By Kristin Fox
Rainy weather and a power outage couldn’t dampen the Christmas spirit at one of Franklin’s favorite Christmas celebrations – Cowee Christmas. From the moment the doors opened, a continuous crowd gathered at the former elementary school for a homespun Christmas celebration at the 9th annual Cowee Christmas at the Cowee School Arts & Heritage Center.
“I was amazed by the crowd this year, because it was raining, we had a power outage, and we held our crowd,” said Claire Suminski, event organizer and founder. “The performers kept performing, we had a dance performance during the outage, the soup stayed hot, and everything still went on.”
Featuring all the sights, sounds and scents of the Christmas season, the festival offered a day of holiday fun for everyone from young children to the young at heart. Always held the first Saturday in December, the event has continued to grow to attract a larger crowd each year.
Free homespun children’s crafts and activities were available throughout the day. Children had the opportunity to make evergreens swags, decorate cookies, sew a gift bag, felt and paint Christmas ornaments and make beeswax candles. Face painting by Macon Faces was offered by the Arts Council of Macon County. Read2Me handed out free books to the children. Santa arrived on a Cowee Fire Department firetruck for a special holiday visit.
The sounds of Christmas could be heard throughout the school from roving and stage performances by Wyatt Duvall on the banjo, The White Sisters trio vocalists, Lady and the Tramps playing dulcimers, and Richard Tichichwith playing fiddles and Dancing Dan. Other Christmas entertainment included holiday caroling and a holiday performance by the Dance Arts Co-op. Cherokee storytelling by Kathi Littlejohn entertained crowds in the Cherokee Room.
There were plenty of Christmas Shopping opportunities for festival goers with local vendors selling their holiday wares in the gymnasium, classrooms, and hallways of the heritage center. Handmade items from pottery to wood crafts, Christmas ornaments and decorations, handmade hats, felting and other textile arts items and much more offered shoppers a variety of goods to shop from.
The Frasier Fir Café served a selection of homemade soup. The Women’s History Trail offered homemade cookies and hot drinks.
The event also featured the sixth annual Balsam Bee, a fundraising project to benefit the heritage center. Using a mixture of local Frazier fir and northern balsam, small decorative pillows are handmade by a team of local volunteers with help from professionals. The Suminski family spends several weeks grinding up Christmas trees and preparing the evergreen for the pillows. Suminski introduced the Balsam Bee to Cowee Christmas, a tradition from her days growing up in the Adirondacks.
“Cowee Christmas is just very homespun,” said Suminski. “I am proud that as it slowly gets bigger, the most important thing is it remains a hometown, homespun event.”
“Since this is the 9th year, there are children here today that were toddlers at the first Cowee Christmas and are now in their middle school years,” she added. “To see that they love to do hands on crafts, that they stop and talk to people and look people in the eye, and are proud of what they are making and proud to be a part of a community, that makes it all worth it.”
“Homespun crafts are very important to keep alive,” said Suminski. “Everyone behind Cowee Christmas is like minded in wanting to hold the community close and to help kids have that kind of exposure to that kind of support.”
The festival would not be possible without the support from its volunteers and sponsors – the LBJ Job Corps, New Century Scholars, Cowee School board, Women’s History Trail and the Folk Heritage Association of Macon County.
Corporate sponsors for this year’s Cowee Christmas were Winding Stair Farm, Kelly Penland with Bald Head Realty, and the North Carolina Arts Council.