By Jan Mercker
There’s nothing quite like the magic of watching a parade of horses and hounds trotting along Middleburg’s main street on a crisp December morning.
The annual Hunt and Hounds Review is part of the allure that has made Christmas In Middleburg a draw for visitors from around the region for more than 40 years. This year, organizers want to capture the joy and magic without the crazy crowds.
After cancelling the event last year because of COVID-19 concerns, organizers hope to bring it back in all its former glory—minus the crowds. The event’s new organizers, husband and wife team Michelle and Doug Myers, have been working with longtime organizer Jim Herbert to navigate the event’s return. The focus, Michelle Myers says, is preserving the event’s most beloved elements while keeping crowds smaller during this transition year.
“I think the community is incredibly excited,” Myers said. “We’re trying to be sensitive to our community first of all that have COVID concerns, to our shopkeepers and businesses and to the community at large. … We’re being strategic about that,” Myers said.
The Dec. 4 event features Breakfast with Santa at Middleburg Charter School, the famous Hunt and Hounds Review at 11 a.m., the annual craft fair at Middleburg Community Center and the beloved Christmas Parade at 2 p.m., followed by progressive food and drink tastings at restaurants throughout town from 3 to 6 p.m. Individual visits with Santa at the town’s Pink Box visitor center are out this year for safety reasons, but St. Nick will be making his usual appearance in the parade in the afternoon. Myers said all of the usual community organizations are back this year, and as usual, there will be animals galore. The hunt review and parade combined feature more than 700 animals, organizers say, with everything from llamas to corgis and of course lots of horses.
“We have a full lineup similar to 2019,” Myers said.
One of the main changes is an effort to control crowds using parking passes. Organizers put in place a three-tier parking system this year using three locations in and near the town. Pricier VIP spots at Salamander Resort and Lost Barrel Brewing are already sold out, but less expensive spots at Mickie Gordon Park and shuttle bus service are still available for $30 per car. Organizers have stressed that buying parking passes in advance is a must.
“This event will sell out and there will not be available tickets,” Myers said.
For Myers, bringing back the town’s signature event after the shutdowns of 2020 is a chance to take a step back and focus on welcoming visitors while still keeping a small-town feel.
“We really want the extended community that comes to visit our sweet little town to really understand the community involvement it takes,” Myers said. “The parade has gone on for many years, and we just want to have it continue in the exact same fashion so that it can create memories for other families. … We want to maintain that small town feel that remains accessible to all different types of people.”
She also stresses that the holiday season in one of Loudoun’s cutest towns isn’t just about a single day. Middleburg offers more low-key holiday events throughout the season.
“We all have our eyes on Christmas in Middleburg for that one day, but it’s important to remember that our little village has incredible events throughout the entire month of December, and we have events all year long,” Myers said.
A New Tradition at Morven Park
At Morven Park, the classic holiday traditions are back—tours of the estate’s mansion decorated for the holidays and the beloved carriage museum during the day. But this year, the stately mansion and grounds near Leesburg will be transformed into an illuminated walking experience. Morven Park was selected by a California-based events company as one of two new East Coast locations for its Holiday Road light show first launched at King Gillette Ranch in Southern California. The Loudoun show starts Friday, Nov. 26 and runs through Sunday, Jan. 2.
“Morven Park is being transformed into this magical winter wonderland. It is going to be spectacular. Everybody needs some twinkly lights and joy in their lives,” said Morven Park Executive Director Stacey Metcalfe.
Like the best holiday light shows, having plenty of natural plants and trees makes the experience richer, and the estate’s natural beauty is the perfect backdrop.
“Leveraging the nature and the beauty here at Morven Park with their installation truly is going to be immersive,” Metcalfe said.
The event also taps into visitors’ desire for outdoor entertainment with COVID still a factor in many families’ choices of holiday activities, with organizers limiting crowd size by selling tickets in staggered time slots.
“Coming out of COVID, everybody’s been cautiously optimistic about being able to get outside and get outdoors,” Metcalfe said. “They’re really thinking about this differently. … It’s moderated crowds throughout.”
Morven’s traditional holiday events are still happening during the day, offering visitors a classic old fashioned holiday experience in the daytime and a more contemporary experience after the sun sets.
“It marries well with what we’re already doing, so we’ll have daytime and nighttime [events],” Metcalfe said.
Holiday Road at Morven Park runs Friday, Nov. 26 to Sunday, Jan. 2 from 5 to 11 p.m. Check the calendar for blackout dates, including Christmas Day. For tickets and information, go to holidayroadusa.com/location-va. Tickets are $29.99 and up depending on day of the week and date. Time slots must be reserved in advance. Children 2 and under are free.
Christmas in Middleburg takes place Saturday, Dec. 4 in downtown Middleburg. The day begins at 8 a.m. with Breakfast with Santa at Middleburg Charter School. The Middleburg Hunt and Hounds Review is scheduled for 11 a.m., and the annual Christmas Parade takes place at 2 p.m. Parking at Mickie Gordon Park is $30 per car and includes shuttle bus transportation. For tickets and information, go to christmasinmiddleburg.org. For more information about holiday events in Middleburg throughout the season, go to visitmiddleburgva.com.
For more favorite holiday events, check the Loudoun Now calendar and getoutloudoun.com throughout the season.