story and photos by Tabatha Gardner
BENTONVILLE — "Ten," shouted Bentonville Mayor Bob McCaslin and the crowd quieted.
"Nine," McCaslin said, this time with a sea of children following his lead. "Eight," McCaslin continued to count. This time a crowd of several thousand joined in.
"Seven…Six…Five…," McCaslin chanted. Children and adults alike continued along with him.
"Four…Three….Two…,"McCaslin said. The excitement was now palpable.
"One," shouted the mayor as he threw the switch on a candy-cane stripped box marked "One Gazillion Volts" and the Bentonville square lit up with thousands of twinkling white lights.
This time is was the crowd's turn to lead the chant as children pointed and shouted "oohs and ahhs."
Ann and Paul Arnold of Bella Vista arrived on the square early Saturday to grab a park bench and listen to the Walmart Associates Choir, the Justin Hamby Quartet and the Arkansas Mass Gospel Choir sing Christmas carols.
"We like good music," Paul said. Ann agreed. "It's just a joy to come out and listen to this."
The couple is also a big fan of the lighting of the square itself.
"Its just beautiful," Ann said.
Blair Cromwell, vice president of communications for the Bentonville Convention and Visitors Bureau, compared the lighting ceremony to a scene in the classic Christmas movie, "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
The scene occurs when the Grinch finally begins to understand the meaning of the season. His heart grows and he races around Whoville, returning presents and Christmas decorations he had taken the night before.
"I love the lighting of the square because the whole square is completely dark and then the mayor throws the switch and thousands of lights suddenly turn on," Cromwell said. "I can only imagine what it would be like in an airplane when they flip the switch because it is so bright.
Tracy McClure of Bentonville brought her son, 3-year-old Tait, out to see the square Saturday.
The lighting ceremony is just one way she and Tait enjoy "the nice atmosphere of a small city," McClure said.
The lights of the Bentonville square will remain lit each night through the start of the new year.