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By Wendy Migdal | Sponsored by Town of Occoquan
The perfect time to kick off the holiday season is . . . now. And the perfect place? The Town of Occoquan. This weekend, before shopping, holiday musical performances, and parades crowd out your schedule, head to Occoquan for the start of the three-week-long HolidayFest, which runs from Nov. 19 to Dec. 4.
The main attraction on Nov. 19 is the annual tree lighting at 6 p.m. at Town Hall, followed by Shop Late. “It’s one of our wonderful small-town traditions. It’s very quaint,” says events coordinator Julie Little, who says the tree-lighting attracts residents as well as out-of-town visitors. Mayor Porta emcees, and when the tree lights up the dark sky, the oohs and aahs bring the community together. Afterwards, people can roast marshmallows and make s’mores on firepits or help themselves to some hot chocolate. Adding to the ambience will be the New Dominion Choraliers, who will sing traditional holiday songs and will invite the public to join in. Many stores will remain open until 8 p.m. that night. As a special treat, visitors can stroll the street with an adult beverage from 4pm to 8pm, which may help to ward off the chill a bit.
For those whose only concern about coming to Occoquan is the question of parking, you’re in luck: there will be a free shuttle service (see below for the schedule). The shuttle will pick up visitors from the commuter lot at the intersection of Route 123 and Old Bridge Road, and will run about every 20-30 minutes, depending on demand and traffic.
Nov. 19 is also the beginning of “Shop, Dine, & Win,” which runs the full three weeks of HolidayFest. Participants can pick up a passport and get it stamped when they make a purchase at one of about 25 participating stores and restaurants. After making six purchases, they can enter a drawing to win one of 15 gift cards, each for $100, to use at any participating merchants or restaurants.
Holiday Artisan Market
For more shopping options, make sure to attend the Holiday Artisan Market at River Mill Park on Dec. 3 and 4. There will be 50 artists and makers set up in the park for this juried show, so expect to find plenty of unique, quality gifts for family and friends.
“We just started doing the Artisan Markets as a response to COVID,” says Little. “It was a way to separate vendors a little bit and keep them outside so that they were safe, but it was so popular that we decided to keep it.”
While you’re there, stop by to vote for your favorite gingerbread house. Entries are brought in by the general public and will be placed in three categories. If you’re interested in participating, check out the details and rules at visitoccoquanva.com/holiday.
In addition, Santa is scheduled to arrive at 10:30 a.m. in a regionally-appropriate style: on a boat. He’ll disembark at the Town Dock at 10:30 am on Dec. 3 and greet kids in Mamie Davis Park from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday. At 2 p.m., the Lake Ridge Chorale will give a concert on Saturday, while the 16-piece big band, The Hot Lanes, takes the stage on Sunday. The Holiday Market itself runs from 11 – 5 on Saturday and 11-4 on Sunday.
While you are in town, drop your letter to Santa in the special North Pole mailboxes at Town Hall (314 Mill Street) or Hitchcock Paper Co. (125 Mill Street). If you include a return address, Santa will send a personalized letter back!
With a tree lighting, caroling, Santa, and shopping, the Town of Occoquan checks all the boxes on the holiday traditions list.
Occoquan Express Shuttle Schedule:
· Saturday, Nov. 19 from 12pm – 9pm
· Saturday, Nov. 26 from 12pm – 9pm
· Saturday, Dec. 3 from 11am – 6pm
· Sunday, Dec. 4 from 11am – 6pm
· Saturday, Dec. 10 from 12pm – 9pm
· Saturday, Dec. 17 from 12pm – 9pm
For more information, see visitoccoquanva.com/holiday.
Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She has written extensively for The Free Lance-Star and also works for online educational companies. Wendy enjoys traveling around the area to learn about parks, restaurants, attractions, and especially history.