While Thanksgiving has long served as the traditional start of the Christmas season, for a few local residents, the beginning of the season does not start for another week — when the annual Candlelight Christmas in Rockford takes place.
“That is what so many people tell me when it’s over,” said Hannah Holyfield, chairperson of the Rockford Preservation Society. “Now I can start my Christmas. I’ve been to Candlelight Christmas.”
This year the two-night event — Thursday, Dec. 2 and Friday, Dec. 3 — marks the 31st Christmas concert at the Rockford Methodist Church in the village of Rockford, although it will be the first in-person gathering for two years.
“Last year, our big 30th had to be virtual,” she said. As was the case with most every traditional public gathering in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic kept the event’s performers and fans from gathering — but Holyfield said the holiday tradition was kept alive.
“We had everybody who typically performs send their music in, they recorded it and sent it to us, and we put it on our Facebook pages and our website,” she said. “Even though we couldn’t have it in person, they could go electronically and see the music that would have been performed. It was something…we can’t not have it.”
While the pandemic has continued, the drop in cases fueled by the vaccine and social distancing policies has allowed many public activities to resume, including this year’s Rockford holiday gathering.
“It is just a relief that we are going to be able to get back together,” Holyfield said. “It’s important to Rockford, it’s important to the folks who come year after year. So many folks missed it last year…we were sad to have to cancel. This year we’re excited we are going to get to do this.”
Dr. Gena Poovey, professor of music at Limestone University in Gaffney, South Carolina, will again be performing both nights. Poovey is as much a part of the tradition as the candles and the 107-year-old church, being the only singer or musician who has performed at the event every year. She was instrumental in helping to start the tradition that has become Candlelight Christmas in Rockford.
Holyfield explained that the late Evelyn Holyfield — her husband’s aunt and founder of the Rockford Preservation Society — and Poovey put together the first such holiday gathering when Poovey was living in Rockford while working as the visiting artist at Surry Community College.
“They got together and decided to put together a program and have it on the first Friday in December,” Hannah Holyfield said. They continued holding the service every year until 1999, when it became apparent one service would no longer be sufficient.
“It was so popular,” she said. “And it (the church) was packed…people were lining the walls, people were standing outside on the sidewalk listening. In 2000, we made the decision we needed to go to two nights because the one night was so packed.”
“I don’t know what it’ll be this year. There might be a good crowd because everyone is ready to get out and come back again, or some people might be reluctant. We will certainly offer masks to anyone, at the door, if they will be more comfortable wearing a mask. We want it to be safe, but we want to be back to business as usual. We’re looking forward to it, looking forward to hearing all of the performances, the atmosphere of the candlelight in this little church. It’s the best way to start your Christmas season.”
On Thursday evening Poovey will be singing, accompanied by Amey King. Wendy and Johnny Dearmin will also be performing, as will the Marshall Brothers and High Road, and the Surry Central High School chorus directed by Angie Smith.
On Friday, Poovey will be accompanied by Adam Rudisill. Others performing include Judy Taylor, Wendy and Johnny Dearmin, and Jade Kiger and Friends.
The services begin at 7 p.m. each day. Parking at the church is limited, but shuttle van service, provided by YVEDDI, will be available from the Rockford Baptist Church parking lot beginning at 6 p.m. Refreshments will be served following each program.