By Leah Sander
WINONA LAKE — It’s been a few years since The Village at Winona’s tree lighting and related Christmas activities were held normally.
Modified the past few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event returned fully to normal on Saturday, Nov. 19. And that made The Village Managing Director Nick Hauck very happy.
“It’s great,” he said. “We had a drive-thru tree lighting the last two years, but it’s great to gather around again.”
Hauck noted the signs were still up for a drive-thru route if people preferred to view the many Christmas light displays via their vehicles. Those displays will be light up each night through sometime after Christmas.
There were plenty of activities for people to enjoy at The Village’s event aside from viewing the displays. Santa was available for visits, there were free cookies and hot chocolate and people could make their own ornaments.
There were also train rides in The Village and caroling provided by the Community Youth Choir.
As for the tree lighting itself, each year a student from Jefferson Elementary School in town is chosen to light the tree. This year, Zorey Gagnon had that privilege, climbing up the ladder of one of the Winona Lake Fire Department’s engines to light the tree by using a lightsaber.
Hauck said he was grateful to entities including the fire department, the choir, The Beaded Peacock and Pottery Bayou for their help with parts of the event.
He said the event is “to kick off the holiday season” in The Village.
“We had our Christmas Shopping Extravaganza on Nov. 5, but this is really the kickoff to the holiday Christmas season,” he said, adding that he hoped people got “the Christmas spirit and a sense of community” from Saturday’s event.
Also occurring Saturday was the grand opening of the Miller Sunset Pavilion, with the K21 Health Foundation offering free skating to the public from noon to 8 p.m.
Though the foundation didn’t count the exact number of people skating Saturday, K21 representatives did estimate by 7 p.m. that more than 1,000 people had enjoyed the rink based off the number of coupons they had given out for free cookies and hot chocolate.
Hauck noted it was “great” that the ice rink’s opening occurred on the same date as the tree lighting.
“Obviously (The Village) wanted the ice rink. We helped make it happen,” said Hauck. “It’s a great event. … Truly a great community asset that we have in our community now.”