When it comes to arts, entertainment and family-friendly fun, Meridian has a lot to offer to travelers in every season of the year. But when winter rolls around, this hospitable, high-energy city turns into “Merry Meridian” for the holidays.
It’s a time when the city literally shines. The annual Christmas parade and tree-lighting ceremony, one of the largest nighttime events of its kind in the region, kicks off the holiday festivities.
The Christmas light displays continue at Lazy Acres Farm, 20 miles outside of Meridian, where visitors can enjoy a unique drive-through light display, cut down their own Christmas tree and see the largest hand-painted nativity scene in Mississippi.
The glittering holiday cheer continues with the annual Trees of Christmas at Merrehope Mansion, which features more than 25 uniquely decorated trees and displays created by area organizations and individuals. Merrehope is a sight to see on any visit to Meridian but is especially magnificent when decorated for Christmas. This Greek Revival mansion, one of the few buildings spared by General Sherman during the Civil War’s Battle of Meridian, and the neighboring F.W. Williams House are open for the Trees of Christmas exhibit from Thanksgiving week through December. Guided tours offer visitors a glimpse into the history of the homes, the stories behind the individual trees and the joy of the season.
Merrehope isn’t the only local museum that brings the Christmas magic, though. The Mississippi Industrial Heritage Museum turns into Santa’s Christmas Factory for two weekends in December, as well. The museum is located at Meridian’s historic Soule Steam Feed Works, the site of America’s last intact steam engine factory, which was in use until the 1990s. Those who visit during Merry Meridian not only get a sense of how things were made at the turn of the 20th century, they also get to see it decorated at its holiday best, complete with a visit from Santa, a mini-train ride, thousands of lights and toys, and even some snow flurries for this family-friendly event.
Winter in Meridian offers much more beyond holiday-specific festivities. For example, a large public arts display called “Around Town Carousels Abound” features 60 brightly painted carousel horses created by local artists and placed in locations across the city.
“It’s a proud display inspired by a Meridian civic treasure,” says Dede Mogollon, the executive director of Visit Meridian Tourism. “The Dentzel Carousel features hand-carved wooden animals made by German craftsmen. It was part of the 1904 World’s Fair and the city bought it in 1909 for $2,000.”
Mogollon explains the carousel and the structure the city built to house it are both national and Mississippi landmarks. The carousel has retained its original horses and chariots and much of its original oil-painting scenery. In the winter, children and adults can enjoy a ride for 50 cents every Saturday and a tour of the carousel and the shelter building for $1.
The Dentzel Carousel is just one example of the arts and entertainment experiences Meridian offers visitors and locals alike. The Riley Center on Meridian’s downtown campus of Mississippi State University brings a variety of concerts, shows and other events to town. “The Riley Center is a beautifully restored grand opera house that dates back to 1897,” Mogollon says. “It is a true gem of a building that has revitalized our downtown area and is a venue that offers top-quality entertainment.”
Also, downtown is the new Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience, where visitors are immersed in the lives of the state’s creative geniuses, from legends like Elvis and Oprah to lesser-known talents like folk artist Theora Hamblett, dancer and choreographer Kathy Thibodeaux and the members of the Mississippi Mass Choir.
“Through interactive exhibits, state-of-the-art technology, historical photos and lots of music, the museum makes each of its featured artists real and leaves the visitor with an appreciation of the rich creative history of the state,” Mogollon says.
That history also comes alive in the many music festivals held each year in Meridian, the city locals say has Mississippi’s oldest live-music scene.
“Meridian was a railroad hub after the Civil War and the state’s largest city until 1930,” Mogollon says. “The railroad influenced the expansion of the music scene in Meridian because musicians who were traveling to and from New Orleans would stop and pick up gigs here, making Meridian a regional music hub.”
That influence continues today with a strong local music scene that can launch the careers of up-and-coming performers, Mogollon explains.
“Visitors to Meridan not only enjoy all the arts, entertainment and family fun we offer, but they never know when they might just see the next music star.”
For more information on Meridian events, visit visitmeridian.com.