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One of the more traditional holiday experiences in Western North Carolina takes place in Dillsboro the first two weekends of December.

Each year, this small mountain village is awash in the glow of white paper bag luminaries during the Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries.

This year’s festival is Dec. 3-4 and Dec. 10-11. On these special Friday and Saturday evenings, the town’s merchant “elves” illuminate the streets and sidewalks with more than 2,500 luminaries. The merchants also flip the switches on strands of small white lights trimming the town’s buildings, many of which date to the 1800s.

Once Dillsboro is aglow, carolers fill the streets, musicians stroll through town playing Christmas favorites, and Santa visits with children at Town Hall. Shopkeepers add to the merriment by staying open late and serving holiday treats with hot cider and cocoa.

New in 2010 are horse-drawn carriage rides on both weekends, and performances by the Smoky Mountain High School Show Choir on Dec. 3 and Dec. 4.

“Folks tell us every year how genuine this event is, and how much they enjoy it,” said Julie Spiro, tourism director for Jackson County. “It’s a nice combination of cool winter weather and warm holiday spirit.”

The Festival of Lights & Luminaries begins each evening at dusk and runs until 9 p.m. There is no admission charge and lodging is plentiful with more than half of Jackson’s County guest rooms located in Dillsboro or within a 15-minute drive.

For information, go to, or call the Jackson County Visitors Center at 800.962.1911.

Every year for more than a quarter century, the village of Dillsboro transforms itself into a quintessential Christmas scene, warm with the glow of luminaries and white lights.

This year, the festival, is slated for Dec. 4-5 and Dec. 11-12.

The four-night Dillsboro Festival of Lights & Luminaries begins each evening at dusk, when merchant “elves” illuminate the streets with 2,500 shining luminaries and delicate, white lights adorning centuries-old buildings.

Carolers and musicians fill the air with lively, Christmas tunes and shopkeepers stay open late, treating revelers to hot cider, cocoa and home-baked goods.

In years past, barbershop quartets, and youngsters decked out in Madrigal costumes, have wandered about town, singing traditional songs.

“If you’re having trouble getting into the holiday spirit, this festival will do wonders,” said Julie Spiro of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce. “We’re often told that visiting the luminaries festival is like stepping into a Christmas painting.”

“Dillsboro is a wonderful town for strolling, shopping and dining, especially during the holidays. With dozens of unique shops and craft studios, we offer something for everyone. Our warm-hearted shopkeepers are ready to welcome visitors, and our traditional luminary festival is a delightful return to Christmases past that will fill you with holiday cheer,” says Dawn Hummel, vice president of the merchants association.

Susan Leveille, owner of the Oaks Gallery in Dillsboro, says the festival was a little different 26 years ago when a handful of merchants initiated what would become an annual tradition.

There were no electric white lights then, just the flicker of luminaries “lighting the way for the Christ child,” Leveille said.

“People were asked to turn their headlights off and leave just parking lights on,” said Leveille. “It was just beautiful.”

One of the merchants suggested starting the festival in Dillsboro to express gratitude to the community and celebrate the holiday with neighbors and friends.

Leveille has created her own tradition of welcoming visitors to her gallery with some of her favorite Christmas smells, including fresh greenery and hot apple cider.

Janet Chinners, co-chair of the luminaries festival committee and owner of Country Traditions, said she has been preparing for this year’s festival for a month now.

The committee has ordered thousands of special candles that burn for at least four hours each.

Chinners said more than a thousand people show up every year to take a step back in time with the Dillsboro festival.

Dawn Hummel, vice president of Dillsboro’s Merchant’s Association, said other towns in Western North Carolina may have started similar traditions of their own, but Dillsboro’s festival is “extra special.”

“It’s magical, it’s traditional, it’s just what I envision Christmas should be,” said Hummel.

For more information about the 2009 Dillsboro Lights and Luminaries Festival contact David Gates 828.586.3891 or Janet Chinners 828.586.1600. Visit the town Web site at

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