By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Eight-year-old Colby Mattison has been to a few downtown parades now, but Saturday’s festivities seemed to set the bar for the young Cullman resident.
“This is the best year ever,” he said, collecting candy after Saturday’s Christmas in Cullman parade. “Great.”
Colby’s mom Brandi Mattison said they’ve made the festival a holiday tradition, and typically spend the weekend visiting local shops and taking in the sights.
“We come out and enjoy the day as a family, looking at all the different things and really getting into the Christmas spirit,” she said.
Good Hope resident Jennifer Quick spent the morning trying to wrangle her two children out of the foam snow display, which was a hit with the elementary school crowd.
“It’s an awesome event and the kids are having a ball,” she said. “They loved seeing Santa.”
If Saturday’s kickoff for the two-day festival seemed bigger to those in attendance, it’s because it was, and Cullman Downtown Merchant’s Association representative Ron Pierce said they put a lot of effort into expanding the event’s footprint this year.
“This is all about helping out our local merchants and we’ve all tried to kick it up to another level this year, with the Wells Fargo stagecoach in the parade and an ice skating rink in downtown sponsored by the city parks,” he said. “We really think this could be the biggest we’ve ever had.”
Thousands packed downtown Saturday to help with that goal, visiting a large kid’s area across from Busy Bee Cafe and lining up around the block to try out the free ice skating rink. Children had everything from a foam-snow lot to inflatables to keep them entertained, while adults milled through shops and caught up on the latest football scores at large big screen TVs strategically scattered across downtown.
More merchants than ever also got into the holiday spirit of the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce festival, thanks to a new window display contest that found Christmas lights, wreaths and elaborate decorations donning the facades of several shops.
“This has so many benefits, and one is that when people pass through downtown, especially at night, you want it lit up so people can see we’re alive and well and have so many things to offer,” interim chamber president Leah Bolin said. “It helps the individual business owners draw people in and helps people notice some of the new businesses that have sprung up.”
Plus, with the April 2011 tornadoes that ravaged downtown still fresh on everyone’s minds, Bolin said a showcase event like Christmas in Cullman can help show the region that Cullman is back and stronger than ever.
“It’s really a tribute to our community, coming back from the tornado,” she said. “Not only have we rebuilt, but we’ve rebuilt with a vengeance. This is a real day of celebration for Cullman.”
After seven years in business, Three Pears Shoe Outlet owner Carrie Taylor said Christmas in Cullman has grown into one of their biggest weekends of the year.
“It’s always been great and helps bring out a lot of people who may not get into downtown and shop very often,” she said. “We really enjoy it and it’s a great chance to meet new people.”
Festivities continue today, with the ice skating rink open from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.