Tavelers have been visiting Natchitoches (pronounced NACK-a-tish) since 1714, when adventurer Louis Juchereau de St. Denis created a trading post and the first European settlement on the banks of Cane River Lake (and named the town after a local Indian tribe). And we are certainly not alone: People from across the Southeast come here throughout December when the quaint downtown is decked in garland, cloaked in over 300,000 twinkling lights, and transformed into a magical setting for its annual Festival of Lights. The high point of the season is a daylong Christmas festival held on the first Saturday of December, with music, meat pie vendors, a rousing parade, and a spectacular fireworks show over Cane River Lake.
Steel Magnolias, was set in Natchitoches. The film's tough-as-nails, wisecracking Southern women put the town in the national spotlight. Writer and Natchitoches native Robert Harling modeled the characters after real women he grew up with, and he understands as well as anyone what makes the Natchitoches Christmas Festival so unique.
"No one knows how to throw a party better than Louisianans," Harling says. "The festival has been so magical throughout the years, and it remains that way. It's a beautiful town and a beautiful way to celebrate it." For locals, the celebration is more or less a giant block party. "You know you're going to see everyone there," he says, laughing. "The food is fantastic, the fireworks are world-class, and there's a wonderful chill in the air. It's a magical moment when the lights are turned on and the oldest town in the Louisiana Purchase is illuminated."