Christmas lights, holiday goodies, and a hometown shopping experience are on tap when Christmas in Olde Ballinger gets underway Saturday. And, even Santa Claus will be on hand during this annual Christmas event which has become a holiday tradition for many area residents.

Christmas lights, holiday goodies, and a hometown shopping experience are on tap when Christmas in Olde Ballinger gets underway Saturday. And, even Santa Claus will be on hand during this annual Christmas event which has become a holiday tradition for many area residents.

"If you want to skip the long lines at the malls, we want you to come here and shop," said Tammy Virden, president of the Ballinger Chamber of Commerce, which is sponsoring the event along with the Ballinger Merchants Association. "We have people from Abilene to San Angelo who come and shop, plus we catch some who are just traveling through and decide to stop."

This year, merchants throughout the city are banding together to make Ballinger sparkle like never before. As with the fall Minion project, the Ballinger Chamber is encouraging everyone to get creative for a "merry and bright Christmas."   Many of the merchants are  using the "Star Shower" lights to decorate, plus, the Chamber of Commerce board approved the purchase of new twinkle lights for the 36 trees along Hutchings.   "We want to light up Ballinger," Virden said. Christmas in Olde Ballinger activities kick off at 10 a.m. when  visitors can start shopping. The Christmas Parade gets rolling at 11 a.m. Activities will be ongoing all day, with special guests like Santa himself strolling up and down Hutchins Avenue. Plus, three little beauties will be crowned Little Miss Merry Christmas in three age group categories at 4 p.m.   Nationally, the day after Thanksgiving is called Black Friday, but in Ballinger, the annual event falls on Small Business Saturday when shoppers can get jump on Christmas shopping and enjoy a unique shopping experience. Christmas in Olde Ballinger also coincides with the Sidewalk Showcase which will be on going all day as well. Merchants from all over the area will have booths along Hutchings Avenue offering everything from home décor and furniture to jewelry, crafts and gourmet food items.   "This year, a lot of credit cards are giving credit if shoppers spend their money in a small town retail business," said Rodney Nichols, assistant manager of Higginbotham's in Ballinger.   Local merchants and community members have been busy for weeks decorating shop windows and preparing for the biggest shopping day of the year in Ballinger. And Ballinger merchants are ready, having stocked the shelves   "Christmas in Olde Ballinger is more than a local event, its tradition," said Amanda Collom, owner of Brady Bunch Boutique. "It brings many Ballinger Ex's and many others from surrounding towns into ours. It allows local merchants and citizens to show off what Ballinger has to offer and the pride we have in our community."
  The trees along Hutchings Avenue have been wrapped with twinkling lights and the Runnels County Courthouse was officially lit up Tuesday during the Moonlight Madness sale to kick off the holiday season.   But if you missed the Moonlight Madness sale Tuesday and are looking for a respite from "Black Friday," the unique shops and vendors in Ballinger will be offering one of a kind items like clothing, jewelry, home décor and furniture. More than 30 vendors will be lining the streets with everything from handmade jewelry, scarves, jams, jellies, baked goods, re-purposed furniture clothes, metal art and wooden signs, crosses and home décor and there will be smattering of local artisans and vintage merchandise.   "It is a big variety (of vendors) this year," said Carolyn Slaughter of the Ballinger Merchants Association, which sponsors the event with the Ballinger Chamber of Commerce. Local merchants have been decorating their shop windows with holiday sparkle for the past several weeks a tradition in downtown Ballinger.   "My windows are my Christmas card to everyone," said Bob-O Wright, manager of Higginbotham's, who has decorated with nostaligia, a nativity scene, the three kings and Santa in his sleigh in his windows. "It is an old fashioned fun family time of the year."    "I look forward to people coming in to visit and check out how I decorated Brady Bunch Boutique for the Christmas season," Collom said. "One of my favorite things is when old friends and sometimes family run into each other in the boutique. Christmas in Olde Ballinger is an opportunity to remember fond memories and to make new ones."   Slaughter said the shops in Ballinger have a great variety of merchandise. "Ballinger really has some very nice retail business, we have furniture, antiques and at Curiosities we say we have everything from A to Z," Slaughter said.