COTR kicks off with lovelights

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 29, 2004

Ready or not, Christmas on the River is here. The nationally-known annual event, now in it’s 33rd year, will kick off tomorrow afternoon with a performance by the Demopolis Singers, followed by the traditional lighting of the Love Tree at Bryant W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital tomorrow evening.

The Singers will give two performances this year, one at 2:30 Sunday and another at 7 p.m. Monday. Both performances will be at the First Baptist Church, and the Monday performance will be the last one led by director Ed Rush as he is stepping down from the position.

Rush, who has led the group since January 1997, said he was simply stretched too thin and needed to take a step back from some of his commitments.

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“With Demopolis Singers (and church duties), I’m out five nights during the week during the school year,” he said. The Singers have not found a replacement for Rush yet, but he gave suggestions about what kind of person would best fit the bill.

He said the new director must read music, have some arranging skills, and be able to have fun with the music and the choir.

“The Choir has said that their purpose is to have fun with what they are doing,” said Rush.

Frank McNamara, president of the Demopolis Singers, expressed appreciation for how much Rush has put into the group as a whole and how he has kept it together.

“We wish him well in the future,” he said. “We’re in fond hopes that the Demopolis Singers continues under new leadership.”

The tree-lighting ceremony, too, will feature a few changes this year, most notably it’s length of stay.

This year the tree that will grace the hospital’s front lawn will not be removed once the holidays have passed, but instead will become a permanent part of the landscaping, to be used every year.

“It makes sense instead of cutting Mother Nature down every year,” said Linda Burnham, event coordinator.

Not only will the traditional red and white lights decorate the outdoor scene, but the lobby of the hospital will have its own memory tree. Red and white bells will have the names of those being honored and of the person who purchased the ornament in their names.

Also, as a special remembrance, red and white stars will be available to honor or remember veterans.

The festivities will continue Monday with the Crowning of St. Nick and the lantern parade.

This year’s lantern parade will feature lanterns made by the children, and after parading their creations through downtown, the handmade lights will be displayed at the Demopolis Public Library for the remainder of the week.

St. Nick, chosen based on his or her service to the community, will be announced at 5:30 p.m. in the downtown public square and will reign over the festivities for the rest of the week. The parade will immediately follow the crowning ceremony.

Tuesday holds a particularly special treat as the Alabama Symphony Orchestra out of Tuscaloosa will perform at 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church.

Wednesday boundaries blend and the true reason for the season will be celebrated as the town comes together for a community-wide church service and live nativity scene.

The non-denominational service and the nativity scene will both be at Trinity Episcopal Church this year. The service will begin at 7 p.m. and the nativity scene will take place from 7:30 to 9.

Demopolites will travel back in time Thursday night as the historic homes of Gaineswood, Bluff and Lyon halls will be open for candlelight tours. The tours will feature information about the homes and their previous inhabitants, as well as period music, decorations and refreshments.

Though Thursday night’s tours will be extra special, the homes will be open all weekend.

“Those setting up or enjoying the Fair in the Square can just walk over and go through the homes, and those attending the day parade can do so as well,” Gwyn Turner of the Marengo Historical Society, said.

As the week draws to a close, the festivities heat up with the Alabama State Championship BBQ Cookoff, beginning Friday night and continuing Saturday. Roberston Bank will also host its Open House Friday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The cookoff, which has become one of the highlights of Christmas on the River, will begin at 4 p.m. Friday at the City Landing. For $5, visitors can listen to a live band and see the BBQ masters at work.

The BBQ will continue Saturday from noon to 4 p.m., with judging taking place at 4. New this year is the Taster’s Choice Award. For a minimal fee, guests can sample the various entries and vote

on their favorite.

The peak of the week and grand finale of the festivities takes place on Saturday, with the Fair in the Square, Jingle Bell run/walk, live entertainment stage, Children’s Day Parade, Nautical Parade and Fireworks Show and the annual Christmas on the River Dance.

The all-day affair begins at 7:30 a.m. with the Fair in the Square. Visitors can browse arts and crafts booths as well as find antiques, food and other interests at the downtown fair. Live entertainment will keep guests in the holiday spirit as well.

At 8 a.m. registration begins for the Jingle Bell 5K run and 1-mile walk. Registration is $15.

The Children’s Day Parade, featuring floats and lots of familiar faces, will begin at 11:30 a.m. The parade will follow the same route as always, with one exception – it will travel the route in reverse.

“Instead of starting at the old school, going down walnut and back up Cedar Street to the Board of Education, the parade will begin at the Board of Education, travel down Cedar and back up Walnut to the Old School,” Kelly Smith with the Demopolis AreaChamber of Commerce, said. “Everyone who has had the same seat every year can still sit in that same seat, the parade will just be coming from a different direction.”

Andrew Zow, former football player for the University of Alabama, is this year’s grand marshall.

At 6:30, the river will come alive with the sights and sounds of the nautical parade, featuring a twist on the fireworks show.

“In the past we’ve sprinkled the fireworks throughout the boat parade,” Smith said. “This year we’ll have a grand finale at the end of the boat parade.”

Smith said the fireworks show, which promises to be bigger and better than anyone could imagine, will feature fireworks choreographed to holiday

music and will be something spectacular.

“I’m really excited about this year’s fireworks,” she said. “It really is going to be fantastic.”

For those 21 and older the night will end with music and dancing as the Demopolis Civic Center is transformed into a winter wonderland for the annual Christmas on the River Dance.

The dress is semi-formal to formal and cost is $10.

And don’t forget the T-shirts. Christmas on the River 2004 T-shirts are now available for $10 for a short-sleeved T-shirt and $15 for a long-sleeve T-shirt.