Christmas on the River hits 35 years

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The Demopolis Times

DEMOPOLIS &045; A festival that started from a group of men wanted to have some fun and showcase the town yields its 35th year of festivities.

Compton said in the beginning of the festival the floats were homemade. He said much time and effort was put into &8220;those old homemade floats.&8221;

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Through time, Compton said community members began building beautiful floats. He recalled people like Tommy Pearson, who Compton said put together, &8220;amazing floats,&8221; and Reggie Fife who had winning floats years ago.

COTR Theme in honor of America’s military

The theme for this year’s festival is &8216;Honoring America’s Military Forces.’

Jack Cooley, chairman of the festival said he selected this year’s theme because he wanted to give the armed forces a special tribute.

As part of COTR, and in tune with its theme, the Saturday morning day parade will feature three flyovers. Jet trainer pilots from the Naval Air Station in Meridian, Miss. will lead the flyovers.

Cooley said all branches of the military will be included in the festivities. The Coast Guard’s cutter will be at the landing for touring, and they will be bringing a rescue boat from Mobile to be on display in the parade, Cooley said. Also, the Army is bringing a rock-climbing wall.

Most displays will be set up by Friday morning at the latest, he said.

Compton to lead parade as grand marshal

A two-star admiral, Compton will lead this year’s Christmas on the River day parade as grand marshal.

Chairman for Christmas on the River Jack Cooley said the chose of Compton as grand marshal was fitting to this year’s theme, &8220;Honoring America’s Military Forces.&8221;

Compton said he is excited about the festival and feels honored for the recognition.

Rabalais chosen as COTR Special Child

Five-year-old Murphy Rabalais sits totally engrossed in the paper plates on the table. Each one has construction paper pumpkins glued on, and Murphy carefully counts the pumpkins on each one.

Beaming with pride, he exclaims how many he counted, and looks to his parents for their approval.

Gary and Christi Rabalais are quick to praise him for his ability to count, something they never thought they’d be doing when he was born.

Soon after the traumatic delivery that brought Murphy into the world, the Rabalais learned of the many developmental disabilities their young son would face. A lack of oxygen during birth – hypoxia -left him with only 40 percent of his brain able to operate.

Murphy has been named the 2006 Special Child for the 35th annual Christmas on the River in Demopolis. He will attend many of the functions and ride in the Children’s Day Parade Saturday as part of his reign.

The Rabalais family is newcomers to Demopolis, displaced when their St. Bernard Parish home in Louisiana was wiped out from Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, just days after Murphy’s fourth birthday. Christi is from Demopolis; her father is Terry Calloway. So the family, along with Gary’s mother, and his sister and her family found refuge here.

What was expected to be a short stay now is permanent. The Rabalaises have purchased a home they are remodeling and couldn’t be happier with the move.

Event to kick off Sunday night

The annual Christmas on the River celebration will begin tomorrow and will continue through next Saturday. The kickoff of the festival will be the Lighting of the Love Light Tree at Bryan W. Whitfield Memorial Hospital. This event will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday.


On Monday, St. Nicholas will be crowned at the Demopolis Civic Center at 5:30 p.m. This event also serves as the unveiling of the new &8216;Cookies for St. Nick’ cookbook. Samples from the cookbook will be available. The local children will also &8216;shine’ that night with their handmade Christmas lanterns. Following the crowning of St. Nicholas and Lantern Light Parade the Demopolis Singers will perform their holiday concert at the Old School on Main Ave.


On Tuesday night, the celebration of the season will continue with another holiday concert of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra. It will take place at 7 p.m. in the gym of the First Baptist Church on Strawberry St. There is no charge to attend the concert.


On Wednesday night, the festivities, will celebrate the true meaning of Christmas with a community-wide church service at 6:30 p.m. to be held at Trinity Episcopal Church.


On Thursday, the historical side of Demopolis will shine in candlelight with the celebration of Christmas in the Canebrake. The three local historical homes Gaineswood, Bluff Hall and Lyon Hall will each be open for candlelight tours and will be dressed in their &8216;Christmas best.’ Each home will feature different entertainment to include food, plays, concerts, etc. Admission is $3 to each home.


On Friday, the weekend festivities begin with open houses from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. at Robertson Banking Company and from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. at Legal Services of Alabama. The Alabama State Championship BBQ Cook-off will be held on Friday night at the George Franks Ball field at the Demopolis City Landing.

An $8,000 grand prize will be given to the winner of the weekend cook-off and a $3,000 cash prize will be awarded for the &8220;Governor’s Trophy.&8221;

The cook-off will begin at 4 p.m. and admission is $7.

Cooley said they are hoping for a good turnout to the cook-off and will be giving away 11 kegs of beer during it.

Admission is $7 to view the preparation for competition and to listen to the live entertainment, Farmers Daughter.


The final day of the event, Saturday, will feature the Jingle Bell 5K Run with registration beginning at 8 a.m. in front of City Hall. The Demopolis Civitan Club is hosting the Fair in the Square that begins at 7:30 a.m. The Fair in the Square will feature food, arts and crafts vendors from across the country and will continue until 4 p.m. A live entertainment stage will feature local talent from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on that day.

The Children’s Day Parade will begin at 11:30 a.m. and wind its way through downtown Demopolis. This year’s parade will feature many new entries.

Cooley said they are expecting 80 or more entrants in the day parade.

The parade will not only feature the armed forces but will also include bands, cheerleaders, civic clubs and organizations and many other participants.

Candy will not be thrown from floats this year.

However, Cooley said that some floats will have people walking beside them passing out candy and other goodies to the crowd.

A PA system will be in place for the parade that will reach one block each way.

In the afternoon, the Canebrake Players will present &8216;The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ at 2:30 p.m. at the Old School. Admission is $8 for adults and $5 for children.

The grand finale begins as the nautical parade floats down the Tombigbee River at 6:30 p.m. Viewing is from the Demopolis City Landing for those who dare to brave the cold or from the Demopolis Civic Center for a fee of $25. Tickets must be purchased ahead of time at the Demopolis Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Civic Center festivities also feature the band &8216;Brother 2 Brother’ following the night parade.

Another feature of this year’s festival is the grand finale fireworks following the night parade.

Cooley said the firm charges $1,000 per minute of fireworks show.

Kelley Smith of the Demopolis-Area Chamber of Commerce contributed to this article.