When Ernest and Joyce Blackley started the annual Clayton Christmas Village 25 years ago, Ernest chopped down a cedar tree from behind his print shop, strung it with bows and drew a crowd of about 75. That small beginning has been stoked over the years into a holiday tradition that brings thousands of people downtown.
This past Thursday night, Clayton sons and daughters, and those who have come to call the town home, walked Main Street for hours for the 25th annual Christmas Village, taking candy canes and cookies from businesses, hearing carols and occasionally making way for the horse-drawn wagon.
“This started with 75 people on the steps of Horne Memorial Church; then when we had 500 people, we moved it to Horne Square,” Mayor Jody McLeod said. “Now, 25 years later, we have 4,000 people celebrating some Christmas in Clayton.”
Main Street closed to traffic around 5:30, as people began walking Main Street, taking in the school chorus groups on Horne Square, the towering Christmas tree on Town Square and everything in between. The night wrapped up with a rendition of “White Christmas” by Miss Clayton Kinsley Leonard and the lighting of the town tree.
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Some came seeking a jolt of holiday spirit, while others were already in the swing of things. With what seemed like half the town in attendance, others might have had a fear of missing out.
“It’s something to do,” Faith Strawser said. “I can’t believe how many Santa hats there are.”
With the event growing bigger and bigger each year, plenty of those in attendance are first-timers. Linda Burke said her family found out about the village and tree lighting through her son’s daycare.
“It’s really beautiful,” she said. “It’s a really nice family event.”
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson