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Madison Polar Express Christmas Trees lightening and Wassail Fest to kick off city’s holiday events tonight

MADISON – Reminiscent of a scene from Charles Dickens, Madison dresses up in its Christmastime finery for the season.

Visiting downtown takes you back to nostalgic times for decorated storefronts with silver bells, red holly and . . . if you’re lucky . . . big sprigs of the dark green leaves and opaque berries of mistletoe. (Quick! No one is looking.)

The scenic storefronts decked out in Christmas decor are reminiscent of yesteryear. Plus, take as long as you need to review the decorate tree in the Polar Express Christmas Tree Trail. On Holiday Card Lane, you can reflect on the message that local artists are convening with the cards, which may be traditional, whimsical or a religious view of the Nativity.

Downtown Madison offers outstanding options that toddlers through senior citizens will enjoy:

• Madison Polar Express Christmas Trees on Main Street – Dozens of traditional and themed trees will be on exhibit. Businesses, municipal groups, students, churches and agencies use over-the-top decorations for their respective tree.
The City of Madison and the Madison Station Historic Preservation Society are sponsors for the Polar Express. This exhibit will open for viewing on Dec. 1.

Several groups are presenting other amusements at 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 1:
• Madison Arts Alliance will assist spectators in decorating Christmas ornaments.
• Madison Chamber of Commerce will work with the Children’s Glowstick Parade and Letters to Santa.
• Children’s Madison Visionary Partners has arranged for Snowflake Alley on Garner Street at 5:30 p.m.
• Madison City Community Orchestra will perform Christmas music.
• Rotary Club of Madison will serve hot chocolate and cookies in the Gazebo.
• At 6 p.m., staff from Madison Public Library will read “The Polar Express.”
• At 6:15 p.m., Mayor Paul Finley will light the 2023 Polar Express Christmas Tree Trail.
• At 6:30 p.m., the City of Madison has scheduled “A Visit from Santa” in the large Silver Ornament.
• The third annual Madison Wassail Fest will immediately follow the lighting of Polar Express Christmas Tree Trail on Dec. 1. Shoppes of Historic Downtown Madison are event sponsors for the fest at sites along Main, Martin and Church streets.

Residents can enjoy samples of our downtown merchants’ best wassail recipes, vote for the best tasting blend, register for door prizes and support the downtown businesses by shopping for Christmas gifts.

• Madison Roundhouse Open House and MCCO’s Madison Christmas Concert on Dec. 10 – Madison Station Historic Preservation Society will host the Christmas Roundhouse Open House from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Village Green on Front Street. Guests can enjoy hearing about the history of Madison from historian John Rankin and stay for the Madison City Community Orchestra Christmas Concert.

The MCCO Concert will start at 4 p.m. on Dec. 10 at Madison Methodist Church, 127 Church Street in downtown Madison.

• 2023 Madison Christmas Parade – City-sanctioned and coordinated by Madison Parks and Recreation Department. The parade will start at 5 p.m. on Dec. 9. from Plaza Boulevard down Hughes Road. The 2023 theme is “Santa’s Workshop.”

• 2023 Madison Christmas Capers – Dec. 16 at 4 p.m. on Main Street at the former Hughes Drugstore. The City of Madison and Madison Station Historic Preservation Society are sponsors. Madison City Community Orchestra will entertain. Rotary Club of Madison will serve hot chocolate and cookies. Downtown merchants will be open during regular business hours.

The Christmas Capers reprise the legend of ‘Doc’ Hughes tossing live chickens from his drug store’s roof to spectators below during the Great Depression. The chickens had tags attached to their legs, and residents could redeem the tags for prizes in Hughes’ store…and cook the chicken for Christmas dinner.
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. Doc Hughes’ grandsons, Larry and Walt Anderson, will re-enact the legend from the old Hughes Drug Store’s rooftop.

Digital Version

Digital version of The Madison Record – Feb. 28, 2024

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