A city for Christmas

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 18, 2001

Features Editor

When people sing "It’s Christmastime in the city," most thoughts turn to the likes of New York, Chicago and even Birmingham or Montgomery.

However, Ariton is the "Christmas City" that pops into the minds of most folks in Southeast Alabama.

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Christmas City was started more than a decade ago by the Max Hughes family with only a few thousand lights. A few thousand more were added, then animated scenes and then the Christmas village.

Today, Christmas City is owned and operated by three Pike Countians, Jeff Parish, Tommy Parish and Jim Phillips, and going to Christmas City has become a tradition for many area families and a "must see" for

"outsiders" looking for a unique Christmas experience.

Phillips’ wife, Chellie, said with Christmas only a week away and most of the decorating done and shopping winding down, now is a great time to visit Christmas City where "you can slow down and enjoy the beauty of the season."

"The drive through is beautiful and fun for all ages," Phillips said. "One of our newest animated displays is a family of penguins sitting on an iceberg in the pond. They dive off into the water and everyone really enjoys it. However, the favorite display seems to be the ‘disco tunnel,’ as I call it. It’s a tunnel of multi-colored blinking lights, that reminds me of the beginning of ‘Star Wars,’ It’s really something to see."

In keep with the "reason for the season," there are several displays with a religious theme. The chapel is also open for times of meditation, reflection or prayer.

In addition to the drive-thru, Christmas City also features a village where visitors can enjoy a variety of entertainment, several gifts shops and a couple of eateries.

"On Friday night, Dec. 21, we have the She-Bang cloggers from Troy on stage at the Ho-Ho-Ho Down Theater at 6:30 p.m." Phillips said.

"Saturday night we have an outstanding gospel group, Resting Place, at the theater."

For those who just want to sit back and listen to the carols of Christmas, they can pull a rocking chair up to the fire and enjoy and old-fashioned Christmas right in the middle of the "City."

There is no need to eat before making the "ride" through Christmas City. The village restaurant will have a great country meal hot and waiting.

"The restaurant has collard greens, mashed potatoes, fried chicken, barbecue, fried cornbread and other Southern favorites," Phillips said. "The ‘Sweet Tooth’ has a variety of homemade sweet treats, including cakes, for those who want dessert or just a sweet treat."

No kid, of any age, wants to leave Christmas City without taking ride around the village on the choo-choo train.

"We also have a hay ride that takes visitors through the drive-through," Phillips said. "The weather has been so pleasant that many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to see the lights from the wagon instead of the car. Either way, it’s a beautiful drive."

Christmas City gates are open from 5:30 until 9 p.m. week nights. On Friday and Saturday, the city will be open until 10:30.

The last night to view Christmas City this season will be Christmas Eve.