WILSON – “A Very Country Christmas” is planned for various venues throughout the Village of Wilson starting at 2:30 p.m. today, offering residents of all ages a chance to participate in free activities sure to inspire the holiday spirit.

The celebration opens with a Christmas Cantata at Exley United Methodist Church. This will be followed by a host of activities planned for 3 to 6 p.m., which include free professional portraits with Santa and Mrs. Claus at the Wilson House; face-painting, a coloring contest and food pantry drop-off at Wilson First Baptist Church; and holiday crafts at the Wilson Free Library.

In addition, hot cider will be served at the Wilson Fire Hall; bell-playing and Christmas bingo will be hosted by St. Paul’s Lutheran Church; a petting zoo, donkey and tractor rides are planned for St. Brendan on the Lake Catholic Church; folks may decorate cookies and enjoy other refreshments at St. John’s Episcopal Church; and a pie-baking contest will be held at the Wilson Lakeside IGA.

Everyone is asked to gather to sing Christmas carols at 5:55 p.m., enjoy a pie-eating contest at 6:10 p.m. and attend a tree-lighting ceremony at 6:20 p.m. – all near the village’s electronic message board at Lake and Young streets.

A new feature in this second year of the festival is the “giving tree,” whereby anyone bringing a wrapped Christmas present – limit of $10 expense and labeled “boy” or “girl” – will be able to swap and take one home. This will take place at Santa’s Workshop, at the Wilson House. Any extra gifts will be donated to needy families in the area.

Pastor Stephen Hay of Wilson First Baptist Church organized the event with Kathy O’Keefe.

“We wanted to do something fun for the community last year and it turned out to be probably our most successful event,” Hay said. “I think it’s because it’s family-friendly and it’s for people of all ages. People this past summer were even asking me if we were going to have it again.

“We are asking people to register to let us know that they’re coming, just so we can gauge the number of people to prepare for,” Hay said. Participants may register at – which enters their names into a drawing to choose who gets to light the Christmas tree.

Hay also urged residents to help stock Wilson’s new food pantry at St. Brendan’s.