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Polar Express Christmas Tree Trail lighting ceremony and Wassail Fest to be held Thursday

MADISON – The Christmas season in downtown Madison kicks-off this week with the first of several special events planned to celebrate the holidays.

On Thursday, Dec. 2, at 6 p.m., the Polar Express Christmas Tree Trail will be illuminated on Main Street. Madison City Community Orchestra will perform. Madison Public Library staff will read “The Polar Express.”

A new tradition for the city will debut after the lighting ceremony with the first annual Downtown Madison Wassail Fest on Dec. 2.

Merchants of Downtown Madison have been working with Madison Station Historical Preservation Society to sponsor the event. Wassail Fest will start at 6 p.m., immediately following the tree lighting for Madison Station Polar Express Christmas on Main. All festivities are free to the public.

The historical society has designated the center of activities at Main and Church streets following the tree lighting, Tammy Hall said. Hall owns Main Street Cafe.

Store and business owners will open their doors to serve samples of wassail, which consists of spiced cider that is served hot. Visitors can vote for the wassail that they consider has the best taste as merchants vie for bragging rights for the best tasting recipe in town. The winner for the best wassail recipe will be announced by Dec. 6.

Lucky visitors will get a chance at door prizes.

“Come out to sample, shop and be festive! We hope to provide Madison and surrounding areas with a festive evening to kick off the holiday season,” Hall said.

Participating businesses for the Wassail Fest are Old Black Bear, Noble Passage Interiors, Balch Realty, Main Street Cafe, Lemon & Lavender, Filthy Gorgeous, South & Pine, Madison Station Antiques, The House of Pilates, Hook and Frog and Pure Barre.

The 2021 Madison Christmas Parade, coordinated by Madison Parks and Recreation Department, will fill the streets on Dec. 11 at 5 p.m.

Parade units will line up on Plaza Drive, and proceed south on Hughes Road to Insanity Complex at 100 Skate Park Drive. The parade’s rain date will be Dec. 12 at 2 p.m.

In other activities, the city and historical society will present the third annual Madison Christmas Capers on Dec. 12 from 4 to 5 p.m. Lifelong residents will reprise the legend with ‘Doc’ Hughes tossing live chickens from his drug store’s roof to spectators below.

The custom of Christmas Capers originated in 1925 when George Walton ‘Doc’ Hughes rented the Humphrey-Hughes property at 200 Main St. in downtown Madison. Doc Hughes opened his drug store business at that location, which he operated until 1972.

During years of the Great Depression in the early 1930s, Hughes started a holiday tradition dubbed the “Christmas Chicken Capers,” according to “Madison Station, Historic Downtown Madison, 1856-2015” by Madison Station Historical Preservation Society.

On Christmas Eve, ‘Doc’ Hughes threw live chickens from the roof of his business. The chickens had tags attached to their legs, and people could redeem the tags for prizes in Hughes’ store. Anyone who caught the chickens (sometimes turkeys, some people say) received the prizes and kept the chicken for Christmas dinner.

In recent years, the Christmas Chicken Capers evolved from live chickens to rubber chickens with gift cards from local retail stores.

At 4 p.m., Doc Hughes’ grandsons, Larry and Walt Anderson, will re-enact the legend by pitching rubber chickens with gift vouchers tied to their legs from Hughes Drug Store’s balcony. Gift vouchers are valued in thousands of dollars.

Rotary Club of Madison will serve free hot chocolate and cookies. Madison City Community Orchestra will entertain the crowd.

Christmas Capers will continue when the city and Torch Technologies present the second annual “Madison Christmas Night at the Movie.” The free film will be shown at Home Place Park at 5:30 p.m. Parking will be available at Madison City Schools Stadium.

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