Here We Come A-Wassailing: Inside Denton’s Holiday Lighting Festival

"Here we come a-wassailing!"

This simple traditional English Christmas carol encompasses the magical atmosphere that surrounded the annual Denton Holiday Lighting and Wassail Festival. 

Beginning in the late 80’s, the Denton Holiday Lighting Association sought to preserve Denton’s small town traditions while collecting toys to give back to children of all ages. Twenty-nine years later and the festival has exploded, with local performers preparing months in advance for their shows, multiple businesses offering free goodies, carnival-like food for sale, and around fifty vendors offering samples of their own specialty wassail.

After speaking to some locals, it was evident that this year’s festivities were much bigger than years past, with hundreds more people attending, some even driving several hours to get in on the small town holiday jubilance.

With various tastings of wassail found at every turn, your taste buds were sure to go on a rollercoaster of unique flavors from one Wassail’s main ingredient being hibiscus to another having a hint of a coffee taste. 

Growing up with my grandma's fiery age-old English wassail recipe, I found it hard not to compare all other tastings to her own. After what seemed like a magnitude of tastings, trying to find one that stacked up against the wassail I know and love, I was ready to throw in the towel, until I stumbled into “Shop the Barn”, a lovely little rustic antique store that screamed promise. 

This was it; I had found the wassail that gave my grandma’s recipe a run for her money. After talking to the store owner’s wife, Courtney Johnson, I am informed that this is only the second year they have been making their wassail, and impressive feat compared to some of the other vendors such as “La Di Da Boutique” now approaching their thirteenth year perfecting their wassail in a ten-hour process. 

Despite wanting to try all the wassail there was to be had, there’s only so much one person can take before having to move on to the next event: performances. 

The performance merriment was kicked off with the Denton Community Band filling the streets with Christmas carols and welcoming everyone before counting down for the magnificent tree lighting. Jingles of bells and humming of hymns filled the air as the number ten became one and thousands of tiny lights illuminated the night sky. Families “oohed" and "awed” at a plain tree becoming the ravishing illuminated emblem to ring in the Holiday season. 

Throughout the rest of the night, the “Festival Stage” located off of Hickory and Locust Street was filled with high school bands and beautiful ballets, captivating their audiences in a rush of fairytale wonder. 

Other performers were sprinkled throughout and off the edge of the square for delightful ambiance every which way one turned. One performance in particular drew a lot of attention. “Dancing in the Streets,” located on the corner of Locust and Oak Street, gave high school and competitive dance teams a chance to perform. The biggest performance in this section, however, was the University of North Texas “NT Dancers” and the Texas Women’s University “TWU Pioneer Pride”.  Each dance group performed twice. Then, for the closing performance, they danced together. University of North Texas student Sidney Sanderson exclaimed, “It was really cool to see two schools come together during the holidays. Both dance squads were really good but watching them dance together was even better!”

Besides all the scheduled performers many street performers, winsome dogs dressed as elves, and various Santa’s could be seen entertaining those waiting in line for wassail.

In a time when the majority of people are consumed by a fast-paced life and social media, it is nice to see a community come together and pause in events established in the past. Families could be seen laughing together, creating memories that will last for many years to come. A community supporting each other’s dreams the way Denton could be seen doing at the festival is sure to be a community that can stand strong, hand-in-hand through the good and the bad times

Photos by Alexa Thrash
Header image layout designed by Christopher Rodgers