photograph by Abingdon CVB

For Mindy Bonin, Christmas starts a little early. “In January!” she laughs. That’s when Abingdon announces the theme for its annual holiday window-decorating contest. Bonin, the mastermind behind Wolf Hills Antiques’ winning storefront display two years in a row, says last year’s theme was a no-brainer. “Elf is one of my favorite movies,” she says. “When I found out that was the theme, I immediately went into planning mode.”

After Bonin pieced together the scene — “I did a cut-out of the New York City skyline in the background and showed the part where he’s in the window of the department store sleeping with the teddy bear” — she went about incorporating elements from Wolf Hills Antiques, where she has a booth.

The months of planning and prep work are all worth it on November 24, the night of Abingdon Merchants’ Holiday Open House, when Main Street’s shops stay open late to ring in the holidays. Shoppers mill about with cider and cookies as they check off their holiday gift lists. “Here in Abingdon, Main Street really is Main Street — you have to go through here to get everywhere,” Bonin says. “And especially during the holidays, with all the windows decorated, it has this old-town feel with shoppers bustling around and neighbors visiting neighbors.”

This time of year, a warm holiday glow blankets the town. In one relaxing weekend, you can shop for everyone on your list, take breaks for world-class entertainment and small-town merriment, and rest your head in a luxurious and historic inn. Best of all, it’s all walkable. Plan a weekend trip to take advantage of Abingdon’s annual holiday festivities.

Nov 15: Catch a holiday performance at Barter Theatre

The nation’s longest-running professional theatre, Abingdon’s Barter Theatre deserves a standing ovation during the holidays. When you see the candles in every window, a grand Christmas tree in the lobby, and garland-wrapped railings, you can’t help but feel festive. This year, the theater’s plush red velvet curtains will open for White Christmas on November 15. Barter’s full-time performer troupe is putting on three shows: White Christmas, Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol (opening November 21), and Santaland Diaries (November 26). Want to extend the holiday season just a little bit longer? Start an adults-only day-after-Christmas tradition, and catch the final showing of Santaland Diaries on December 29. 

Ring in the holiday season with White Christmas. photograph by barter theatre


Nov 28: Say “turkey dinner!” at the Martha Washington Inn and Spa

Here we go again: The holidays are knocking at our door, and we haven’t even thought about our family Christmas card photo. Here’s our chance! From its perch on Main Street, the Martha Washington Inn and Spa goes all out for the holidays — Garland and fluffy red bows adorn the grand front porch and Christmas trees greet you at every turn. “I like to call it our Charles Dickens Christmas,” says general manager Christopher Lowe, who loves giving patrons a chance to ease into the holidays by having a relaxing Thanksgiving with family. “We always serve a traditional, family-style Thanksgiving meal, where we bring big bowls and platters of vegetables and sides and protein selections to your table. We want it to be just like Thanksgiving at your house — only you don’t have to cook or clean. You just get to spend time with family,” Lowe says. After your meal, gather your loved ones around a Christmas tree and snap a picture of the whole family.

Spend a cozy weekend away at Martha Washington Inn & Spa. photograph by Abingdon CVB

Dec. 5: Shop one-of-a-kind art at the Arts Depot Holiday Open House

This holiday season marks the 30th anniversary of the Arts Depot’s annual Holiday Members Show. And when the 200-plus members of this community-based art gallery bring in two of their favorite framed pieces of artwork to sell for the holiday sale, it’s an art collector’s paradise. Clear your calendar for their open house on December 5, and peruse clay sculpture, oil paintings, watercolors, 3D tapestry work, and quilts to the tune of live music — and with a glass of wine in hand. If your heart is set on a particular medium or artist, here’s an insider’s tip: In-the-know shoppers make their rounds before Small Business Saturday, when collectors arrive to comb through their favorite artists’ pieces.


Dec 5: Join in the festivities at the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony at Lois Humphreys Park

Kevin Worley, Abingdon’s director of Outdoor Recreation, has been involved with the town Christmas tree lighting for more than three decades — and he wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s nothing more magical than when you’ve got a lot of elementary-school kids gathered around the Christmas tree, leading a crowd of about a thousand to 1,500 people in ‘Oh Christmas Tree’ — everybody joins in — and then we count down together for the lighting,” he says. That’s when the 22-foot majestic mountain pine’s 8,000 tiny bulbs illuminate Lois Humphreys Park. There’s even a hot chocolate stand. “Oh, and Santa makes an appearance,” Worley adds. “Everybody in town shows up. This is truly a community event.”


Dec. 7: Step into Christmas at the Kiwanis Christmas parade

Not only is Abingdon’s 20-block Main Street the sole thoroughfare, but it’s also on the National Register of Historic Places — not just a building or two, but the whole downtown. Take it all in at the annual Kiwanis Christmas Parade. Decked-out floats, bands, dancers, and Santa Claus parade down the street throwing out candy as they celebrate the season and their community. Kids will want to bring a bag to collect their loot. 


Dec 14: Make a holiday craft at William King Museum of Art’s Elves Workshop

Sometimes a child’s handmade art is the perfect gift. Under the direction of Lori Mann, the director of youth education at William King Museum of Art, children ages 6 to 12 are invited to participate in this annual Saturday event where exhibits inspire winter-themed crafts. “We also make holiday decorations, like ornaments or wrapping paper and gift tags,” Mann says. Don’t leave before Mrs. Claus stops in to read a book!


Dec 15: Brunch with Santa at the Southwest Virginia Cultural Center and Marketplace

Every Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., this cultural center partners with a local restaurant or caterer to serve a mouthwatering brunch. On two Sundays in December, make a reservation to dine with a special guest. Still have a few more gifts to purchase? “After you get your picture taken with Santa, you can wander through our space to meet artisans performing demos, and even buy art from one of the 300 or so artists represented,” says Jenna Wagner, the PR and marketing director at the cultural center.

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Robin Sutton Anders is a writer based in Greensboro.