It may be the second week in November but in South Mississippi this week, people lined up to get into Christmas City at the Coast Convention Center, snapped selfies amid the Christmas decor going up at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino and bought the Biloxi Main Street's 2015 Christmas ornament the day the Sacred Heart Center decoration was released.
While most people were asleep, crews at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino hoisted oversized Christmas ornaments into place in the atrium with a 95-foot lift. They changed the lights while they were up there, said Teresa Malone, who oversees the horticulture team's holiday transformation at the casino. Then they worked through the week to create a Biloxi winter wonderland with 200 trees, many flocked with snow, and 4,500 poinsettias, dusted with glitter, stretching along the shopping promenade.
"We change them out every two weeks," Malone said of the mostly red poinsettias. "All of them." Those removed are donated to schools and retirement homes and offered to employees at a reduced price.
New this year are Christmas band members behind the front desk and a glittering chandelier and decorations surrounding a ruby red Lexus that is part of a Beau Rivage Casino promotion.
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"Everybody's excited. They're taking pictures," said James Pendergrass, horticulture manager, whose staff puts up the decorations early because many families take their annual Christmas photo with the Beau Rivage decorations as the background.
The Beau Rivage will present Santa & Friends on Ice, photos with Santa and other holiday events this season and the decor will stay in place until the new year.
As the finishing touches were completed at the Beau Rivage on Friday, across Biloxi, Christmas City opened at the Coast Coliseum and Convention Center. This is the 32nd year for the event and the first time it expanded to three days.
The idea was to ease out the crowd on Saturday, said Ron Myers, who produces the show that generally draws about 12,000 people. It continues Saturday and Sunday. "With the extra day this year we expect at least 15,000."
The aroma of fresh fudge and luxury soaps, the sounds of Christmas music and local choirs, and Santa in his village greet people as they enter the event.
Some dress in holiday decor. "I always put them in a cute little Santa outfit," said Maria Dacus of Gulfport, whose daughters Elizabeth and Angela wore red and green dresses. Although she had on a Grinch shirt, she had holiday spirit. "Our bag is full of Christmas stockings already," she said.
Winn-Dixie staff members were giving out samples of apple and cranberry walnut pie, holiday flavors of coffee and other treats.
"They stand here and eat it," Keith Anderson, store director of the Winn-Dixie on Pass Road in Biloxi, said of the apple pie tasters. They they return to take home their favorite pie.
Vendors come from all over, and some from well out of town combine Christmas City with their appearance at the Peter Anderson Festival in Ocean Springs, which was last weekend. The result is a huge variety of gifts, from sparkly jewelry to practical holiday napkins. People can buy a bed, play with toys and get their jewelry cleaned and their ornaments personalized while they shop.
"I love the novelty of the new things," Betty Foster of Bay Saint Louis said. "I find this is so well organized," she said of the show that began outdoors at Rice Pavilion in Gulfport in 1983 with about 35 booths. Nan Lovett, manning her Jewanarco booth, said she's been a vendor for all but two years. She was an English teacher in Gulfport for 32 years and now sees her students and their parents, "You see everyone here," she said.
The show quickly outgrew its outdoor venue and Myers moved it to the Coast Convention Center, where about 300 booths, a food court, Santa village and stage now fill the entire floor.
Myers, who produces Christian concerts and other events during the year, said he set the date for the annual show by calling all the area banks and asking when they send out Christmas club checks. They told him it is the first week in November and he set the date for Christmas City. "It's always been the second week of November," he said, and again this year it's a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 event.
Another tradition in Biloxi is the annual release of the Biloxi Main Street Christmas ornament. The 19th in the series, released Tuesday, is the Sacred Heart Center, which was dedicated in 1933 and converted into a parish center in 2005.
The ornament is $20. Ornaments from most of the previous years are available for $25 at the Bond-Grant House, 932 Howard Ave., Biloxi and the Biloxi Visitor Center.