Though growing so quickly and becoming more diverse culturally, Lexington County remains a county of small towns. Nowhere do you see that more clearly than at the annual festivals. Presented by hundreds of volunteers paying homage to where we come from and what we eat, these celebrations usually are free for anyone who wants to go. Not surprisingly, whatever proceeds are made are donated to local charities.
Imagine a parade of 100 boats or more, festooned in red, white and blue, with similarly decorated people aboard them. Add about 5,000 spectators – on other boats and at Dreher Island State Park – all marveling at the revelry and creative costuming. This is just the first part of the 4th of July Celebration on Lake Murray. Now in its 23rd year, the event also features an evening concert of patriotic music by the Lake Murray Orchestra, followed by about 20 minutes of fireworks over the water. Registration for the boat parade is free, and the concert, on Dreher Island State Park, is free as well (after paying for park entry). For more information, call 781-5940 or visit www.lakemurraycountry.com.
If it’s wholesome family fun you want, it’s here every Labor Day weekend in Chapin, “The Capital of Lake Murray.” The 5K Walk/Run in Crooked Creek Park benefits Meals on Wheels. There’s also a gospel concert, an after-church picnic, a model train display, and barbecue. The festival boasts one of South Carolina’s biggest parades, as well as a “Chapin Idol” talent contest. Look for a book sale, children’s carnival, dunking booth, and truck show. For the Midlands, it’s summer’s last hurrah. And a chance to see your favorite politicians. www.chapinsc.com.
Still in its infancy in its third year, the Congaree Bluegrass Festival nevertheless has drawn hundreds of music fans to Cayce’s Granby Gardens Park. In 2010, seven bands and one clogging group performed. Scheduled for the first Saturday in October, the Congaree Bluegrass Festival is named for the river so important in Cayce’s development. Food vendors are on the premises; alcohol isn’t allowed. Call 796-9020; visit www.congareebluegrassfestival.com.
From Lexington County’s famous sandy soil springs its most abundant leafy green: collards. Head to Gaston every September to learn why this county is “The Collard Capital of the World.” Besides a tasty plate of collards and barbeque, you can enjoy a chili cookoff, check out a helicopter and fire engine display, watch a parade, and view decorated cakes and cookies. Pony rides, a petting zoo, live entertainment and a photography contest round out the fun. www.gastonsc.org.
Peaches and Patriotism are the stars of this time-honored festival, and maybe nothing illustrates the spirit of Lexington County better. Held every July 4, except when it falls on a Sunday, the Peach Festival is powered by generations of the same families who work year-round to make sure their hundreds of guests get an authentic taste of what makes this area special. There’s barbeque. Hamburgers. Hot dogs. And peaches – let’s discuss the ways. Besides the requisite peach cobbler and peach ice cream (don’t pass that up), you can try peach tea, peach parfait, peach sundaes, peach slushes, peach almond delights, and peach zip. Cooks can submit creations to the peach recipe contest; little girls to young ladies can enter the many levels of the Miss Peach Queen contest.
Now in its 54th year, the Lexington County Peach Festival unfailingly honors its heritage. There’s a Revolutionary War re-enactment and an antique tractor and farm equipment display. And, naturally, a parade, live entertainment and fireworks. Maybe most meaningful is what brings it all together – the people who gather in the school cafeteria the day before to peel peaches by the bushel. Juicy! www.lexingtoncountypeachfestival.com
Sometimes on a bright autumn day, all you need are a fat hot sausage, a mess of sauerkraut, and a dark German beer. Look for that menu each October in Lexington, when the county seat honors its German heritage. Besides the Oom-Pah Tent, where festival-goers can try German beer and food, the Oktoberfest celebration features a Volkswalk, street dance, parade, car show, food drive, carnival rides, and student art show. The competitive types can enter a 5K race, and golf and bass fishing tournaments. The rest of us can bring lawn chairs, the better to hear the bands and storytellers. www.lexingtonoktoberfest.com.
