Downtown Jefferson City lights up every year during Living Windows -- but this time, those lights took to the sky.
A cloudy evening didn't deter the annual event's first-ever drone show, which brought Santa Claus to life above thousands of spectators on High Street. Other holiday images flashed across the sky above -- a snowman tipping his hat, ornaments moving up and down and snowflakes moving in circles. The leg lamp from the classic holiday movie "A Christmas Story" even made an appearance.
The 150-drone light show was sponsored by Hitachi Energy and handled by local company Starstruck Drone Shows.
Charles Miller said he'd been to Living Windows every year since moving to the area in 2017. But he's never seen anything quite like Friday night's show.
"It's just spectacular," Miller said. "It really puts you in the holiday spirit."
Miller said Living Windows was a highlight of the season for him. He lost his wife in 2021, leaving the holidays harder to celebrate. But events like this make things a little brighter.
"I have joy, and there's a lot of joy here tonight," he said. "There's nothing like it."
High Street was alive with music, dancers and plenty of holiday cheer behind many businesses' windows. Downtown Jefferson City President Cara Stark, who coordinated the event, said the tradition was one of the things that makes the Capital City unique.
"We are very lucky to live in a community that supports such a wonderful event," Stark said. "I know it's chilly outside, but we're really excited about the drone show and just so grateful that Jeff City has supported this event for 35 years -- where else could you do something like this?"
Other features returned from last year, including photo opportunities with characters outside trolleys and QR codes that allow people to see what performances were occurring in which windows. Stark said the features were warmly received last year and made for welcome additions to the long-standing celebration.
Since 1988, the holiday event has drawn thousands of people to see the festive performances and decorations in the windows of almost every downtown storefront window on High Street. Stark said 4,500 people attended the event last year, and she hoped to beat that number this year -- 4,000 people sent in their RSVPs on Facebook before it began.
Jared Kesel and his family waited in line at Central Bank early in the evening, anticipating a warm stop inside for some cookies and hot chocolate.
"We come pretty much every year, with our kids often here to play or sing," he said. "There's always something new and something going on, and a lot of the schools are very involved. Our daughter takes piano lessons and is playing tonight."
At the other end of the line, Steve Bruce, Central Bank's Vice President of the Investments Division, donned a top hat, bowtie and white gloves to hold the door open for people leaving the building. Exchanging handshakes and Christmas wishes are something he's done since he started working there, but the regal outfit was a more recent addition.
"This has been something I've volunteered to do for the last six years I've been here, but the last two years I've added the top hat and white glove treatment," he said. "I thought it was time to kick it up a bit and show people the customer service Central Bank is known for. I think it adds a little extra taste of the holiday spirit when they come through."
Mayor Ron Fitzwater said his first Living Windows since being elected was a sight to behold.
"It's just amazing," Fitzwater said. "I knew that people would be out this evening, but I didn't expect this many. Living Windows is such an institution, and it really brings Christmastime to Jefferson City."