Christmas at Springboro festival celebrates city bicentennial

What began as an effort by five downtown merchants to stimulate local Christmas shopping has grown into the largest Christmas festival in the Tri-State, a three-day, seven-block festival that attracts 50,000-60,000 people from a 30-mile radius.

“(The festival) is free, so there’s no way to count (attendance),” laughed Helen Sproat, the festival secretary and one of its original founders. “We figure it’s that many people by the amount of trash left behind.”

The festival, which takes place annually the weekend before Thanksgiving, has a theme every year. The theme this time is Bicentennial Christmas, commemorating the founding of Springboro in 1815.

“The theme will be in our parade, and hopefully the floats will carry it out,” Sproat said. “Originally, when we started this 29 years ago, we didn’t want to do the festival the weekend before Thanksgiving, but all the other weekends were booked with a Christmas festival somewhere in the vicinity. It worked out. The festival has grown even though we haven’t done much except provide the space for it. We have a 10-person committee and there’s not much turnover. We always hope for good weather. It was cold and rainy the last couple of years.”

Springboro often touts its historic downtown center, which may provide a Dickensian atmosphere for Christmas reveling.

“Springboro is very historic,” Sproat said. “It was a Quaker town, and many of the houses are of the typical Quaker architecture. They’re right on the street. They didn’t value front yards because those were considered ‘for show.’ The backyard they could use for horses and gardens. There’s also a lot of Underground Railroad history. Most of Main Street and one of the parallel streets are on the National Register of Historic Places.”

In addition to the parade, there will be four large tents where craftspeople will display their goods. All shops, including the museum, will be open. There will be a kids’ tent, choir singing, a theater group from Columbus, inflatables, horse-drawn wagon rides, a book signing by six local authors, and lots of food. Indeed, though Sproat said that people did some early Christmas shopping and kids always enjoy the act of walking down the center of the street, the grub is the life of the party.

“A lot of people come for the food,” she said. “I have a hard time deciding where to go. Local businesses do quite well during the festival, unless you’re selling food, because if you have a place half a mile up Main Street, people aren’t going to stop if they have downtown.”

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