HOPE — Six-foot tall Christmas cards, strolling carolers, light and music displays, a live Nativity scene with real animals, and Santa’s VIP arrival — all will return to Hope during “Christmas of Yesteryear.”

Considered the area’s first community celebration of the holiday season, Christmas of Yesteryear begins at 5 p.m. Nov. 17 on the Hope Town Square.

New this year will be holiday fireworks beginning at 8:45 p.m. over the west side of the square.

In addition, Santa Claus will be hearing Christmas gift wishes at a different location from last year — the offices of Dr. Gregory Sweet at 343 Washington St., southeast of the square.

Originally created in 2003 to lure out-of-town shoppers to Hope, Christmas of Yesteryear always is scheduled the Friday before Thanksgiving, rather than after the holiday.

While unique in its early timing, Christmas of Yesteryear represents an example of how Bartholomew County’s “surprising little town” takes something originally intended to create profit and transform it into genuine warmth, goodwill and community pride, organizers said.

Marketing ingenuity has been celebrated as a part of Hope reputation for more than a century.

In 1915, mechanic Elda Spaugh tried luring in new customers from neighboring towns to Hope by painting yellow stripes around utility poles to guide them to his shop.

Today, Spaugh’s gimmick is the namesake of the town’s elaborate Yellow Trail Museum, which attracts thousands annually to the northeast Bartholomew County town and serves as the main sponsor of Christmas of Yesteryear.

Amost 50 years ago, Hope business owners created “Heritage Day” on Oct. 13, 1968, designed to attract Bartholomew County residents to Hope.

Now known as the Heritage Days festival, observed in late September, the event is considered one of the longest-running and most popular rural harvest celebrations in Indiana.

Already proven to attract more than a thousand visitors in a single evening, “Christmas of Yesteryear” keeps gaining popularity because of the town’s eagerness to incorporate different holiday traditions, said Heritage of Hope CEO Michael Dean.

“When things fit this town, people get behind it and it benefits everybody,” Dean said.

Inspirations from Norman Rockwell, Charles Dickens and Thornton Wilder — to even Martha Stewart and Madison Avenue — are easy to spot throughout the square during the event.

Although Kris Kringle is the big draw for the youngsters, it’s the time-traveling horse-drawn carriage rides that bring in many young-at-heart visitors.

The spirits from yesteryear who materialize along the west-side streets, as well as those within the historic Moravian cemetery, bear no resemblance to scary Halloween figures.

Instead, town residents portraying historical figures such as Spaugh and Hope founder Martin Hauser talk gently to carriage riders as if chatting to friendly neighbors on a Christmas Eve long ago.

Carriage rides, which begin and end at the Norman Log Cabin museum at the corner of Washington and Main streets, leave about every 10 minutes from 5:45 to 7:45 p.m. As in previous years, the cost is $2 per person.

The Yellow Trail Museum is also expected to be packed during the event. The museum’s popular Bake Sale and Cookie Decorating classes, held throughout the festival, have become a popular holiday tradition.

The $1 charge for cookie decorating is meant to simply cover costs, museum spokeswoman Barb Johnson said.

But what might be the most underestimated aspect of Christmas of Yesteryear is the warm ambiance found in Hope’s shops and restaurants.

Instead of staying open late to make quick sales, retailers including Shaton’s, Swiss Maid Country Market, WILLow LeaVes and the Gold Nugget Pawn Shop focus instead on welcoming back old customers and trying to make new friends, former Hope tourism official Marcia Albert said during last year’s event.

Often providing free and unique refreshments and displaying rural-themed Christmas decorations, most Hope retailers choose to forego sales tactics and overt marketing for the evening.

Instead, they just enjoy socializing, treating  Christmas of Yesteryear much as the character of Fezziwig, the antithesis of Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” might treat it.

“It’s not just for money alone that one spends a lifetime building up a business,” the character stated. “It’s to preserve a way of life that one knew and loved.”

And with over five weeks of holiday shopping days remaining after Christmas of Yesteryear is over, most of the merchants agree that generating genuine holiday cheer before Thanksgiving makes good business sense in the long run, Albert said.

Overview: Christmas of Yesteryear

What: Christmas of Yesteryear in Hope

When: Friday, Nov. 17

Where: Hope Town Square

5 to 9 p.m. – Fundraising bake sale and cookie decorating at the Yellow Trail Museum, southwest corner of Jackson and Main streets. Strolling carolers, with participating retail stores remaining open.

5:45 to 7:45 p.m. – Carriage rides into Hope’s past running about every 10 minutes. Rides begin and end at the Log Cabin museum off Washington St., west of Main St.

6 p.m. – Arrival of Santa Claus at the library Annex off Harrison St., east of the square.

6:30 and 7:30 p.m. – Live Nativity with live animals presented in the town square shelterhouse.

8:45 p.m. – Holiday fireworks.

Information: 812-546-8020 or 812-371-7969.

Author photo
Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.