Savannah, Tennessee hosts Christmas on Main
Where can you take the entire family for a visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, horse-drawn carriage rides, kiddie train rides, arts and crafts for children of all ages, live performances, and Christmas movies in a historic theater? Savannah’s Christmas on Main offers all this and more. Oh, and it’s FREE. Downtown Savannah is transformed into what most describe as “Our own Hallmark Movie set,” and for three weekends in December, Main Street is home to lots of family-friendly activities. Now in its third year, Christmas on Main is even bigger and better for 2018.
During the Christmas season in 2014, Savannah City Mayor Bob and Janie Shutt were having dinner with Betty Lynn and Kent Collier, along with several other couples. Observing the festively-decorated town from the restaurant window, Betty Lynn said, “I wish we could do this in Savannah.” At that time, essentially the city’s only decoration was a Christmas tree standing in the gazebo on the Courthouse lawn. The conversation about “wish we could do this in Savannah” continued, and Mayor Shutt told Betty Lynn, “Put together a committee and see what you can do.”
Betty Lynn Collier is known to be a hard-working woman with the ability to get people united toward common goals, whether for business, church or community events. But I’d say no one at that fateful dinner, nor perhaps even Betty Lynn herself, imagined how her “wish” created the inaugural Christmas on Main event less than a year later, or how quickly it would grow.
The committee formed in 2014 has remained intact, meeting every single month. When one couple moved away from Savannah, others who had been involved from the beginning became part of the Christmas on Main committee. The newest committee member is Lisa Adkins, Main Street Executive Director for the City of Savannah. One reason the committee works so well is because of the diverse expertise of the members. “Each committee member brings something different to the table,” said Betty Lynn. “We don’t always agree, which is a good thing. Better ideas emerge as a result. Everyone’s ideas are considered, and we always reach a consensus.”
Committee member Renae Martin said, “Betty Lynn Collier is our founder and our leader, but most of all, she is our inspiration.” Betty Lynn is very quick to point out that this is a team effort. “There is no way we could do all of this without dedicated committee members and the generosity of business and private donations. We work on plans and fundraising throughout the year,” said Betty Lynn. Even as Christmas on Main 2018 is underway, so are plans for the 2019 celebration. Betty Lynn and Renae hint about new things to come in 2019, but…it’s top secret for now. Betty Lynn continues, “Our volunteers make it all happen. It takes a large crew to manage all the activities and give the children one-on-one attention. We have volunteers of all ages, from teenagers to our sweet 93-year old volunteer who wouldn’t miss it for anything.”
One of the surprising features of Christmas on Main is the ice skating rink. Ice skating in downtown Savannah? Absolutely! The first year, they rented the ice skating rink and skates. That rental was so costly, it was only available one of the three weekends. Ice skating was such an overwhelming success, the committee knew they had to purchase their own skating rink to have it available all three weekends. Last year they realized they needed more skates…so more skates were purchased for 2018. As you can imagine, providing ice skating in downtown Savannah is no small feat. The rink takes 2-3 hours to set up, and then dismantle for each of the six nights.
Because of the large investment, there is a nominal $5 for ice skating, with all other activities being free. Although people always ask how long they can skate, that’s never an issue, because ice-skaters tire out very quickly. If all the skates of a certain size are in use when you sign in, a volunteer will text when they are available. Just continue on and enjoy other activities. Committee members strive to make certain the cost of skating isn’t an issue. They carry courtesy passes, and discretely make them available if they hear a family mention that they can’t afford to skate. Skating passes also are distributed through the school back pack program, and to recipients of services at the Carl Perkins Center.
Christmas on Main honors the real reason for the season, with a different area minister presenting a message about the true meaning of Christmas each night. This service is from 5:30 to 6:00 on the Courthouse steps.
There are many activities for families to enjoy. New this year and sure to be a hit are REAL Reindeer. Go to the Elf Land to mix a bag of genuine reindeer food (no glitter!), and then you can go out back to pet and feed the reindeer. There’s live entertainment on the Courthouse square, with local Victorian Singers, choirs, hand bell groups, dance troupes and more. There are visits with Santa, (of course!) and the basement of the court house is converted to an arts and crafts arena. Savannah Sub Debs provide face painting; there are Christmas coloring sheets for the small children, plus volunteers to help them write letters to Santa, and older children can create more complex crafts, making gifts for family members.
There is a custom-built Christmas on Main Train. This is another thing the Committee rented at first, but this year the new train rolls into town. Free Christmas movies in the Historic Savannah Theater always are a big hit. A different Christmas movie airs each of the six nights at 7:00 pm, and each season kicks off with an airing of The Polar Express the first Friday of the festivities. See this year’s movie schedule later in the article. Costume characters are available for photographs with adoring fans. Elsa and Olaf from Frozen are crowd favorites, and are joined by The Grinch, Elf on the Shelf, and Savannah’s Christmas Catfish.
Also new this year, Lisa Adkins worked with the Savannah Main Street businesses, providing a fun offering exclusively for those staying open extended hours during Christmas on Main. Visit those Main Street businesses during the celebration to pick up your very own Rudolph’s Red Nose.
Food vendors offer reasonably-priced snacks, soft drinks, hot coffee and cocoa. No detail is overlooked, with the specially designed Santa trash cans emptied each night, and the entire downtown area is cleaned and made ready for shoppers and visitors the following morning.
Christmas on Main decorating begins long before and extends after the three-weekend celebration. Hanging lights is such an undertaking that it begins mid-October. This year debuts the enormous 30-foot tree on Court Square, with the official tree-lighting ceremony November 30 at 6 pm. Lights remain up until the first of the year. Most nights in December, there are many groups of area residents as well as passers-through, lined up to take pictures with the Court Square decorations as a backdrop. Decorations include about 130,000 lights and 125 wreaths. Santa’s mailbox stays out in front of the Courthouse for six weeks. Last year over 3000 letters were deposited. The Christmas on Main committee works with Santa’s helpers to fill as many of the needy children’s requests they can. We can’t explain exactly how it happens, other than it’s Santa magic.
Know before you go:
Parking is available at First Baptist Church, First Methodist Church, behind the Courthouse and at the post office. A special Christmas trolley makes the rounds throughout the evening for families who want to ride rather than walking a few blocks to the Main Street area.
2018 Christmas on Main is from 5:00 pm to 8:00 pm, these Friday and Saturday nights:
November 30 and December 1
December 7 and 8
December 14 and 15
For more details and announcements, follow Christmas on Main on Facebook and Instagram.