LIVINGSTON -- Holiday décor was on display Saturday during the third annual MannaFest Christmas Tour of Homes in Livingston when the public was given access to four homes decked out in their Christmas finery.
Decorated trees, holiday dining room arrangements, bedroom displays and a multitude of decorations were on view.
The 2016 tour featured the homes of Susan and Mike Dabney, Alice and Ken Butler, Leonna and Bill Wiggins and Rachel and Marty Drake. The homeowners decorate and open their homes for viewing for this major fund-raising event for the MannaFest Food Pantry.
During the annual tour, shuttles buses are used to transport the guests from the Central Baptist Church to the homes and back. In addition to visiting the homes, those taking part in the tour also are afforded an opportunity to visit the shopping gallery set up at the church.
Mannafest began in 1999 as a joint outreach effort among several local Christian churches to provide Thanksgiving dinner to those in need.
Since then it has expanded into an established food pantry, becoming a non-profit organization in 2001. The pantry, located at 803 W. Feagin, works to help feed some of the 20 percent of Polk Countians who are at or below the poverty line.
Walking into a storefront on North Washington in Livingston’s downtown area Tuesday, one could find Dick Grant, Dave Reymore and Roger Watkins checking the final pieces of a popular Livingston holiday attraction.
Typically, around 2,000 people will visit the Christmas Train Village in a year. Around half of that is during the town’s holiday celebration of Livingston Hometown Christmas.
“This is, I think, our 15th year,” Grant said of the train village. “It actually started when my wife and I were first together on our first Christmas. She decided that she wanted to give me a Christmas present and I had talked about toys and stuff. She gave me a Lionel Train in a box that went around the Christmas tree.
“That was on Christmas morning. By New Year’s, it went around the tree, the fireplace, and a chair. This is what came out of it. It’s been growing ever since. This is our seventh location in town and our third year here.”
Upon moving to the area from The Heights in Houston, Grant had a fairly big layout at home.
“I didn’t have room for it, so it was in the attic for a couple of years. I thought that I would love to be able to give it to the kids and then an organization can make some money off of it. I got in touch with Molly Anderson, who was then the president of the Heritage Society, and she let us put it up in the Heritage House the first year.”
Grant said that it looked much different from its current appearance as it would soon grow even more.
There are over 900 trees in the scene, 19 sections of mountains, as well as houses and attractions. To power the entire scene, there is a web of approximately 40 cords that would make spiders envious.
Pieces are purchased online from Lemax, a company that specializes in village decorations. Many businesses, organizations and individuals have played a large part in keeping the village operating.
Grant said it could take about three or four months to set up from scratch, but also mentioned that he would never do that again. He also said this year was probably his last with the train, as the building that holds the set is for sale, and the manpower as well as the will to start over no longer exist. He would love to see someone take over the responsibility after this year if he is not able to continue.
Over the past two years, the train was left where it currently sits. It requires 500-600 man-hours to assemble the scene. The Heritage Society actually owns the set, something Grant gave to the group years ago.
For those who would like a chance to see the village in action, the Christmas Train Village is at 406 North Washington. Though it is free to view, donations are appreciated.
Tours are available Dec. 1-3, 8-10, 15-17, 22-23, and 29-30. All days of operation will be 5-7 p.m., with the exception of Dec. 10 during Hometown Christmas, when it will be open 2-6 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.
LIVINGSTON -- Tickets for Mannafest’s annual Christmas Tour of Homes now are available at area banks, local churches and from members of the Mannafest team.
The festive tour featuring four local homes garbed in holiday décor will be 4-8 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3. Tickets purchased in advance are $20, while tickets purchased the day of the event will be $25.
The tickets include bus transportation to and from the homes, which this year are clustered within the city of Livingston. Those attending the tour will be able to catch buses beginning at 3:45 p.m. at Central Baptist Church.
The tickets also give attendees a chance to do some Christmas shopping with a group of talented artists and vendors who will have gift items on display at the church. Refreshments for tour goers will be available, as well as tickets for a barbecue meal from the Hitch-N-Post Café, which will be serving on site.
Locations for ticket purchases include the Mannafest Pantry, First United Methodist Church, Central Baptist Church, First National Bank, First State Bank and Peoples State Bank.
The MannaFest ministry provides monthly food boxes for low-income families in Polk County. It was established 15 years ago as a non-denominational ministry supported by First United Methodist Church, Central Baptist Church, St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Trinity Lutheran Church and others.
All workers at MannaFest are volunteers and all proceeds from this fundraiser will go to the ministry.
This year’s fall season Country Market Days will be the largest in its five-year history as an outlet for local artisans to sell their works by the historical Thomas Mercantile property on Old Highway 35 in Livingston.
“Every year we grow and this year we’re expecting over 70 vendors.” said Thomas Mercantile owner and Country Market Days founder, Terri Smith. “We even have somebody coming from as far as Birch Tree, Missouri because they heard about our market.”
More local artisans come from all over East Texas to showcase and sell their small-batch foods and handcrafted works. These include vintage finds, handmade jewelry, soaps and lotions, yard art, unique gifts and home decor, clothing and more. According to Smith, Country Market Days includes the most eclectic mix of specialized vendors in the area.
“It’s all handmade and high-quality goods that our vendors sell.” said Smith. “We want people to be able to buy nice gifts for their loved ones or for themselves. We also want them to just enjoy the atmosphere because it’s not typical of a market. You’re shopping literally in the woods and in the backyard here.”
The event will take place Friday-Saturday from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. at 2464 Old Highway 35 North in Livingston.
Market Days initially started as a 20-vendor promotional event for the Thomas Mercantile gift shop, which was reopened by Smith in 2009 to help preserve the store’s history. However, the event has also become a favorite show among local crafters looking for a way to promote and sell their goods.
“I’m the fourth generation to own the shop. We’re off the beaten path here next to the railroad track, but I had to do something.” said Smith. “So I just reopened it as a gift shop on a whim and moved here full time from Deer Park. It turned into full time work and I had to start thinking of things to do that would bring people into the shop. I also noticed there was a lot of local people coming in asking about consignments and if I could sell [their goods.] So I thought there was need for local artisans to be able to show their stuff.”
Smith is continuing to expand the available space at the wooded property to host many more artisans in the years to come. Local vendors who are interested in reserving a spot for a future event or for more information on Country Market Days, call (936) 967-5333.