Hundreds of families and friends gathered at downtown Valparaiso’s Central Park Plaza Saturday evening for the fifth annual Winter Fest and Tree Lighting event.
“This is the kick-off to the holiday season here at the downtown plaza,” said Dan McGuire, director of facilities for Valpo Parks. “It’s a special event that has that cozy, small-town feel that brings people together and spreads holiday cheer.”
And spread cheer it did! Guests enjoyed open skating on the plaza’s ice rink, Christmas classics sung by The Jingletones, as well as hot chocolate and cookies courtesy of event sponsor 1st Source Bank.
“We thank everyone for coming out tonight,” said Matt Vessely of 1st Source Bank. “This is one of my favorite nights of the year, and I’m glad we could share it with everyone here.”
Later, the ice rink was closed for live performances by some talented skaters from Midwest Ice Arena. Guests watched in awe as the skaters spun and glided across the ice, and sipped on their warm beverages while waiting for a rather special guest to arrive – the one and only Santa Claus! The big guy rolled up in style, waving to the cheering crowd from the top of a firetruck. Santa made his way through the crowd and up to his sleigh under the Porter Health Amphitheater, ready to hear the Christmas wishes of every good girl and boy.
Almus Laskoske, who came with his mother Adrienne, had his list of gifts ready to go for Mr. Claus.
“I want a tablet, Pokémon cards, and some Fortnite toys,” he said.
“We were so excited to get our picture with Santa,” Laskoske’s mom added. “This is our first year coming, but we’re really enjoying it.”
Kristy Dukes and her family had been to the plaza a few times before, but this was their first time experiencing the magic of Valpo during the holidays.
“There’s not a lot of events quite like this around here,” Dukes said, “We wanted the kids to try out the ice skating and see all the beautiful lights.”
They were certainly not disappointed, as every tree in the park boasted a plethora of glittering red and green lights. This lovely display was just the opening act, however, and at 6:00 p.m. sharp attendees gathered close around the evening’s main attraction: a 30-foot tall Christmas tree adorned with over 19,000 lights and ornaments.
The Jingletones had the entire crowd singing Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer as Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas prepared to flip the switch and fill the plaza with light.
“We’ve got a really big tree here, so it needs a really big switch to light it up,” Costas said. “I’m going to need some kids to come up here and help me out.”
Children rushed forward, the crowd counted down from ten, and the switch was flipped! The lights sparkled bright to the cheers of the crowd below, and Christmas had once again come to town. The slight rain beginning to fall from the sky went unnoticed, as attendees were in far too merry a mood to care as they snapped pictures in the tree’s soft glowing light.
“The weather is kind of nasty here tonight but we showed it whose boss,” Costas continued. “It’s wonderful to see all these families here. The holiday season is so awesome because the world seems to slow down a little bit and we all seem to be a little bit kinder, gentler, and more patient with each other and that’s what it’s all about.”
To learn more about Valpo Plaza’s winter events and make the most of this holiday season, visit http://www.centralparkplazavalpo.com/