KOSCIUSKO COUNTY — Christmas is a special time of year and local cities and towns want to help make it a special celebration for their friends, families and neighbors. One of the most popular ways to bring the community together for the holidays is with a Christmas tree lighting gathering.
The Christmas tree lighting tradition at the Village at Winona began around 2010, according to Nick Hauck, managing director. The village began to gather more Christmas lights and LED decorations and continued to add more lights and decorations each year. While the tradition originally started as only the village Christmas tree across the street, the tree has been moved next to all of the businesses and LetterWood. This location helps to inspire and remind people to shop local for the holiday season and allows residents to take pride in the village.
“The tree lighting ceremony is the kick off to the holiday season for the community and businesses,” Hauck commented. The event also benefits Toys for Tots with each person asked to bring a new unwrapped toy to donate to enjoy the free event. This year Hauck estimated around 450 people showed up to share in the tradition.
“There are a lot of traditions and Christmas is an important part,” Hauck stressed. “We need to keep celebrating traditions because otherwise it gets lost.” He also believes it’s important to continue reminding people the importance of giving and receiving.
A brand new tradition was started this year at Oakwood Resort with Chautauqua-Wawasee hosting an Old-Fashioned Christmas. “It centered around the lighting of the 50 foot spruce in front of the hotel,” Kip Schumm, a member of the planning committee, stated. The tree included 7,000 lights.
To celebrate an Old-Fashioned Christmas, the hosts also wanted to include traditional Christmas activities including a brass band, singing quartets, Santa, sleigh rides, a live Nativity and a reading of Jesus’ birth in the chapel. There were also characters such as the Grinch and Frosty the Snowman. More characters are planned to be added next year.
“We try to do things that families can do together and also tie in the meaning of Christmas,” Schumm revealed. He also stated this is planned to become an annual tradition.
Christmas traditions in Syracuse go all the way back to 1989 when the gazebo was built in Lakeside Park which led to an event known as Christmas in the Park. While they had no tree, there were decorative lights, singers and Santa and his elves arriving in a carriage. Once it was moved to Veterans Memorial Park, the event was renamed Holiday Magic and the lighting of the large tree in the park became part of the tradition.
Chad Jonsson, park superintendent, enjoys continuing the same program with music, refreshments and Santa’s arrival leading to the tree lighting. The last few years they have also worked exclusively with the school choirs for the evening’s musical entertainment. “It’s a great opportunity for people in town to get together and celebrate together,” he highlighted.
Paula Bowman, Latte Lounge and Gallery owner and First Friday coordinator, brought back a Warsaw tradition this year. Coordinating with the WRSW kickoff to the Ornament Smash, she organized the Downtown Christmas Countdown. The event included the lighting of a 20-foot, live Christmas tree on the courthouse lawn along with decorations. Members of various religions and cultures throughout the community were invited to be represented. The Optimist singers and the band Pick Slide sung carols throughout the evening. There were approximately 2,500 lights on display. The event also acted as a reminder for people to shop locally this holiday season.
“My inspiration was bringing everyone together before the holidays,” stated Amanda Meerzo, organizer of the North Webster Christmas tree lighting. “It had been a few years since this had been done. My children looked forward to it each year so I wanted to see it become something we began to do yearly again.”
Many area businesses wanted to get involved by donating items or staying open later for the event. The revitalized event began at 4:30 p.m. with free chili, donut decorating, hot chocolate, apple cider, cookies and candy that were all donated and available at the area businesses. It also included music playing and caroling, with the tree lighting at 6 p.m. “We have this scheduled to take place the Saturday before Thanksgiving yearly,” Meerzo proclaimed. “We are excited to bring this back to our community.”