It’s a bit early to begin discussing Christmas activities around Cleburne but one 37-year-old local holiday tradition will not return this December.
Members of Save Old Cleburne on Monday voted to cancel this year’s Candlewalk Tour of Homes, and the event may be gone for good.
Traditionally, Candlewalk showcased historic Cleburne homes and businesses festively decorated for the holidays.
SOC President Lynn Buker called the decision heartbreaking, but said members saw no other option.
Icy weather forced organizers to delay last December’s Candlewalk a week, which also forced the owner of one of the four homes to be showcased to drop out of the tour.
Rescheduling certainly didn’t help, Buker said, but added that the event, billed as the oldest home tour in the area, has gone south in recent years.
“We only sold 165 tickets this year,” Buker said. “So we wound up spending about three times as much to put it on as we ended up taking in. And that’s the thing. We used to sell 1,600 tickets or more, but in recent years those sales have declined to 800, 600. The year before the one we just had we only sold 400 tickets.”
Dwindling attendance coupled with the effort necessary to stage Candlewalk and lack of participation in recent years worked against the event’s continuation, Buker said.
“We’re really bummed to have to do this,” Buker said. “But it’s to the point where we’ve had several people who signed on to show their homes back out the last several years. It’s also been getting harder and harder to get homeowners to sign on. Not counting the one we just had, we’ve only had about six houses the last few years.
“And you have to consider we were the first in the area to do the Christmas homes but since then we’ve got a lot more competition from Fort Worth and other towns doing them.”
SOC member Wilma Reed called the decision to cancel Candlewalk “an extremely regrettable action” the members felt compelled to take.
“It’s a sad thing,” Reed said. “Through the years we had more people coming in from out of town to see the houses. But it’s become so hard to get people to show their houses anymore and we used to have a lot more houses on the tours.
“Now people look at Granbury and they have eight houses and Waxahachie has 10 or whatever then they call and find out Cleburne has four and, well, that’s not very inviting.”
The amount of work involved is massive, Buker said, and homeowners on the tour often begin planning in August.
“In recent years we’d start off good,” Buker said. “But then as it gets closer and closer they realize the amount of work involved and some drop out. It also involves finding a huge amount of volunteers on our part that are needed to do this every year.”
Reed called the cancellation, at least for this year, sadly unavoidable, but also called Candlewalk a tradition she will dearly miss.
“My home has been on it eight times and I found it absolutely one of the most enjoyable events of my life,” Reed said. “I enjoyed it. The people coming through the homes enjoyed it.
“But it’s just getting more and more difficult to get people on board. With my experiences I’ve never had one item in my home touched, damaged or stolen, but I can also understand why people are worried about those things and not wanting people coming through their homes.”
The loss of a longtime Cleburne Christmas tradition also deprives SOC of their main fundraising effort.
“We’re working on how to replace Candlewalk,” Buker said. “The idea right now is several small fundraisers through the year. We also definitely don’t want to not do anything for Christmas. We just haven’t determined what that will be yet.”
Possible ideas include a SOC presence at Springfest and Pat Cleburne Days, Buker said. Other projects are in the works, she said, both to promote SOC and carry out its mission of preservation and heritage.
Reed said it’s a shame to see Candlewalk potentially disappearing just as the Cleburne prepares to celebrate the opening of the Chisholm Trail Parkway later this year. Should predictions of population growth in wake of the Chisholm Trail’s opening prove out in the years to come, Reed said Candlewalk would certainly have been one of the local traditions to benefit from that.
“The unfortunate part of it is, something like this is usually harder to regain than to continue,” Reed said of Candlewalk’s chances of returning.
Whether Candlewalk returns in the future depends on the level of community support and response, Buker said.
“This was hard,” Buker said. “We love Candlewalk and absolutely hated to have to walk away from it. We want to do it again, but it’s going to take support and interest.”
SOC members said they would love nothing more than to hear an outcry from the community calling for Candlewalk’s reinstatement.
Cleburne Mayor Scott Cain said he also hopes to see renewed interest in and the eventual return of Candlewalk.
“I hate to see it canceled,” Cain said. “Candlewalk has been a great program celebrating not only Christmas, but also Cleburne’s heritage and history and it’s brought a lot of joy to a lot of people through the years.
“But I can also imagine the large demand it places on SOC to organize it every year. I hope this is just a pause and a reset and Candlewalk returns at some point because it’s an important connection with our past as we move forward that would be a shame to lose permanently. I commend SOC on the tremendous job they do of preserving Cleburne’s history for future generations.”
Buker invited residents to learn more about SOC by visiting www.soc-cleburne.com or by joining their Facebook page. SOC members meet the second Monday of each month.