Weekend events launch holiday season

Sometimes the events seem like they rush in, piling on top of each other.

The Mayor’s Tree Lighting.

Friday night’s Living Windows and Mansion Tours.

More Mansion Tours on Saturday afternoon, followed by the Christmas Parade.

December’s first weekend is very busy with holiday activities in Jefferson City — so busy that it starts tonight.

Mayor’s Tree Lighting

The Parks, Recreation and Forestry department’s tree lighting program begins at 5:30 p.m. today (Thursday), at the Rotary Centennial Park, at the river bluff end of Bolivar Street.

“The first half, from 5:30 to 6, the Show-Me Brass Band will be performing,” said Phil Stiles, the department’s Recreation Facilities and Special Services Division director, “and then from 6 to 6:30, the Helias Catholic High School Choir will sing.”

Throughout the evening, Santa Claus “will be mingling in the crowd,” Stiles noted, and department staff will “be serving hot chocolate, cookies and popcorn.”

There’s no admission charge, but the Salvation Army is asking for people to bring unwrapped new toys.

At 6:30 p.m., Mayor Eric Struemph and his family will turn on the lights on the tree the department has placed in the small park and decorated.

“It’s just a nice opportunity for the community to get together and kick off the holiday events,” Stiles said. “We try to plan it the same weekend as Living Windows, just to have another event to kick off the holiday season.”

Living Windows

For more than two decades, the first Friday in December has featured various groups taking over the front windows of downtown businesses for several hours in the evening.

For most of that time, business owner Sam Bushman has been the unofficial head of the “Living Windows” program, working with the groups and store owners and others to create the annual event.

But Bushman announced last spring he was stepping down — and that Donna Deetz was taking his place.

“I just told the Downtown Association, because I was the past president, that I would do Living Windows, since Sam couldn’t do it this year,” she said. “It’s probably not going to be, visibly, a whole lot different — other than we’re expanding the area a little bit.

“And the hayrides are going around the Capitol, instead of trying to get through the packed streets.”

Initially, Living Windows was confined to the 100 and 200 blocks of East High Street — and parts of the Cole County Courthouse steps and lawn.

More recently, the First Presbyterian Church has staged a live nativity scene in the 300 block of Madison Street, with refreshments and music inside.

And this year, Deetz said, the boundaries are moving east.

“We’re closing Adams Street, because we’ve got people going over to Grace Episcopal Church, and we want to make sure that’s safe,” she said. “And then, of course, expanding it to go around the Capitol Building with the hayrides.

“And this year, also, the 300 block of Jefferson because we’re having a performance down there, as well.”

Over the years, the event, which happens Friday from 6-9 p.m., has been growing in popularity.

“Last year, I think the police told us, we had close to 30,000 people in a three-block area — which is a little tight,” Deetz said.

She moved here after Living Windows had become a growing tradition.

“It’s like walking into a winter wonderland,” she said. “It’s still a holiday spirit.

“It’s community, it’s meeting family and it’s meeting friends, and being there during the holidays.”

The “windows” themselves change from year to year.

This year, for instance, “We’ve got the Greyhound Club, with the greyhound dogs,” Deetz said. “And the humane societies are all going to be here, in some fashion.

“And the Toastmasters are going to be doing Christmas stories in the Downtown Diner.”

Hawthorn Bank continues its tradition of Santa Claus greeting children in the bank’s lobby.

And, in case they didn’t get their message across in the personal visit, CenturyLink is offering “a satellite link-up with the North Pole” to communicate Christmas gift desires, she said.

Parking is available in the city parking lot east of City Hall and in the state lot behind the Truman State Office Building, with trolley service from the lots to High Street.

For some, Deetz said, the biggest news for Living Windows may be “We have porta-potties this year.”

For many years, people have tried to use business’ restrooms. But many of those stores don’t have public restrooms — especially not when there are thousands of people.

So this year, Deetz said, “We’re actually splitting the cost with the Jaycees, so they can be in place for the parade as well, on Saturday.”

Governor’s Mansion Candlelight Tours

The tours — when visitors go through the main level of the 142-year-old executive residence, see holiday decorations that span those years and, usually, get a chance to meet the governor and first lady — pre-date the Living Windows program.

This year’s tours are from 6-9 p.m. Friday and 2-4 p.m. Saturday.

In recent years, the tours have been expanded to include music from a number of high school groups from around the state, both outside the Mansion and on the staircase inside.

Jaycees Annual Christmas Parade

The Jaycees Annual Christmas Parade begins at 4:30 p.m. Saturday from the Truman Building parking lots, and heads east on High Street, through the downtown area and then back to the Capitol along Capitol Avenue.

This year’s theme is a patriotic one, the Jaycees said — “I’ll be home for Christmas.”

The mail-in registration deadline to enter the parade is Monday, according to the rules on the Jaycees’ website, www.jeffcityjaycees.org.

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