CIJ

A crowd at Christmas in July. This year’s 33rd edition will be July 5-6 in West Jefferson.

For the 33rd time, West Jefferson’s Christmas in July will unite citizens from across the state and beyond for a time of celebration. Scheduled this year for July 5 and 6, Christmas in July is a celebration of local heritage.

The festival first began in 1987, when Christmas tree growers in Ashe County came together to develop an event that would promote a top industry in the county. It has since grown into the premier summer event in Ashe County.

“The festival grew into a huge three-day event spanning almost the entire downtown West Jefferson footprint during the mid 1990s-early 2000s,” said Wesley Barker, of the Christmas in July Festival Committee. “A little over a decade ago, the festival was relocated to the Backstreet and Main Street areas in downtown West Jefferson and has been reorganized to focus on our mountain heritage to include artisans and crafters who showcase and sell only handmade and homemade items, live musical acts which reflect our Appalachian roots and the incorporation of the Ashe County Farmers Market into the festival to showcase our local farmers.”

Barker added that the festival still includes traditional festival food vendors, street performers and more.

“I feel like, over the past couple of years, the festival has gained a new ‘following’ by attracting tons of people from ‘off the mountain’ who have found out about the festival by word of mouth, marketing efforts or by surprise, who loved it and have made a point to return each year because of the quality event that it is,” Barker said.

Barker said that, while the festival has developed and changed over time, it still honors the original purpose.

“Even though the festival has grown to feature arts, crafts, music and other fun activities, it still honors the Christmas tree industry in collaboration with the Ashe County Christmas Tree Association and NC Cooperative Extension, Ashe County Center who sets up a display and booth each year to educate festival attendees on where their Christmas trees come from,” Barker said.

Handmade arts and crafts vendors will fill the “craft row” area of this year’s festival, offering a variety of items ranging from pottery, woodworking, jewelry, art, décor and more. Additionally, the food court vendors will offer a variety of food, including funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, chicken on a stick and cotton candy.

Barker said the town of West Jefferson continues closing town streets in the downtown area and being the host for the festival each year because the board sees the significant economic impact the festival has on the town.

“Businesses see increased foot traffic into their stores and restaurants, lodging offerings are booked up, all of which are an increase to their sales and getting to showcase their products and services,” Barker said. “I think the county as a whole benefits from the economic driver that is Christmas in July.”

However, the festival drives people to the mountain town throughout the year, according to Barker.

“Because the festival draws such a variety of people to West Jefferson, some of which may have never visited before, downtown West Jefferson’s charm will further entice them to re-visit the area again, outside of the festival day, for an even longer period of time and partake in shopping, dining, sightseeing and overnight stays,” Barker said.

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