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Fireworks, snow, gumbo, tree lighting kick off holiday in Natchez

Fireworks shoot into the sky as artificial snow falls down on Main Street during the annual Natchez Christmas tree lighting. The event kicks off Christmas in Natchez. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

Fireworks shoot into the sky as artificial snow falls down on Main Street during the annual Natchez Christmas tree lighting. The event kicks off Christmas in Natchez. (Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat)

By Megan Ashley fink

NATCHEZ — The Christmas season kicked off in true Natchez spirit Friday, with gumbo, fireworks and blues at the annual lighting of the Christmas tree.

Festivities started with the Children’s Christmas Fun Fair during which children scrambled across an obstacle course, climbed a rock wall and rode a mechanical bull while adults ate their hearts out at the turkey gumbo cook-off.

St. Landry Parish sheriff’s deputy Paul DiCapo, who runs DiCapo’s Catering in his spare time, won first place in the turkey gumbo cook-off. He said his classic Cajun recipe was the most authentic and appropriate choice for the occasion.

“It’s 100-percent turkey,” Dicapo said. “That’s the point of the cook-off. If you’re supporting something, support it full-heartedly.”

Michael Gore of Rolling River Bistro won second place in the cook-off. He said his recipe was a family favorite, with a bit of a twist.

“I use alligator sausage,” Gore said. “It’s my dad’s recipe, but he’s no longer with me, so I made a few changes. Now it’s just a little bit better.”

Santa Claus and his wife even came down from their home at the North Pole to attend the event.

Mrs. Claus said they had made the trip to Natchez just for the event.

“We heard there was a gumbo cook-off and wanted to find out how many children we could see and what’s on their lists,” she said.

Santa reported the children of Natchez were about 90-percent nice, but there were some naughty ones around.

“If they hold out until Christmas, I can probably do something for them,” he said. “Maybe not an iPhone 6, but perhaps some Legos.”

Santa said the children should be sure to keep the Christmas spirit up in order to stay on the nice list.

One of Santa’s elves, Valencia Anderson, came with the Clauses to support the event.

“It’s pretty busy in the workshop, but we came to make sure the children had a good time,” Anderson said.

The ceremonial lighting of the Christmas tree in the middle of Main Street officially began the Natchez area’s Christmas season.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said the event was a success, and congratulated everyone who took part in the festivities.

“This is one of the reasons I like being mayor — what’s happening here tonight,” he said.

Brown said he was proud of the attendance at the event.

“This is a precursor to 2016,” Brown said. “The 300th anniversary of Natchez is going to be like this every night.”

The Christmas season of events in Natchez will continue until Jan. 2.

A schedule of Christmas in Natchez events can be found at christmasinnatchez.com.