I don’t know if any of you are Hallmark Movie Channel addicts like my family and I, but especially at Christmas time, you can hardly keep us away from them. Often, in these heartwarming films, the scripts feature quaint towns that have tight-knit communities that get together to sing carols or have Christmas tree lightings. Although many think places like that don’t actually exist, I’m thankful that I know otherwise.
Nestled in the Appalachian foothills of Southeastern Ohio, and resting peacefully on the bank of the Ohio River, there is a small town that most would probably only stop in to get gas on their way to larger destinations. Sometimes, however, these are the towns with the most to offer because it’s not all about the glitz and glam of the neon lights, but rather how brightly the hearts of everyone in the community shines through in everything they do.
And ok, ok… maybe how beautiful their Christmas light displays are too.
This Christmas season has been very eye-opening for me personally, so in a special recap post, I’d like to feature my hometown of Gallipolis, Ohio… it deserves to be seen as more than a pit stop.
I will admit I have gone through phases in the past of feeling that my dreams were just “too big” to be housed in such a small town or that there just wasn’t enough to do for my adventurous spirit. I have since realized how very wrong I was. I have discovered that there is something so special about being able to keep an open mind and explore new places, while still having a place to call home. I understand that for certain aspirations, you do have to leave home in order to have certain opportunities available to you, but I also think that sometimes it’s just a matter of looking at your surroundings with a fresh perspective and appreciation.
In recent years, many hardworking community members have had a hand in revitalizing our small French town, while still preserving its unique charm. I, for one, am so thankful for all of these individuals who have had a hand in making me realize that “big dreams” aren’t just meant for big cities. We need visionaries in every area in order to progress and see positive changes, and I truly hope to be someone that is a positive contribution to whatever community I am in. The folks who have brought about these changes have made downtown Gallipolis the platform for some of my best holiday adventures thus far.
The Gallipolis City Park being the mecca of Christmas cheer is lit up with hundreds of beautiful, multicolored lights at the end of November with an event that draws out current residents and attracts past community members back to town. The team behind this new beloved tradition known as “Gallipolis in Lights” that has developed within the last few years deserves a huge round of applause for bringing out such a spirit of togetherness and wonder which is exactly how Christmastime should feel. I have gotten to introduce friends from out of town to our beautiful area by strolling through this illuminated wonderland, eating Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream from Shake Shoppe, and then laughing about how cold we were for our deliciously silly decisions. I have also witnessed families with young children or elderly couples being filled with such joy as they take time out of their busy schedules to just spend time together and sip on their hot chocolate from Pip and Hud’s (the frozen yogurt and gourmet popcorn shop across the street).
While the lights may be the center of attention in downtown Gallipolis during the holidays, there are still plenty of other family-friendly events and entertainment to enjoy; the Christmas parade or the French Art Colony Holiday Home Tour to name a couple. However, as a lover of all things theatre, I have to focus on a couple of highlights that I particularly enjoyed this year: The Colony Club and The Ariel-Ann Carson Dater Performing Arts Centre.
Both of these locations hold great historic value, and it’s so exciting seeing them being used to bring communities together for great entertainment. The Ariel building has been a member of Gallipolis since 1895, while The Colony Theater originally opened in 1937. Age, of course, has brought about a few face lifts, which brings us back to the present day where you can go catch classic films or live music while eating dinner at The Colony Club. I’m telling you right now, there is nothing quite like the feeling you get from sipping on coffee, being surrounded by beautiful brick walls and large antique tapestries, and watching George in “It’s a Wonderful Life” utter “I want to live again” in black and white with friends on the night before Christmas Eve. It’s nostalgic and current all at the same time. (Side note: The Colony also may possibly have the best seasoned, loaded fries I’ve ever had!)
After you’re done eating, you can conveniently slide a couple doors down from the Colony and enter in to the double doors of The Ariel prepared to be wowed, not only by the decorations, but by the level of talent in the room from the incredible musicians in The Ohio Valley Symphony. My mom and I had the chance to go this year, and by the end of the night, we were both baffled that we had never taken the opportunity to see any of their performances prior to this year’s Christmas show. I can pretty much guarantee, it won’t be my last. This showcase was yet another reminder of people who are working hard to bring quality opportunities to our region of Appalachia.
One of my favorite parts of the evening at the symphony, besides the violins, was getting to make friends with the lady who sat in my row. She didn’t seem to speak very much English, but if her joy in feeling the music wasn’t enough communication already, she also proceeded to take off her scarf and give it to me after I complimented it; She wouldn’t take no for an answer, as she continued to push it toward me, saying only, “for you.”
Wow. The heart of Christmas showcased in just two words.
Gallipolis is a town full of stories like these. Moments that may seem small to some, but they’re the ones that matter because they remind you that you’re not alone. It’s a town where you can run into family friends that you’ve known since birth and make new ones all in one night. It’s a place that is both classy and down to earth all wrapped up in a riverfront package and stamped with a Fleur-de-lis. It’s a praying town that joins together when someone’s child is sick or when the man who has played Santa for as long as I can remember is in the hospital. It’s a supportive community that encourages greatness in all of its forms.
It’s my home, and I deem it “Hallmark”-worthy.
To my followers here at the Inkwell, I’m aware that this is not my typical post, but I think it’s an important one. In a society of constant upgrades and rushing around to get the next best thing, it’s easy to get caught in a “grass is always greener on the other side” mentality. I know because I’ve been there. I think it’s crucial to try to take a few moments every day to just look around and be thankful for what you have been given, especially at this time of year that at its very core is based upon the love that has been given to us by Christ.
I guess, in a way, this post is my way of taking stock of how blessed I feel to have grown up in a place like this, with such loving people, but also to encourage any of you that are ever passing through Ohio (especially at Christmas) to swing by Gallipolis and see for yourself how special it is.