It’s not easy to surpass the allure and success of the previous 89 Natchitoches Christmas Festivals, but the city, university and all of the other individuals and entities involved in this year’s 90th anniversary festival activities outdid themselves. Maybe it was the new look and feel created by the multi-million dollar renovation of the downtown riverbank or one of the most spectacular Christmas Galas ever at Northwestern or the governor’s visit or the perfect weather, but this Christmas Festival was special. Festival events attracted one of the largest crowds in years for the entertaining parade, the breathtaking fireworks show and the music and other activities on the riverbank with the new, spacious state-of-the-art stage and the amphitheater seating area. Even with new holiday celebrations popping up all across North Louisiana and East Texas and the expansion of other established Christmas season events in the area, Natchitoches clearly remains the crown jewel of the festival season in this part of the world. This year’s event reflected the numerous honors the community has received for the festival. Honors like being one of the Top 100 Events in North America, a Top 20 event in December in the southeast region and one of the nation’s Top Three Holiday Light shows along with the Rockefeller Center and Disneyworld. In addition to the extensive recognition the city has received for the festival itself, Natchitoches has been ranked among the 50 Most Beautiful Small Towns in America, the Best Southern Small Town and one of the nation’s most charming small towns for the holidays. The city lived up to and even enhanced its reputation during this year’s festival, which took on a different flavor with the ultramodern stage and entertainment venue and amphitheater seating area that was set against the backdrop of an historic old town that continues to cherish and preserve its 300-year heritage. Natchitoches welcomes thousands of visitors not just for the festival itself on the first Saturday of December but for other weekends from mid-November into January, and those celebrations have also been extraordinary this year. The first one featured music legend Joe Stampley and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer James Burton who performed to help “Turn on the Holidays” for the Festival of Lights. That provided momentum for this exceptional holiday season in Natchitoches. Among the thousands here for festival weekend and the NSU Christmas Gala were Gov. John Bel Edwards, legislators, statewide elected officials, the heads of state agencies and others who were just blown away by the event. Their favorable impression and fond memories of time spent here can only benefit the city and university.