Gainesville square filled with small-town holiday cheer during beloved hometown Christmas festival
The Gainesville square was transformed into a magical Christmas wonderland Friday night, Dec. 16, setting the stage for the 2022 Wonders of Christmas festival.
Under twinkling Christmas lights and decor, festival attendees enjoyed horse-drawn carriage rides, homemade hot cocoa and spiced apple cider, Christmas candy and other delightful home-baked items. The sweet scent of kettle corn and cinnamon bread drifted through the air. Those who came with a hearty appetite were easily satisfied with dinner options ranging from rich homemade soups at the Historium to smoked barbecue dinners.
Nine children, dressed in their Christmas finest, participated in the Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest this year, delighting the crowd with songs and other cute performances.
Parade watchers admired decked-out floats, flashing emergency response vehicles, decorated new and vintage cars and trucks, marching bands and holiday-clad horseback riders as they rounded the square.
Santa Claus even flew down from the North Pole, visiting with children and offering candy canes.
A variety of vendors
The west and north sides of the square featured booths and vendors selling crafts, homemade treats, home decor, Christmas gift ideas, dinner and more. Despite several last minute vendor cancellations due to the forecasted drop in temperature, which got as low as the mid-20s that night, booth organizer Allisa West said that the night went well.
“I started the day with 30 vendors signed up, but had 10 cancellations that day before the event started. I think we ended up with 18, which was more than I expected to show with the weather,” she said. “The wind died down, and the ones that I spoke to afterwards were glad they decided to stick it out.”
Vendor space is free for the festival, and West invites vendors and booths of all types to setup at the annual event.
“Overall, I thought the whole night went really well. I’ve had several people reach out to me since the event, asking for phone numbers of vendors selling certain things. So hopefully they will continue to get business until Christmas.”
Singing loud for all to hear
The festivities were accented with lively tunes and traditional Christmas songs.
Billy Wayne, who told the Times that he’d recently moved to Ozark County, volunteered to entertain the crowd during down times, dressing up in his finest Santa outfit and singing popular Christmas tunes in front of the gazebo. He also entertained crowds after the Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest, singing popular Christmas songs and interactive kid favorites like the Hokey Pokey and Old MacDonald Had a Farm, which were an obvious hit with the children at the festival who gathered around him singing and dancing the night away.
After a kick off show by Billy Wayne, the Gainesville High School choir, under the director of performing arts teacher Cindy Humbyrd, sang several Christmas carols.
Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest
The Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas contest kicked off at 6 p.m. There were four girls and five boys who participated.
Gainesville High School student and 2022 Hootin an Hollarin queen Olivia Milligan headed up the contest emcee duties this year. Kerrie Zubrod organizes the event.
Each contestant took their turn, stepping up onto a raised platform and giving the audience their best smile. Milligan asked each contestant their name, age, favorite color and favorite thing to eat at Christmas. To end the contest, each child was asked if he or she had anything special to share. Several contestants did participate singing or telling jokes.
The judges deliberated, considering the answers that each child offered.
Every child received a large stuffed teddy bear for participating.
Aims Collins, 5, son of Shane and Candice Collins, and McKinley Thomas, 4, daughter of Markus and Ashley Thomas, were crowned 2022 Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas.
Aims told the judges that his favorite color was blue, and his favorite thing to eat at Christmas was fried squirrel, a response that got quite an animated reaction from the crowd. He then sang the song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”
McKinley, who was also crowned the Lil Miss Addie Lee during Hootin an Hollarin this year, said her favorite color was black, and her favorite thing to eat at Christmas was cookies. She also chose to perform a song, singing “God made the big round sun, God made the tall, tall trees. God made the birds that fly high - and God made me.”
After the contest, the pair of kiddos rode in the back of a convertible driven by Paul Bobby and partner Karen Hawkins in the Jingle Bell parade.
Other Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas participants in this year’s contest were: Finley Roberts, 5, daughter of John and Ralena Roberts; Sabra Bryant, 4, daughter of Cynthia and Travis Bryant; Maryann Curtright, 4, daughter of William and Sherry Curtright; Dustin Bohannon Jr., 4, son of Dustin and Cheyanne Bohannon; Hayden Nash, 4, son of Sarah and Dalton Nash; Landon Johnson, 5, son of Laramie and Brianna Johnson; and Timber Acklin, 4, son of Rocky and Patricia Acklin.
Jingle Bell Parade
The festivities continued at 7 p.m., as attendees made their way to the edges of the square, allowing room for the 2022 Jingle Bell Parade.
A long line of floats, lighted vehicles, horseback riders, bands and other entries began their parade march on Second Street next to Town & Country Supermarket. The route had participants turn onto Main Street for a short distance, then turn right onto the square and make a full circle, exiting off Third Street. Jingle Bell parade emcee Renee Hambelton announced each parade entry as it passed from her helm at the gazebo.
Parade organizer Paula Rose said that there about 50 parade entries this year, similar to last year’s lineup.
There were nine floats. Frontier Baptist Church won the “D.W. Hawkins Salute to the Spirit of Christmas” $150 grand prize with their float depicting a soldier’s Christmas away from his family. The $100 first place float award went to Bumper to Bumper with a float theme of “Even Santa gets parts at Bumper to Bumper.” Second place went to Thomas & Douglas CPA and Antler Motel with their “Home Alone”-themed float. Third place was awarded to Chaney Monument and D&D Signs with their “The Polar Express”-themed float. Other floats were entered by the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association Gainesville Chapter 412, Brushy Knob Youth Group, United Country Missouri Ozarks Realty, Cooper Friend Lawn Care and Mammoth Assembly of God Church.
There were 20 lighted vehicles, including the $100 first place winner Mike Lampley with a festively decorated side-by side and $50 second place winner, Mike’s wife Martika, who drove a lighted Jeep. They were representing Don’s ATV of Caulfield. Several fire trucks and emergency vehicles, a dozen or so horseback riders, five classic cars and a variety of convertibles carrying special guests including Ozark County Citizen of the Year Melinda Abraham, Parade Marshal Diane White, Mr. and Miss Merry Christmas Aims Collins and McKinley Thomas, Lil Cedar Pete Timber Acklin, Hootin an Hollarin Olivia Milligan and several court members, Mayor Gail Reich and several others.
After the parade Santa Claus visited with children and posed for photos taken by parents and family members in the gazebo.