{mosimage}Across the nation, the official kickoff of the Christmas shopping season is the day after Thanksgiving — or Black Friday.
    But leave it to Cumberland County to be ahead of the curve.
    For the 42nd consecutive year, the Holly Day Fair christens the holiday shopping season, bringing more than 180 vendors peddling arts, crafts and other unique gifts to the Crown Expo Center for four days of shopping bliss.
    The Holly Day Fair — the largest holiday gift and craft show in the South — begins Thursday, Nov. 6, and runs through Sunday, Nov. 9. It is sponsored by the Junior League of Fayetteville, with the money raised through the event donated to local worthy causes and organizations.
    Last year, the Holly Day Fair drew more than 20,000 attendees and raised more than $264,000.
    Leonna Byrd, Holly Day Fair organizer, says she expects this year’s fair to be the biggest yet, as well as offering the largest variety of shopping options.
    “With the economy the way it is, we decided to offer wider variety of vendors so there will be something for every budget,” said Byrd. “We’ve also signed up some vendors that we think will appeal more to males, such as a vendor offering every type of neck tie imaginable, as well as a vendor offering personalized golf markers.”
Tickets for the event are $8, with the exception of opening day — Thursday — when tickets will be $12.     Thursday is “Super Shopper” day, which means fewer shoppers and limited tickets, though you are asked to leave your child strollers at home on this day. Thursday’s festivities get started at 9 a.m. and last until 8 p.m. (Super Shopper is 9 a.m. until noon).
    Tickets revert back to $8 on Friday, which kicks off at 10 a.m. and runs until 8 p.m.; Saturday, the action also runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; on Sunday, the doors of the Charlie Rose Agri-Expo Center at the Crown open at noon, with the closing bell at 5 p.m. Children under 5 are admitted free.
    The Junior League of Fayetteville contributes more than 80,000 hours of service annually to local worthy causes, helping out such organizations as the Partnership for Children, CONTACT of Fayetteville, Inc., the Salvation Army and the Boys and Girls Clubs.
    In May, the Junior League raised money for premature babies during the March of Dime’s WalkAmerica.
Through fundraisers such as the Holly Day Fair, the Junior League issued more than 20 grants of $100-$1,500 in 2007-2008 to such organizations as Cumberland County Schools, Rape Crisis, Fayetteville Urban Ministry and the La Leche League. In addition, 2007-2008 Partnership Grants of $1,500 to $50,000 and volunteer support were given to the Boys and Girls Club of Cumberland County, the Child Advocacy Center, the Care Clinic, Cumberland County Coordinating Council on Older Adults and the Pilot Club of Fayetteville.
    The Junior League of Fayetteville has more than 400 volunteers. Over the past 40 years it has provided more than $1.3 million and countless volunteer hours.
    However, despite its past good works, the ladies of the Junior League also want to have fun, which is a major part of the Holly Day Fair.
    “It’s just a great event that’s a lot of fun,” said Byrd. “And it’s really not Christmas around here for a lot of folks until they’ve been to the fair and listened to our Christmas music. This is the area’s biggest Christmas tradition.”    

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