Fort Smith area groups carry on Christmas traditions

event preview by Brittany Ransom

The holiday season in the Fort Smith area includes a special ceremony at the National Cemetery, candles, Nutcrackers, Carols and a pajama party on the Polar Bear Express.

• Christmas Honors
The Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce will once again lead the community in decorating the more than 14,000 gravesites at the National Cemetery for the fifth annual Christmas Honors event.

Festivities will begin on Friday (Dec. 13), as hundreds of volunteers gather at the Fort Smith Convention Center to assemble the wreaths. The wreath assembly workshop will begin at 8 a.m. Donations of non-perishable food items will be accepted during the workshop, with all contributions being delivered to Camp Hope for Heroes, which assists homeless and transitioning veterans.

On Saturday (Dec. 14), the official Christmas Honors event will take place as every grave in the Fort Smith National Cemetery is adorned with a wreath. The Service Branch Salute will take place at 9:30 a.m., followed by the family distribution at 9:45 a.m. The public distribution will start at 10:15 a.m., with volunteers completing the decoration process. Children's choirs from Immaculate Conception, St. Boniface, and Christ the King Churches will also perform prior to the ceremony. The formal program will begin at 11 a.m.

On Monday (Dec. 16), a special candlelight vigil will be held at the National Cemetery from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Members of the Fort Smith Chorale will perform. Representatives from the Fort Smith Fire and Police Departments will also be in attendance.

The wreaths will remain on the graves through January 4, when they will be collected and packed for the next year. For more information, contact the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce at 783-3111.

• The Nutcracker
Western Arkansas Ballet will present the 28th annual production of "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 14-15. The festivities will begin with a "Sugarplum Fairy Tea," where guests will have the chance to dine with the Sugarplum Fairy and have their picture taken with her.

The tea will be held at the Fort Smith Convention Center  in Rooms  4, 5, and 6, starting at 11 a.m.

Saturday will be opening night for "The Nutcracker," with the show beginning at 7:30 p.m. The Sunday performance will start at 2:30 p.m. Both will be held at the  Arkansas Best Performing Arts Center in Fort Smith.

In addition to the 120 participating local dancers, this year's performance will feature guests artists Zeek Wright as the Nutcracker Prince, Antoinette Klimek as the Sugar Plum, and Arion Tanabe dancing the part of the Cavalier.

Tickets range from $20-$25. Student tickets are available for $15, with the presentation of a valid student ID. Tickets can be purchased online, or by calling 785-0152.

• Jingle Ball 2013 Benefiting Toys for Tots

The second annual Jingle Bell Ball benefitting the Fort Smith Area Toys for Tots program will be held on Dec. 14 at the Choctaw Casino CenterStage Event Center in Pocola. The ball is a "21-and-older, dress-to-impress event" and will be packed full of food, games, prizes and dancing.

The evening will get underway at 8 p.m. Entertainment will be provided by Naturally Improvable, a local comedy troupe performing improv and stand-up comedy, and the gypsy swing band, Cutthroat Trout. Guests can choose to dine at the Jingle Bell Buffet for only $10 or opt for the VIP package, which includes premier seating, drink tickets and an appetizer ball for $45. VIP tickets are limited.

All toys and proceeds from sales will provide gifts for Toys for Tots. Admission to the event is free, with the donation of an unwrapped toy and a ticket. Tickets are available at Sykes, Choctaw Casino Players Club or any area Arvest Bank location. For more information, call 484-7285.

• Carols by Candlelight Christmas Concert

The Fort Smith Chorale will present its annual Carols by Candlelight Christmas concert, "Here We Come A-Caroling" on Dec. 16. The concert will be held at Fort Smith's First United Methodist Church, located at 200 North 15th, beginning at 7:30 p.m.

This year's program will include "Hodie Christus Natus Est" (Now today, Christ is Born) by Palestrina, as well as "Sing We Now of Christmas" arranged by Fred Prentice. The chorale will also perform several Christmas classics, including "I Saw three Ships," "Somerset Wassail," "Silent Night," and "Carol of the Bells."

Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online. Students will be admitted free of charge. For more information, call 479-242-SING.

• RAM hosts Winslow Homer presentation
Take a break from the Christmas festivities and head over to the Fort Smith Regional Art Museum to learn about the organization's featured artist, Winslow Homer. RAM will host guest lecturer Dr. Rinne from the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith on Dec. 19 for a special presentation on Homer and his world-famous print collection.

The lecture is in conjunction with RAM's ongoing exhibition, "Winslow Homer and the American Pictorial Press," which will be on display through Jan. 5. The exhibition "highlights the emerging celebrity of Winslow Homer (1836-1910) through engraved images produced for the American pictorial press." Rinne's presentation will begin at 6 p.m. at the museum.


Admission to the lecture is free. For more information, call RAM at 784-2787

• Polar Bear Express Party
Celebrate the season with your family at the Van Buren Public Library's Polar Bear Express party on Dec. 20. Families are invited to come dressed in their pajamas and to pack their pillows and blankets for a viewing of the Christmas classic.

The party will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Van Buren Public Library, located at 1409 Main St. A special craft time will take place before the movie. Hot chocolate and snacks will also be served.

Admission to the party is free and children of all ages are welcome. For more information, call 479-474-6045.

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