Rock Hill's 2007 ChristmasVille celebration delivers a brightly wrapped package stuffed with surprises, including a unicorn, a Rice Krispies gnome sculpture and 20 tons of real snow.
Did we say snow?
Oh, yes. Mother Nature has so far neglected to deliver the wintery white stuff the old-fashioned way, but the four-day holiday festival that kicks off today promises a dumping of snowfall before the closing ceremony Sunday.
"We are bringing that in from a company out of Georgia," announced ChristmasVille chair Candy Randall. "They actually bring in a tractor-trailer load full of ice blocks and have a machine that chips it up and shoots it out as real snow."
For $5, youngsters 12 and younger can frolic in the snowfall and have their picture snapped with Santa beginning at noon Sunday at the Gettys Center parking lot on Caldwell Street.
And that's just part of the fun.
The Rock Hill holiday celebration of entertainment, children's events, performances, food, art, shopping and more -- much, much more -- has in its second year morphed into some 90 events over four jam-packed days.
"It's just huge. The community has really poured out," Randall said.
Some of the highlights include a Festival of Trees, featuring 21 designer trees in Main Street storefronts sold in a four-day silent auction to benefit area nonprofit agencies, a gingerbread house contest and display at the Gettys Center, downtown walking tours, trolley tours and horse-drawn carriage rides, a four-day art market featuring work by regional artists in the Palmetto Room on Main Street, Friday night's Rock Hill Christmas parade and a Saturday night show at the Freedom Center by Rat Pack tribute artist Tom Stevens.
The Smithsonian Institute will present a program by author and curator William L. Bird at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Center for the Arts on the art and history of holiday displays, from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade to the department store windows in New York. Other special programs are planned on Vernon Grant, Old World Santas and Victorian cooking.
There's a packed schedule of community events, including a York County Quilters auction, a model train exhibit, several puppet shows, a miniature golf tournament, a Freedom Center reindeer romp fitness run for kids, the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour's souper supper and gingerbread people decorating and a Piedmont Medical Center Lights of Love fashion show and lunch at the City Club.
Most events will be in the downtown area, but not all of them. The festival includes Winthrop theater and dance performances and art exhibits, Rock Hill Community Theater's production of the holiday classic "A Christmas Carol," Victorian teas at the Woman's Club of Rock Hill and the East Town Neighborhood Home Tour.
Rock Hill cake artist Jeff Bailey -- who has his own business at cakemanonline.com -- gets into the Vernon Grant holiday spirit by making a Grant the Gnome sculpture using Rice Krispies treats from 4 to 8 p.m. today at the Center for the Arts. Grant, the late illustrator, is perhaps best known for bringing to life Rice Krispies' Snap! Crackle! Pop! cereal characters.
"It's sort of a one-man cake challenge," quipped Bailey.
The unicorn will make its appearance on Saturday, part of a downtown petting zoo that includes "camel rides to Bethlehem," Randall said. Also for the young ones on Saturday will be Polar Bear Park, with inflatable games on Caldwell Street, and telephone calls to Santa from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Rock Hill Telephone Museum, 117 Elk Ave.
"If you come down here, you're going to find something to do on Main Street or Caldwell Street -- there's something to do around the clock," Randall said. "It's designed like an art crawl, where you go inside to do things and then go outside."
The festival opens today with a 6:30 p.m. ceremony and "Lighting of the Village" on downtown's Main Street. It will feature the Winthrop University Rockettes and nearly 100 handbells from some half a dozen churches and, teased Randall, "a big surprise. Big, big surprise."
The opening ceremony will be preceded by live entertainment and followed at 7 p.m. by a Deck the Hall holiday concert and sing-along at City Hall Plaza and a tree lighting at the Freedom Center. There's also a 7:15 p.m. Snow Ball and Festival of Trees kickoff at the City Club; tickets are $65 and reservations are required at 389-0046.
On Friday, the Holiday Marketplace begins at the Freedom Center, featuring gifts sold by 35 vendors, including candles, Christmas linens, food, jewelry and more, said team leader Kim Brock. The marketplace, held at a single site this year, will be open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Friday's 6:30 p.m. Christmas parade will be preceded by Santa's VIP Parade Party at 5:30 p.m. at the Freedom Center sanctuary, featuring a show with "Bill Cosby," "Lucille Ball" and comedian Steve Brogan, plus dinner with reserved parade viewing. Cost is $10 each or $8 each for four or more, at 329-7090.
A food court at the Elk Avenue and Black Street parking lot will be open from Friday through Sunday, including during the parade. Entertainment will be provided in the downtown area both before and after the parade, Randall said.
Also, a talent showcase to benefit the Arts Council of York County's new Starving Artist Fund will take place at the Freedom Center from 8:30 to 10 p.m. Friday; tickets are $5 adults and $2 children 10 and younger.
Saturday events include live entertainment from noon to 5 p.m. at the downtown Homeless Theatre Stage, including interactive children's handbell lessons and theater, the York County Ballet, Victorian-costumed singers and more.
"We just have a lot of great things to include this year -- more people are hearing about it and wanting to be included, and we're bringing in some things from out of town, too," said Jane Hayes, entertainment team leader.
The downtown events continue on Sunday, winding up with the 4:30 p.m. ChristmasVille grand finale celebration at the Rock Hill City Hall Amphitheater on Black Street.
The finale will include the Winthrop Rockettes and a 30-minute NarroWay Productions Broadway musical show featuring dancers, singers and toy soldiers. The festivities will end with a candlelight tribute to the song "Angels Among Us."
"There's a big special surprise with that," Randall said of the tribute. "It sends tingles down your arms, the 'Angels Among Us' finale. It's going to be really incredible."