TERRE HAUTE —
Unseasonably warm temperatures made it feel more like “Easter in the Park,” but Monday night officially launched this year’s Christmas in the Park celebration.
Warm temperatures in the 60s drew a large crowd to the Torner Center/Oakley Playground area of the Deming Park to witness Mayor Duke Bennett throw a switch to light 19 Christmas displays spread all around the park property.
“This continues to grow,” Bennett said after a loud and colorful burst of fireworks that followed the illumination of the display lights. “We kicked it off tonight with a great crowd.”
In years past, the lighting ceremony has been rushed by frigid temperatures and the desire of practically everyone to get into their cars and out of the cold. This year, crowds mingled and hundreds of children and adults took $1 rides on the “Holiday Express,” the small Deming Park train, which was cloaked in green Christmas lights as it chugged along its tracks.
Santa Claus also made an appearance at the lighting ceremony and greeted excited children. Brayden Epple, 4, Jayce Collins, 8 and Levi Collins, 5, were among those who spoke to Santa in bustling parking lot of the Torner Center.
“We just shook his hand,” Jayce said when asked what he and the other kids had said to St. Nicholas.
Meanwhile, a bumper-to-bumper line of cars snaked its way slowly through the park as motorists enjoyed the lights and the creative displays.
Monday night marked the first night for the 19 displays to be ready for public viewing. In one week, three judges will inspect the displays and pick this year’s decorating contest champion.
“Of course we want to win this year, but it’s really for the girls,” said Cathy Denny, a Girl Scout Leader who was standing at the Girl Scout’s Polar Express display at the park Monday night. A dozen enthusiastic scouts stood there also, greeting people who were driving slowly past. Last year, the Girls Scouts of Central Indiana finished in second place to the Wabash Valley Master Gardeners.
Besides bragging rights, $13,500 in prize money is also at stake in the annual contest, which is sponsored by First Financial Bank, Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Tribune-Star, Pepsi and the Terre Haute Parks and Recreation Department. No organization participating receives less than $500.
“It’s really not about winning,” said Girl Scout Baylee Pitts, who was waving to passing motorists. It’s about getting more girls involved in scouting, she said. Of course, if the Girl Scouts finish ahead of the Boy Scouts – whose ambitious display is just a few yards away – “that’s just a plus,” said fellow scout Emily Koma.
n The 26th annual Christmas in the Park designs will remain on display through Dec. 26. and will be lighted from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
n Train rides will be available from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday of this week and also Dec. 14, 15, 16, and 21, weather permitting.
n Photos with Santa Claus, costing $1 and sponsored by Walmart, will also be available from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Dec. 10 and from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday, Dec. 15 and 16. Parents may also bring their own cameras.
Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.