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OPINION: Virginia Highlands Holiday Market could brighten a dull season at Martha Washington

OPINION: Virginia Highlands Holiday Market could brighten a dull season at Martha Washington

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As with many popular annual events, Abingdon’s Virginia Highlands Festival fell victim to the coronavirus this past summer, canceled in the interests of public health.

But all is not lost for 2020, as the festival plans to return to the Martha Washington Inn for a special “Holiday Market at The Martha” running each weekend between now and Dec. 20, the festival has announced.

This special holiday craft market — with special COVID-19 precautions in place — will be held each Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., beginning this weekend.

Organizers say the holiday craft market will be used to help raise money so the regular Virginia Highlands Festival can return in summer 2021 — presuming the virus will be under control by then.

This also marks the return of the Highlands Festival to the grounds of the Martha Washington Inn, where it was begun in 1949.

Theater founder Robert Porterfield started the festival “to preserve and celebrate the cultural heritage of this area,” according to the festival’s website (vahighlandsfestival.com), and “over the past seven decades, [it] has grown in scope to represent all of Southwest Virginia.”

“Now it not only preserves the arts, crafts, and skills that developed in this region, but it also imports talented artists and performers from around the world for creative exchange and the enjoyment of area residents and visitors,” the website notes.

This new event at the Martha Washington Inn, 150 W. Main St., brings back some of the festival tradition to where it began — and which has not been used as a festival site for more than 10 years.

It also gives us hope that perhaps life can begin returning to normal after months of disruptions caused by the pandemic.

Festival Director Becky Brett said the holiday market will help keep the festival alive after its cancellation this past summer deprived the organization of revenue that would be needed to get the 2021 festival going.

“As with all creative endeavors, this one was born out of necessity,” Brett said in a recent story about the holiday market by Joe Tennis in the Bristol Herald Courier.

The weather should be a bit different from that of the summer festival, though, Brett noted.

“Bundle up,” she said. “That’s part of the experience — bundling up together, grabbing a hot cocoa and walking around the booths.”

This market also is a new venture for the hotel, which suffered its own losses during the spring’s COVID-19 shutdown.

“We are excited to be hosting a brand-new holiday craft market this season,” said Kimberly Kelly, manager of guest services at the inn.

She said Santa Claus will be at the market on Dec. 5, along with “two beautiful Clydesdale horses [that] will be spending the day with us,” courtesy of the Abingdon Kiwanis Club.

Other special events will include live music on Saturdays at The Martha’s gazebo and a wine tasting from 2-5 p.m. Dec. 5, the newspaper said. There also will be a collection of holiday inflatables visitors can see around the property.

Brett said the holiday market will feature artists representing ’Round the Mountain and the Holston Mountain Artisans, along with raku pottery artist Mark Poole each week.

Also participating will be Mountain Mama Organics and Mudd Pottery, “which features mugs bearing faces covered with masks to comically pay homage to the challenging scene of 2020,” the story said.

There will be requirements for protection from the coronavirus, of course. Vendors and shoppers will be required to wear masks, and vendor tents will be spaced out on the grounds of the inn to allow for necessary social distancing, the organizers said.

Other local holiday events will include a “reverse” Christmas Parade in Abingdon on Dec. 5, live holiday productions by the Barter at the Moonlite Drive-In and a farmers’ market at the Abingdon Market Pavilion. (See a full list of events at VisitAbingdonVirginia.com/Christmas.)

Allowing these events to proceed just might help redeem some value from our so-far crazy year 2020.

But remember to stay safe, everyone.

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