Christmas Festival finds success despite 2020 challenges

While 2020 definitely presented a list of challenges for the Christmas Festival season, overall the Festival Committee was pleased with the outcome. The $28,744 loss was much less than the committee expected despite the many obstacles they faced.

“We had to cut back on services but overall the loss worked out,” said Lee Waskom. “We were thinking it would be worse.”

A lot of the decision making was done at the last minute because the Committee had to wait to receive approval from the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Final approval came just two weeks before the festival was scheduled to kick off.

Another obstacle arose when the Committee realized that armbands were backordered. Director of Promotions and Events for the Natchitoches Historic District Business Association Jill Leo jumped in her car the Thursday before the ‘Turn on the Holidays’ celebration and went to Shreveport to purchase alternative bands to grant attendees access to the downtown riverbank.

The Fire Marshal limited the number of people that could be allowed onto the riverbank, so while this may have been an obstacle, it did provide more room for people to social distance. This also meant that gate receipts were down, but that was to be expected. Corporate sponsorships were also down, but the committee understood this because of the nature of the timing and Covid concerns.

Festival attendees just seemed happy that there was something to do. Leo mentioned that the festival attracted quite a few people who had never been. Merchants on Front Street also expressed their pleasure with how the festival season went. If the Christmas Festival had been forced to cancel for the year, it might have proved fatal for downtown businesses.

Due to the last minute planning, the committee didn’t do as much marketing as it normally would, which means only $22,800 was spent on advertising this year versus the average $60,000 cost. To make up for this, the committee did a few more digital campaigns than it has in the past.

With limited ticket sales, tickets for each weekend sold out in advance. The committee utilized new technology to enable attendees to purchase tickets online, thus creating a safe and cashless environment for the booth workers. The new system proved to be a great success for the festival and the committee is considering ways to continue its use moving forward.

“Covid forced us to change how we did things and it went so well we want to continue the new way of doing things,” she added.

For example, Leo said the festival’s “Cookies with Santa” event was a resounding successful. Individual tables were set up for families and Santa went and visited each group. Christmas is a special time of year and with all the hardships it was little things like this that helped restore a sense of normalcy for attendees visiting Natchitoches for the Festival season.

While the Festival of Lights parade and many of the children’s activities were cancelled, traditions of Christmas lights, spectacular fireworks displays, shopping and delicious food were still present.

The committee also appreciates the community’s patience through the process of putting on the 2020 festival. Overall this year wasn’t as bad of a loss as when the festival got rained out in 2016 to the tune of $60,000. Reserves have helped cushion the blow this year and Leo said the committee is optimistic for the 2021 festival.

“We were waiting on clearance from the fire marshal so all our information was last minute,” explained Waskom. “We weren’t sure what phase the governor would have us in at the time. There were so many factors and we’re just thrilled we were able to pull this off.”