Wilmore’s Old Fashioned Musical Christmas turns 30
Thirty years ago, Wilmore began a tradition that draws 2,000 to 3,000 people to its streets every year, Old Fashioned Musical Christmas, which started as a way to encourage Asbury College students to come over the hill to downtown.
“It was the brainchild of two business owners,” Wilmore’s Mayor Harold Rainwater said. “The idea was to have an open house with candles along the sidewalk and lights on the trees downtown.”
Rainwater said in the early years, people dressed up from the 1890s, which was how the event earned its moniker.
“Everybody would have a top hat and ladies would wear long dresses,” Rainwater said. “That was the idea.”
One tradition that had success, but hasn’t stood the test of time, was Christmas open houses throughout town. Rainwater said several people would decorate the inside of their homes for people to tour and some churches in town did the same.
“One lady had a Christmas tree in every room,” Rainwater said. “She could probably only accommodate 40 or 50 people the entire evening, but it meant a lot to see all her hard work.”
Over the years, those involved have stopped dressing up. However, the event has expanded. Now, Main Street is closed from Subway to the railroad tracks for people to mingle in the streets and enjoy the dozens of businesses that open their doors for the community.
Amy Fitch, director of parks and recreation in Wilmore, oversees Old Fashioned Musical Christmas and said the all-day event is meant to welcome the Christmas season to the community.
“The day begins with a fundraiser pancake breakfast by Wilmore Lions Club and a model train display during the morning and early afternoon at Wesley Village,” Fitch said. “There are three craft fairs in town: Asbury Seminary, Wilmore Presbyterian Church and Mt. Freedom Baptist Church, that feature local vendors and hand-crafted items for sale.”
This year, Rainwater said the Asbury University Equine Center is having an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. with pony rides for kids and photos with horses and Santa. Rainwater also said the horse stalls in the barn will be decorated for what he calls “deck the stalls.”
Every year, Santa arrives at 5:30 p.m. at the tree lighting ceremony in the parking lot of the United Methodist Church. In addition to the town Christmas tree being lit, Rainwater said the Salvation Army Brass Band from Asbury University performs classic Christmas tunes for the crowd.
An award for the best-decorated houses in town is also presented during the tree lighting ceremony.
“The town is divided into four sections and the Lions Club drives around town on Thursday night and picks winners in each area of town,” Rainwater said. “Winners receive an ornament, gift certificate and a sign for their yard signifying them as a winner.”
When the tree lighting ceremony first began, Rainwater wasn’t sure it would be a success.
“I was afraid we could kill the initiative that we had started downtown,” Rainwater said. “When I arrived at the tree lighting ceremony, there must have been 500 people there and I was hoping 15 or 20 would show up.”
After the tree lighting ceremony this year, Santa will move to Fitch’s IGA, where children can visit with him and receive a free ham biscuit. Others can migrate over the hill towards downtown where shops along both sides of the street will open their doors and serve free refreshments from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
“We wanted to have something that the merchants gave back to the people of the town,” Rainwater said. “That’s why you go to IGA and get a country ham biscuit and it’s free. You come to city hall for beanie weenies, cheese and a drink — and it’s free. You can bring your family, come to see Santa and it’s a great day.”
Grace Rickard, who has attended the event for several years, said she enjoys it every time.
“I think Old Fashioned Christmas really shows off that small-town charm just as its name portrays,” Rickard said. “It’s always lovely to walk around the streets from shop to shop, running into familiar faces, as well as seeing many international students potentially experiencing that small-town charm for the first time. It’s impressive to see how many people come out for Old Fashioned Christmas.”
“I think we draw from 50 to 75 miles plus the ones that come in to visit family at university or seminary,” Rainwater said.
The day culminates at 8 p.m. with the grand finale at the Wilmore United Methodist Church. Rainwater said this end to the day started about 15 years ago as a way to gather the town.
“It had become almost a secular event, and in Wilmore, we should have a hymn or nativity or something,” Rainwater said.
The finale lasts about 45 minutes and brings the community together to sing a variety of Christmas songs. Rainwater said a community choir bands together for the day and rehearses once that same afternoon for an hour before performing at the finale.
“To see a 100-person choir and then see a thousand people singing Silent Night and then Jingle Bells in the same venue is fun,” Rainwater said.
Wilmore resident and Asbury University student Seth Padgett said he likes Old Fashioned Musical Christmas because it draws people together.
“I like seeing Wilmore come together and celebrate Christmas in a festive atmosphere,” Padgett said.
Rainwater said the day wouldn’t be a success without the hard work of all the businesses.
“We don’t have an event if IGA doesn’t have Santa, a band or give away 700 or 800 biscuits, or the next store does that and the next and next,” Rainwater said. “You see gospel music here and bluegrass music there. A banjo here and a violin there. There’s something for everybody’s taste. The point of it is that people meet the businesses and see the generosity of the business owners and their hearts.”
Fitch said each year there are more businesses that take part in the day’s activities.
“The future is very bright and the event will continue to slowly evolve and improve,” Fitch said. “We hope this event is beneficial for our local businesses and is a great opportunity to highlight what a fantastic and special small town we have.”