A Clarksville COVID Christmas

Written by Meghan Gattignolo, Visitor Services Coordinator

A few short years ago, Clarksville topped a list for the most enchanting Christmas town in Tennessee. We might not be accustomed to white Christmases, but Clarksville has almost everything else to transmute dark nights into warm memories: hot cocoa on chilly evenings, ice skaters in the park, Christmas music lilting through the air, immense decorated trees, lights lining the downtown streets, cozy shops saturated in holiday scents… and multitudes of many-colored Christmas lights everywhere you look. Oh yes, the lights! Historic homes on Madison Street and the Dog Hill Historic District never fail to impress. Clarksville’s lighted Christmas parade glimmering through the streets of downtown is always spectacular; and of course, Christmas on the Cumberland with its million bulbs shaped into pretty scenes. Events such as downtown’s SpiritFest and the Museum’s own Noel Night, are jolly times guaranteed to get anyone into the Christmas spirit.

Nighttime scene of families under light arch at Christmas in Cumberland
Nighttime scene of Clarksville's themed Christmas parade in downtown Clarksville

Photos from Clarksville Park & Rec

Not this year. This global pandemic forced everyone to change tactics and reevaluate. On more than one occasion so far this season, Clarksville has had to cancel or drastically change plans. The beloved lighted Christmas parade became a drive-thru experience with an arduously long wait time. SpiritFest was canceled, as was the ice-skating rink. Christmas on the Cumberland requires masks to enjoy safely. We face a harrowing holiday season with the shadow of disease looming over all the normal joyous events and activities. Celebrations we look forward to every year are being limited and we may not get to see all our loved ones in person this year.  

The anxiety of the pandemic seems to have manifested in some positive ways, though. Driving around town in the evening, I feel the sense of compensation in the form of even more decorations and lights on private homes than I remember from past years. Nothing boosts my holiday spirit more than seeing glittering, colorful Christmas lights. Decorating is a way to express our holiday spirit to the world, and a way to cheer ourselves up. Maybe we have known someone who has contracted COVID or maybe we don’t; maybe we are frustrated with living under mask mandates and new uncomfortable social expectations, but during Christmas, we are reminded we are all still in this together. 

Santa hands a little girl an activity packet at Noel Night at the Museum.
Pianist adds ambient music in the Orgain Gallery as Museum guests filter through from Noel Night.

Those of us who work at the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center strive hard to keep the holidays special. Our decorations are up. Noel Night – our annual Seasons: The Museum Store hosted event – still happened, albeit slightly altered. The volunteer train crew’s Snowflake Special is still running. The Christmas scenes in the Huff & Puff Model Train exhibit are just as endearing as any other year. We are operating under limitations, but the Museum is still here. The Roxy Regional Theater and Franklin Street look just as beautiful as any other year, and the Clarksville Speedway still boasts its three million light display that can be safely enjoyed from your car. Despite the disappointment and hardship, the pandemic has brought, there is still Christmas spirit in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Meghan Gattignolo

Meghan Gattignolo is the Customs House Museum & Cultural Center’s Visitor Services Coordinator and regularly contributes articles to the Museum’s blog. From a military family, Meghan has spent most of her life in Clarksville. She loves learning about Clarksville’s history and writing. Meghan holds a B.A. in History from Austin Peay State University, with minors in German and Political Science. She lives in Clarksville with her husband and two daughters. 

Maegan Collins, Media & Communications Coordinator, prepares photographs and visual images as well as prepares the blog posts for the web.

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