We haven’t even gathered for Thanksgiving yet, but some of us have been indulging a secret obsession that began weeks ago. Raise your hand if you’ve already curled up under a cozy throw and turned on a Hallmark holiday movie. My hand is raised even though I never thought I would be “one of those people.” And according to various Facebook posts, I am certainly part of a very large club.

Hallmark movies have predictable plots, synthetic snow, and a name like Holly, Noel or Garland for either the town or the heroine –sometimes both! The attractive main characters may be young and single, but more often (especially as Christmas nears) one of them is a divorcee or grieving single parent with a precocious child. And of course one of them has to be returning home from the big city or on an assignment from the big city…and the picture-perfect small town just sucks them right in. There’s usually a Christmas Pageant, Winter Festival or Jingle Bell Ball that isn’t going to happen unless they roll up their sleeves and work alongside their ex/new found love/patient parent to make it happen. Once the conflicts have all been neatly resolved and everyone has found their happy ending, the couple shares a long kiss while the air is suddenly filled with swirling snowflakes.

Corny plots aside, I think we are drawn to these innocuous movies for the same reason the Andy Griffith show will live forever in perpetual reruns. Who doesn’t love the idea of a small town where crime seems to be nonexistent and everybody knows your name? A town where you can walk to the coffee shop, the cute general store, and the local bakery while street vendors ladle out hot chocolate and carolers appear from nowhere? A place where, returning after a long absence, you’re greeted warmly and invited to join the community celebration?

I know large cities offer a kaleidoscope of culture, diversity, and activities not always available in smaller communities. But during the holiday season, small towns across the country turn on the charm and deck the halls, creating a wistful longing in at least a few big-city dwellers. If you’ve been watching those Hallmark movies and wondering why you can’t live in a town like Evergreen or Garland, I’d like to suggest that maybe we’re not so far off. And while I recognize that many Mid-Ohio Valley communities provide their own traditional treats – the Dickens characters of Cambridge and the lights of Gallipolis, for example – I’m most familiar with Marietta’s merrymaking.

So let’s consider how many Hallmark features we can check off the list. Charming downtown with festive storefronts? Check. Friendly people, who say hello and smile as you pass? Check. Families lining the street to watch the Christmas parade? Check. Tree lighting ceremony, complete with caroling? Check. Light posts bedecked with wreaths and garland? Check. Inviting parks with holiday lights? Check. Special events that include late shopping, hot chocolate, and visit from Santa? Check. Even our name has the word “Merry” in it if you don’t mind tweaking the spelling.

Community members and businesses are working like elves right now, preparing the town for the most wonderful time of the year.

If you’re a Marietta resident reading this, you may be thinking that we’re pretty lucky to have such a town in which to work or call home. If you’re not a local, perhaps you’re thinking it might be time to pay a visit and experience a little holiday magic for yourself. Please do – community members and businesses are working like elves right now, preparing the town for the most wonderful time of the year.

The towering tree is installed on the Armory lawn, awaiting the lighting ceremony on November 23rd. And yes, there will be hot chocolate and caroling. Just a week later, the lighted Christmas parade will delight people of all ages, ushering in the seasonal residency of the jolly man himself. Visitors will find lamp posts festooned with wreaths and garland along with cheerful storefronts, each expressing a different holiday personality. New this year, a Christmas Tree Lane in Muskingum Park features lit trees decorated by local groups, and Santa will receive visitors in the Gazebo on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, offering free photo ops and saving parents a trip to the mall. Small business Saturday brings large crowds shopping local and enjoying special promotions and events. On December 6th, First Friday presents Moonlight Madness, with shops open until 11:00 pm for a night full of discounts, hot chocolate stops and even Selfies with Santa.

As if these events were not enough, throughout the season you’ll find craft shows, a pop-up holiday market, special movies at the Peoples Bank Theatre, a production of Messiah, band concerts, and a myriad of other opportunities to celebrate the season. There will be many picture-perfect scenes, and just as many wonderfully imperfect, all creating memories for young and old alike.  While we can’t guarantee anyone a special encounter under the mistletoe, we can provide an authentic small-town holiday that will warm you up and have you humming carols under your breath. So set your DVR for the Hallmark Channel, and throw off the fleece blanket – we’ll see you downtown!

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