BY JESSALYN KIRCHHOFF
This weekend, a cherished tradition will continue in WaKeeney – or as most know this small town in rural Kansas – “the Christmas City of the High Plains.” This annual event, as presented by WaKeeney Travel & Tourism, will feature a Christmas bazaar, a soup supper, carriage rides, live reindeer, children’s train rides, games, live music, and visits with Santa Claus.
Director of WaKeeney Travel & Tourism Lynelle Shubert gives an overview of what guests can expect to see at the annual holiday tradition that began in 1950.
“The downtown is turned into a holiday showcase every year. The entire light display is a four-block square draped with greenery, handcrafted wreaths, bells, bows, trees and of course, more lights,” Shubert said. “In all, there are more than 6800 lights in the display. There is 1400 pounds of greenery in the centerpiece tree and 1100 yards of greenery garland.”
She continues with more detail on the ceremony’s centerpiece, the beloved Christmas tree.
“We have a 35-foot-tall tree made of fresh green pine boughs and over 2000 lights,” she said. “The tree rests under a canopy of heavenly blue lights in the middle of our main intersection. The tree is topped with four ivory stars – each five feet in diameter.”
The Christmas City of The High Plains is known to have the largest live greenery tree and Christmas light display between Denver and Kansas City.
Shubert said the idea for the celebration was born in 1948 by two local businessmen, Art Keraus and J.H. “Jake” Heckman.
“These two men masterminded the downtown hanging light and greenery display,” Shubert said. “They spent hours in the basement of the hardware store – now the Western Kansas Saloon – to make the decorations. Jake would be sure that each detail was visible with colors that would remain true.”
Shubert goes on to describe how the tradition of the ‘hand-dipped bulbs’ came about.
“Originally, they could not locate enough commercially made red and green light bulbs, so they rounded up more volunteers and bought thousands of clear light bulbs and gallons of paints,” she said. “They then proceeded to supervise the hand-dipping of each and every light bulb.”
The display was first lit in 1950 and more decorations were added each year until 1956.
Throughout the years, WaKeeney has built a North Pole park complete with a Santa house for Santa to greet the children every year during the annual festival. Santa generally visits with over 250 children and there are over 300 letters that are left at the mailbox at the North Pole. Many families have made a tradition of the annual Tree Lighting Festival.
Although the ceremony brings holiday merry to the residents of Trego County, it also brings bouts of out-of-town visitors.
“Lodging typically increases for those who travel in for the holiday,” Shubert said. “The downtown businesses that wish to stay open generally have increased business and our local restaurants are always busy on that night.”
The Trego County Home-Based Business Association also holds the annual Christmas Bazaar at the fairgrounds every year and these are businesses that may not be in front of customers the rest of year, according to Shubert.
Shubert shares her favorite moment of the festival and wants to invite everyone to join in on the Christmas cheer.
“My favorite part is when everyone comes together to sing Christmas carols around the tree while we wait for Santa to arrive,” she said. “This year, Santa will arrive with the percussion section of our high school band, and our choir will be leading the community in carols.
“I hope you can join us – I guarantee you won’t leave without feeling the warm Christmas glow in your heart.”
The 72nd Annual Christmas Tree Lighting of the “Christmas City of the High Plains” is set for November 26 starting bright and early at 9:00 AM and continuing past nightfall until 8:00 PM. A complete schedule of events can be found below. For more information and any other general questions, check out this link https://www.travelks.com/event/72nd-annual-christmas-tree-lighting-ceremony/26008/
9:00 AM – 4:00 PM Annual Christmas Bazaar @ Trego County Fairgrounds
10:00 AM – 4 PM “Legends of Christmas” Display @ Trego County Historical Society Museum
4:30 – 7:30 PM Soup Supper @ VFW Hall
4:30 – 6:00 PM Trego Chamber of Commerce Silent Wreath Auction @ VFW Hall
4:30 – 7:30 PM Downtown Festivities
- Nex-tech Train Rides
- Sunflower Clydesdales Carriage Rides
- Virtual Reality Santa Sleigh Ride
- Real Live Reindeer!
6:00 PM Tree Lighting w/ Music provided by the TCHS Music Department
6:15 PM Santa Arrives to greet the children at the North Pole