Remembering a Vision: The First Carlinville Christmas Market
By Jillian Stambaugh
Seventeen years ago, a woman was reading a Traditional Home magazine and happened to glance over an article about the German traditions of Christmas. She spread the idea to others in her community. Soon enough, she had hundreds of volunteers to make her vision come true. The woman was Danley Vlasich, and her vision -- the Carlinville Christmas Market.
“The magazine had a little article about a Christmas market,” said Vlasich. “I thought, ‘Hmm…Carlinville…Christmas market…Carlinville Christmas Market. That sounds like a good idea!” She first presented her idea to the Chamber of Commerce, which was looking for a way to promote Christmas in the Carlinville area. “The community had a great reaction. Everyone thought it would be so much fun. The first person I contacted was John Fettig, head of Carlinville Economic Development at the time,” Vlasich said. “I proposed that it would be a great way to help out the town’s economy -- we said ‘Let’s do it.’
Harry Starr IV, the president of the Jr. Chamber of Commerce, helped us get started as well. He managed funds and wrote letters while his offices helped do the secretarial work for the Market.” “Danley was very enthusiastic,” Starr said as he thought back to that time. “She told us that she was trying to create an old-fashioned European Christmas Market here in Carlinville.” Vlasich deeply expressed how the community as a whole gave an abundance of help in making the first Christmas Market go off without a hitch. “There were so many volunteers! Teachers, townspeople, bands, churches, choirs -- they all made it so much fun and worth all the effort.”
At the time, the Carlinville area was hurting for business. “There were actually a few empty buildings located around the square. My vision was to fill them with crafters and put some tents on the corner streets. We had so many exhibitors interested in coming to Carlinville the first year that we even put some on the sidewalks,” Vlasich said. “Lots of customers came, both townspeople and visitors from other communities.” Danley’s idea included many exciting activities that would draw in crowds while promoting economic development in the community. “That first year we had a play, parade, ice palace, and many things for the youngsters. The adults shopped at the stores and the children played and participated in the activities. It was a great time for all.”
The first Christmas Market was a time full of pleasant surprises and happy memories for its creator. “One surprise that has stuck in my mind all these years was a Blackburn College student, Jim Rawlins. He came down to the square on his own, dressed as a town crier,” said Vlasich with a memorable tone. “Jim dressed in a stovetop hat and a long Christmas scarf, walking around ringing his bell and shaking hands with a constant smile on his face. He was so welcoming to all the visitors and was there every day, all day long during the Market. It was something I hadn’t thought of, and it added so much.” Vlasich herself played a major role in not only creating the Christmas Market but in running it. “I directed the play that year: ‘The Mouse Who Didn’t Believe in Santa,’” recalls Vlasich. “I’ll never forget when the villainous black cat came out dressed as a pirate. A little boy in the audience yelled, ‘Oh no!’ I’ll remember that forever. It was so cute.”
Upon hearing that the Christmas Market was now under the direction of The Christmas Market Foundation, separate from the Chamber, Vlasich said, “I think it’s great; that should keep it going forever. Now it will be a permanent fixture in Carlinville -- it already is, but this move will assure that it will last.” For someone who hasn’t lived in the area for 14 years and currently resides in Stuart, Florida, Vlasich is still full of support. “My husband’s death right after the first Christmas Market led to me moving, and I was unable to see any of the other Markets. I know it has endured, though. To know that my vision has continued throughout the years is just…wonderful. It makes Christmas special to know it is still going on. It’s just what I had hoped.” “Will I ever come see another Carlinville Christmas Market?” said Vlasich. “It would be nice to -- it’s a lovely thought. A nice dream.”