For many of us, the holiday season doesn’t really start until we experience family traditions during the week of Thanksgiving. Some of the most joyous traditions include attending local parades, marveling at spectacular Christmas lights, and watching our children whisper their greatest wishes to the one and only Santa Claus.
Many cities throughout our region pull out all the stops to kick off the holiday season with a bang, and this year is no exception. During the next few weeks, the following communities plan to dazzle our spirits with holiday cheer.
Many events beckon visitors to downtown Wabash this holiday season. “Jingle Jubilee” kicks off festivities from 4-9 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 17 with the annual lighting of the courthouse, featuring displays of Santa and his reindeer, along with special sales at Wabash shops and boutiques. Kids can enjoy additional winter activities while the festively decorated Trolley No. 85 takes visitors of all ages around downtown.
“The Jolly Trolley Tour is our pride and joy,” says Biz Bishop, content manager for Visit Wabash County. “It quickly turned into a family favorite and is one of the only tours we have done year after year. Jolly Trolley is an incredible way to showcase Wabash County and the incredible assets we have.”
On Friday, Dec. 1 from 5-8 p.m., visitors can travel slightly north to downtown North Manchester for the “Light Up the Town Christmas Celebration” with a parade, the arrival of Santa and his reindeer, a tree lighting, an ugly sweater contest, a best beard contest, and more.
Finally, the “Lights at Paradise” takes place on Saturday, Dec. 16 from 5-8 p.m., where attendees can don ugly sweaters and bring hot cocoa down to Paradise Spring Historic Park, in Wabash, for a fun-filled holiday stroll. Trolley No. 85 once again runs through downtown to various locations for kids’ activities and crafts, free snacks and more.
For additional holiday activities, the Wabash County Museum features festive events including sock skating in an indoor rink, rides down an ice slide, and visits to the “Reindeer Barn.” During the month of December, “Winter Weekend” events include “Santa Saturday” on Dec. 2, “Grinch It Up Saturday” on Dec. 9, and “Build a Snowman Saturday” on Dec. 16. Tickets are available at wabashmuseum.org.
The Village at Winona kicks off the holiday season with its annual “Tree Lighting Ceremony” on Saturday, Nov. 18 from 3:30-6:30 p.m. The event includes a Toys for Tots collection, kids’ ornament making, train rides for all ages, caroling, and free cookies and hot chocolate with Santa Claus from 5:30-6:15 p.m. The evening culminates in the tree lighting at 6:15 p.m. at 802 Park Ave., Winona Lake.
“This is a great community event, and it feels like a Hallmark movie when everyone is gathered around the tree singing Christmas carols,” says Nick Hauck, managing director of The Village at Winona. “This is also the first day all the Christmas decorations will be illuminated throughout the Village, including a dancing LED-lighted tree with synchronized music set to a radio station that you can listen to in your car as you drive through. This is also the opening day for the Miller Sunset Pavilion ice rink. So, there are lots of activities for the entire family to come out and enjoy.”
Admission for the event is free, but a donation for Toys for Tots is requested. The full event schedule is at villageatwinona.com/events/tree-lighting-ceremony/.
This year, downtown Auburn’s annual Christmas parade takes place on Tuesday, Nov. 21 at 7 p.m.
“The parade dates all the way back to the 1940s,” says Mike Littlejohn, president of the Downtown Auburn Business Association. “Originally, the parade took place the day after Thanksgiving, and back in those days, Santa’s ‘home’ was in the courthouse rotunda. Later in the 1970s, he got his own ‘house’ on the square and would meet with kids the day after Thanksgiving. In 2003, it changed into a nighttime parade on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving so that it wouldn’t interfere with Fort Wayne’s events.”
After the parade, prizes are awarded for the best float, best walking group, best decorated vehicle and more. The event culminates in a countdown to the lighting of Frosty the Snowman on the James Foundation building, 112 S. Cedar St.
Parade participants can line up at the DeKalb County Fairgrounds by 6:15 p.m. to prepare for the 7 p.m. start time. The parade travels down Main Street and ends at Courtyard Park on the corner of Cedar and Seventh Streets.
“This has become a spectacular event that gives everyone a reason to kick off their holiday season,” Littlejohn says. “The pride I feel because of what this has turned into – it’s just what I envisioned it to be. People just can’t wait to be part of the parade. The kids look forward to it – it’s just become a big, big deal.”
Families can experience Christmas magic in downtown Fort Wayne starting on Wednesday, Nov. 22 during the “Night of Lights,” which kicks off “HolidayFest.”
“For decades, Fort Wayne has celebrated the holiday season with classic larger-than-life displays with the ‘Merry Christmas Wreath’ and Santa and his reindeer displays,” says Jessa Campbell, marketing and communications manager of Visit Fort Wayne. “These displays were used first by Wolf & Dessauer Department Store in 1937 and are lit for the holiday season on the eve of Thanksgiving. ‘Night of Lights’ also kicks off Fort Wayne’s classic holiday celebrations like the ‘Festival of Trees’ (since 1984), ‘Festival of Gingerbread’ (since 1985), and performances by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic and the Fort Wayne Ballet – Indiana’s longest-standing professional ballet company.”
The “Night of Lights” begins at 5:45 p.m., as downtown businesses and organizations host a variety of family-friendly lightings paired with indoor and outdoor holiday activities. The evening wraps up with the “Parkview Field Holiday Fireworks Show” starting at 8 p.m.
“HolidayFest” continues for weeks and includes the “Festival of Trees” from Nov. 22-29, the “Festival of Gingerbread” from Nov. 24 to Dec. 17, “Holly Shopping” on Nov. 25, and many other events. More information is available at currentFortWayne.com/events.
Every year, “Santa Comes to Town” in downtown Angola. This year, he’ll arrive in style on Nov. 24 at 6 p.m. to celebrate the holidays and take pictures with children.
“Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive downtown on his sleigh to light the Christmas tree with their magic dust,” describes Mackenzie Bird, community coordinator at Steuben County Tourism Bureau. “After the tree is lit, they will make their way into Sutton’s Deli where they listen to all the children’s wishes. While families wait to see Santa and Mrs. Claus, there will be carolers from Angola Middle and High School, hot chocolate and cookies, and a calliope set up in front of City Hall. Santa plans to stay until 9 p.m. downtown, as he has to get back to tend to his reindeer.”
As a bonus, families can also experience horse-drawn wagon rides through downtown Angola on Dec. 2 from 5-8 p.m.
“I’m immensely proud and honored to host ‘Santa Comes to Town’ for our community,” Bird adds. “Witnessing families gather downtown to experience the enchantment of Christmas is a joy like no other. This cherished holiday tradition has been a cornerstone of Angola for more than 15 years, marking the official start of the festive season.”