It's Christmastime in the City of Van Buren. The town ushered in the holiday season on Saturday (Dec. 6) evening with its annual Courthouse Lighting Ceremony, Festival of Trees, and Living Windows.
Hundreds gathered on the Crawford County Courthouse Lawn to enjoy carols and treats while awaiting the official flipping of the switch. Crawford County Judge John Hall and Van Buren Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Jackie Krutsch kicked off the program by welcoming the large crowd.
"What an incredible crowd we have this year," said Judge Hall. "We have been blessed with beautiful weather tonight…especially in comparison to last year when we had about four inches of snow and ice on the ground."
Judge Hall and Krutsch then led the official countdown, upon which the more than 150 year-old structure came aglow for the holiday season. The program also included several special presentations and musical performances, while volunteers from local businesses handed out hot dogs, popcorn, hot chocolate and cookies.
Entries in the 10th annual Festival of Trees also lit up for the holidays. Hosted by the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce, the festival offers members the opportunity to sponsor and trim a tree on the courthouse lawn. Each tree is uniquely decorated by the participating business or organization and judged by a panel of volunteers, with winners announced at the ceremony. Time Striping's tree was honored as "Most Creative." Third place went to the Crawford County Courthouse's tree, second place was awarded to Strategic Realty, and top honors went to Morton Family Dentistry.
Dozens of families also made their way across the lawn to the one-room, log cabin Albert Pike Schoolhouse to pay a visit to Old St. Nick. Children took their turn sharing their wish lists with Santa having their picture taken while sitting on his lap.
Following the lighting ceremony, many took time to browse Main Street and enjoy the Old Town Merchants Association's "Living Windows." Participating businesses set up live Christmas scenes in their windows and storefronts, which included Christmas wrapping, jewelry making demonstrations, and more. Several businesses also opened their doors to allow visitors a little extra time to shop and enjoy yummy treats.
The King Opera House welcomed visitors, as well, offering three showings of its docudrama, "Step into the King Opera House." Filmed in the historic hall and throughout downtown Van Buren, the twenty-minute short tells the story of the legendary murder of a KOH actor by a local physician in the early 1900s.
Van Buren's annual Christmas festivities have become a family tradition for many local residents, with the crowd seeming to grow each year.
"We are thrilled that so many come out each year to celebrate the start of the Christmas season with us," said Krutsch. "It is wonderful to watch downtown come alive with the sights and sounds of the holidays and to see all of the families take part in the festivities. Each of the sponsors and participating businesses make this a wonderful event for all to enjoy."
The courthouse will remain lit throughout the Christmas season. Trees will also be on display through the month of December.