tree Lane. Each tree is a North Carolina fraser fir decorated by a different designer, covered in twinkling lights and shiny ornaments.
After being dazzled by the Christmas displays you enter Olde Towne, which consists of 50 shops, some with actual storefronts. Mom and I always head straight for the couple stores that sell rustic Christmas décor. Cannot get enough of plaid and woodland creature figurines! Once we’ve had our fill there we always stop at the show’s coffee shop and bakery for a cup of coffee (me) and hot tea (Mom) and a snack.
Before heading into the three main halls of the center we love strolling through the Enchanted Village where the National Association of Miniature Enthusiasts display their hand-crafted creations. This year thirty artisans participated and we had many favorites!
Yet, the best part of visiting the Southern Christmas Show is walking through the three halls stuffed to the gills with artisans and potential Christmas presents and doing your hardest not to buy one of everything. The first hall, Liberty Hall, is reserved for artisans and their handmade items, which always takes us the longest to walk through because each booth is filled with unique and beautiful creations. This year we bought Christmas figurines made from bobbins. The company was Out of Mind Designs from Wooster, Ohio, and my carolers look perfect in my apartment.
The other two halls, with a food court in between them, is for everything else from Christmas ornaments to Helmut’s famous strudel (we buy some every year!) to as-seen-on-TV gadgets to socks and sweaters and cookware. If you look closely enough, though, you can always find something exceptional in Independence Hall and Freedom Hall, such as my friend’s line of accessories, Bonita Pina, made by women artisans around the world.
Next year’s show is November 9-19 and if you decide to go (and I hope you will!) be sure to take a friend with you (much more fun when you can enjoy it with someone), wear comfortable shoes and give yourself no less than 2-3 hours to wander. Needless to say, people watching at the show is absolutely amazing! It’s the perfect place to wear your Christmas sweater and reindeer antlers. The Southern Christmas Show has a little bit for everyone and I am already looking forward to next year’s visit!