Shopping, eating, fireworks

Stroll through downtown Asheville this Saturday, Dec. 19, at the Seasonal Sizzle, and enjoy leisurely holiday shopping that supports our vibrant mountain economy. Three farmers markets/arts-and-crafts bazaars offer unique holiday delights, homemade gifts and the finest seasonal produce, while downtown-area restaurants serve up delicious fare at discounted prices. In the evening, local caroling troupes caravan through the streets singing favorite holiday tunes as fireworks launch into the sky, courtesy of festival's primary sponsor, the Grove Park Inn.

Don't miss the final display of the Grove Park Inn-sponsored seasonal fireworks. Photo courtesy exploreasheville.com.

"This is the second year we've sponsored this event," says Deborah Potter, the Grove Park Inn's public relations manager. "It was an idea [offered] by Craig Madison [president and CEO of the Inn] in hopes of drumming up business for merchants in downtown Asheville [while] reaching out to the community and to local residents."

Begin the day perusing handmade crafts and winter produce, including beeswax candles, birdhouses, quilts and farm-fresh vegetables like winter squash, garlic and yams at the North Asheville Tailgate Market on the UNCA campus. Known for carrying seasonal delights like herb-and-fruit infused vinegars, artisan bread and savory goat cheese, the Tailgate Market promises to supply fresh ingredients for a delicious holiday feast with a local twist.

Make your way to the heart of downtown to the Asheville City Market, which has moved to Pack Square for the holidays. You can leaf through colorful knit ware, or examine delicately crafted woodwork and spiraling iron sculptures forged by local blacksmiths. The market/holiday bash features an array of local produce, decorative wreaths, holiday table arrangements, Christmas trees and live "healing and easy listening" music performed by local musician Rickie Castrillo. And be sure to sample the spicy mustard and sweet preserves presented by local artisans.

Just down the road on Biltmore Avenue, check out the seventh annual Holiday Bazaar at the French Broad Food Co-op, where local food, crafts, art and gifts converge. The bazaar boasts fresh seafood towed in from the Carolina coast, certified Appalachian grown meat, eggs, grits, cornmeal and sorghum syrup: All the right fixins for a Christmas meal, Southern style.

"These markets are great," says Charlie Jackson, executive director of the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project . "They are creative forums where artisans bring out their best for the holiday season. These markets connect us to where our food comes from, to the people that make it and to the landscape. They support the local economy and provide security, knowing that we can produce this food right here in North Carolina. And, they offer authentic and meaningful products that people value," continues Jackson, encouraging the community to "get out and celebrate the season" while appreciating and supporting local farmers and artists.

Area restaurants will also be participating in the sizzling festivities, offering savory dishes and drinks especially for the event. Anthony Cerrato, vice president of Asheville Independent Restaurant Association, says the Sizzle strives to promote the concept of dining locally by offering appetizers, meals and drinks at special prices. For example, Bouchon French Bistro will serve a fried calamari appetizer for half the usual price. "AIR has also done a lot with ASAP to build a bridge between farms, farmers and local restaurants," Cerrato says, describing an effort to push for a greater connection between what is grown in local soil and what appears on the menu at area eateries.

Saturday's festivities culminate with a firework display: a dancing show of lights choreographed to Christmas music. Shot from the Public Works Building, fireworks will ight up the sky for more than 20 minutes, starting at 7 p.m. Afterwards, the holiday celebration continues at the Elaine's Dueling Piano Bar at the Grove Park Inn, where specialty drinks will be offered throughout the evening.

Saturday, Dec. 19 Sizzling Schedule:

North Asheville Tailgate Market: 8 a.m. to noon at UNCA
Asheville City Market Holiday Bash: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Pack Square
French Broad Food Coop Holiday Bazaar: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the French Broad Coop parking lot
Seasonal Sizzle Fireworks start at 7 p.m.
Seasonal Sizzle After Party: 8 pm. to 1 a.m. at Elaine's Piano Bar. No cover.

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About Aiyanna Sezak-Blatt
Aiyanna grew up on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. She was educated at The Cambridge School of Weston, Sarah Lawrence College, and Oxford University. Aiyanna lives in Asheville, North Carolina where she proudly works for Mountain Xpress, the city’s independent local newspaper.

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