University City

Autumnwood celebrates with annual gathering

Christmas in Autumnwood, the neighborhood's traditional holiday celebration, brought neighbors together for hot cider, caroling and a hay ride just after sunset last Sunday.

The festivities took place on Stonehill Court, University City's answer to McAdenville, the Gaston county town renowned for its Christmas light display. Stonehill Court may be a short, suburban street, but the decorations are as spectacular and whimsical as you'll find anywhere.

For those who missed the event, the lights on Stonehill Court will be on display through the winter holidays.

Autumnwood Association President John Neilson helped organize the event, along with the Rev. Brad Busiek of Newell Presbyterian Church, an Autumnwood resident, and Maria Carter, also of Autumnwood. The organizers were quick to point out that the entire neighborhood pitched in to make the celebration a success.

Busiek and his wife, the Rev. Amy Busiek, who serves as parish associate for education at Newell Presbyterian, hosted this year's hospitality house, open to guests young and old. Highlights included a cookie sharing, with homemade favorites baked by neighborhood residents; and seasonal music, ancient and modern, played by Charlotte's Renaissance Wind Band, The Charlotte Waites.

Neighborhood children - including the Busieks' two youngsters, Benjamin and Phoebe - joined to bring familiar carols to life. There were traditional favorites like "Joy to the World" and such jolly sing-a-longs as "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer." The Waites added an English touch with wassails, including "The Apple Tree Wassail," "The Gloucester Wassail" and "Here We Come a Wassailing."

Outside in the wintry cold, a warm fire kept the chill at bay as people waited to take a hayride through the wooded neighborhood along Toby Creek, south of the UNC Charlotte campus. This tradition dates back to the time the neighborhood was built, during the 1980s. Back then, old-timers say, it was easy to find a tractor and hay wagon. That's become more challenging in recent years, and these days the tractor has been replaced by a big crew-cab pickup truck.

That doesn't make it any less fun, though, as the route winds through the oak-lined streets with jingle bells jingling and a musician strumming enthusiastically on a ukulele.

This year has been an unusually active one in Autumnwood. The city approved a controversial sidewalk project that split the neighborhood into opposing camps. Later, residents formed a new set of bylaws, another somewhat contentious issue.

In the end, however, many of the adversaries found their way to the Busieks' cozy dining room, in front of the fireplace, and re-established friendships and a sense of neighborliness with a little help from cookies, cider and a rousing chorus of "We Wish You A Merry Christmas."