Valparaiso’s beloved Central Park Plaza played host this evening to hundreds of happy families--and one very large tree-- for the annual Winter Fest and Tree Lighting event.
Visitors to the annual event were treated to delicious hot chocolate, courtesy of Fluid Coffee Bar, while scores of people gathered around the ice skating rink at Urschel Pavilion to thrill to an ice skating exhibition by members of Midwest Ice Arena. Food vendors offered several tasty choices for parents and children to munch on while they awaited the arrival of the man of the hour: Santa Claus himself.
With festivities beginning at 4pm, the crowd buzzed and mingled and were entertained by the Jingletones, who performed acapella versions of everyone’s favorite holiday tunes, sometimes even inviting the crowd to join in.
John Siebert, director of Parks for Valparaiso graciously served as emcee for the evening’s events.
“This is our fourth annual Winter Fest,” Siebert said. “We’re here today with the generous support of 1st Source Bank as well as several other sponsors. We’ll be lighting the tree and celebrating the official opening of the holiday season.”
The tree, 35 feet tall and adorned with 19,000 lights, sits squarely in the center of Valparaiso’s Central Park Plaza.
“We’re also working with Lakeshore Lanscaping to do all the lights around the perimeter of the park, as well,” Siebert said. “I’d say we have another ten to fifteen thousand lights here.”
“This is one of the ‘selfie capitals’ of northwest Indiana. Not only because of the tree or the lights, but because it’s just a wonderful area with the park and the skating rink. People just can’t seem to help themselves from stopping to snap a selfie.”
The Winter Fest also marks the official opening of the skating rink for the season, with the rink once more open to public skating.
Dan and Lindsay Dykstra were enjoying the festivities with their children; Lila, 6, Ethan, 7, and Andrew, 11. This was their first year seeing Santa at Winter Fest in Valparaiso.
“This is such a wonderful event,” Lindsay said. “The kids are so excited.”
Daughter Lila had a short list for Santa.
“I want Slime,” Lila said.
“I want Slime too,” said Ethan. “So I don’t have to share with Lila.”
Andrew had loftier hopes for Christmas morning. “I would like some model airplanes,” said Andrew. “I like World War II planes best.”
“This is a great way to kick off the holidays,” said Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas as he prepared to flip the ceremonial switch connected to those 19,000 lights circling the tree.
But first, Mayor Costas enlisted the help of nearby children with the task.
“This is a really big switch, so I’m gonna need a little help,” Costas said, encouraging the crowd to join the countdown.
“Ten.. Nine… Eight… Seven” and so on, chanted the crowd, until the countdown reached one.
Then the switch was thrown, the tree sparkled and glittered and the crowd cheered as Christmas returned to Valparaiso.
Following the official lighting ceremony, the tree was immediately surrounded by dozens of enthusiastic families… many of them stopping to gaze at the twinkling lights.
And, of course, taking holiday selfies to share!
For more information about Winter Fest, or the ice skating rink, visit the Valpo Parks Central Park Plaza website at https://www.centralparkplazavalpo.com/.