You gotta love a town that blesses the pots it uses to boil up to 130 bushels of peanuts. At the Pelion Peanut Party, a Peanut Princess is crowned, peanut art is displayed, and yes, a Peanut Butter Sandwich Eating Contest is held. Live music, arts and crafts, softball tournament, car show, parade, and carnival are part of the menu, but South Carolina’s official snack food, boiled peanuts, are the reigning element. Celebrating its 30th year, the Pelion Peanut Party is steered by the Pelion Ruritan Club, members of which keep those peanut pots boiling. Naturally the festivities are held in August, when those peanuts are at their peak. S-L-U-R-P! www.scpeanutparty.com
Every May for a quarter-century, the enterprising people of Batesburg-Leesville have been celebrating their prosperous poultry heritage. Though chickens and eggs mean fun and games one big weekend every May, they also mean a goodly portion of the local income. Poultry is a huge agribusiness in South Carolina. The South Carolina Poultry Festival has all the staples of a typical festival: parades, pageants, street dances, carnivals, crafts, food, live entertainment, car show, golf and volleyball tournaments, fireworks. But what makes it special are all things cluck-cluck – a 4H cooking contest, and the Cook-Cluck-Win-a-Buck contest. www.scpoultryfestival.com.
Usually in May from 6 to 10 p.m. check their website for exact date.
Proceeds benefit town beautification projects. www.lexingtonwinewalk.com
Get free admission to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden every Friday in January and February; visit www.riverbanks.org
Taste of Lake Murray
In March at the Radisson Hotel Columbia & Conference Center
This event is the only fundraiser that supports the 4th of July Celebration on Lake Murray. Numerous chefs and restaurants offer their tastiest dishes.
Call 803.781.5940; visit www.tastseoflakemurray.com
Kid’s Day of Lexington, Virginia Hylton Park
Last Saturday in April, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Presented by Palmetto Chiropractic, this event features more than 100 educational booths that build awareness about health, safety and environment. 356.8554.
The Carolina Clash hosted by Capital City Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism
Office Bass Master Elite Series
In May on Lake Murray
Weigh-ins at Dreher Island State Park are open to the public.
Call 803.781.5940; visit www.lakemurraycountry.com
Christmas Traditions, Cayce Historical Museum
The Cayce Historical Museum, built to resemble a 1700s trading post, is decorated for the Yuletide. Costumed docents greet and guide guests through the museum and grounds.
Christmas Sampler, Lexington Leisure Center
Second Saturday in December, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Artisans from the Southeast show and sell their handmade items at the Lexington Leisure Center, 108 Park Road. Entry fee for artists; free for visitors; canned donation suggested. 803.957.7828; www.lcrac.com.
Christmas Peddler, Tri-City Leisure Center
Second Saturday in December, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Artisans from the Southeast show and sell their handmade items at the Tri-City Leisure Center, 485 Brooks Avenue, West Columbia. 939-9309; www.lcrac.com
Holiday Open House, Lexington County Museum
Second Sunday in December, 2-5 p.m.
The John Fox House is decorated in the period of the mid-19th Century; guests can stroll around the grounds and visit other buildings. The free event includes hot apple cider, gingerbread, and the famous German stollen bread.
321 Fox Street. 359-8369; www.lex-co.com/museum
Holiday Open House, Lorick Plantation House
Second weekend in December at the historic location of the Capital City Lake Murray Country Regional Tourism Office. Local garden clubs decorate the home in 1840s period style, with greenery and handmade decorations. Free; light refreshments served. Call 781-5940; visit www.lakemurraycountry.com.
Lights Before Christmas, Riverbanks Zoo and Garden
Mid-November through December.
Almost one million twinkling lights create a magical mood at the zoo and botanical garden, drawing thousands to one of South Carolina’s most beloved attractions. Hot drinks, pretzels, popcorn and Christmas music are part of the package, along with animals from all over the earth. www.riverbanks.org