When the holidays come to western Nevada County, residents have two prominent options for festive street affairs each week: Grass Valley’s Cornish Christmas and Nevada City’s Victorian Christmas.
The two events have no shortage of similarities and their final occurrences of the year are Friday and Sunday in Grass Valley and Nevada City, respectively.
Both shut down the main thoroughfares in each town’s historic downtown district, leaving the streets to be filled with merchant booths selling everything from kettle corn to art and crafts. Businesses keep their doors open later than normal for these events and residents and visitors alike pour into these festivities, weather permitting.
In addition to Victorian Christmas allowing leashed dogs, one of the most notable differences between the two Christmas markets is that Nevada City permits alcoholic beverages in its streets during such special events.
“That is one thing that does bring people here,” said Cathy Whittlesey, the Nevada City Chamber of Commerce’s executive director. “I think that people enjoy it, but they aren’t doing it to get drunk. They just do it to enjoy themselves.”
Up until 1996, drinking in public was permitted on Nevada City streets. However, an ordinance was enacted that year that prohibited the open consumption at special events such as the Fourth of July and Constitution Day parades, with exemptions to the ordinance also achievable through a city council resolution, according city staff.
Grass Valley, on the other hand, does not allow drinking at the downtown festival.
“We think of ours as a family-focused event,” said Julia Jordan, executive director of the Grass Valley Downtown Association, which coordinates Cornish Christmas.
“It’s something we’ve never considered. … We focus on what we do have, not what we don’t,” Jordan said, pointing to the Cornish Christmas’ Santa’s Workshop, where Santa Claus is available for pictures in an area that offers free kids activities, letters to Santa, face-painting and more, as well as free gift wrapping for your downtown purchases with the showing of a receipt.
“This event is not intended for just adults,” said Capt. Rex Marks of the Grass Valley Police Department. “We don’t want the potential for irresponsible consumption of alcohol or it getting into the hands of minors.”
For Nevada City, the option to imbibe has seldom caused problems, Whittlesey said.
“You don’t see a lot of people walking around with liquor in their hands,” said Nevada City Police Chief Jim Wickham. “There haven’t been any problems this year.”
“Of course, there will be someone who abuses it,” Whittlesey said, “but I don’t think there has been any problems in our events. People have to be responsible for themselves and there is zero tolerance for any activity that is illegal.”
While both festivals feature plenty of folks dressed in historic attire, there are other differences.
Cornish Christmas is in its 45th year of celebration and features between 76 and 93 venders per night, Jordan said. Victorian Christmas is a decade younger and reportedly features slightly more venders, Whittlesey said.
“We have a whole different crowd in Nevada City than they do in Grass Valley,” Wickham said.
Approximately three-fourths of readers who responded to an unscientific poll on The Union’s website indicated a preference of Victorian Christmas over Cornish Christmas, as of press time Wednesday.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4236.