On a cold December evening, Leroy the camel stands at the corner of Monroe and High streets, ready to greet visitors to the 31st annual Downtown Living Windows.
The single-humped, 2-year-old camel is one of many interactive displays lining High Street. Children gather around him, offering baby carrots and hoping to stroke his fluffy coat.
Every year, thousands flock to the downtown area for the Living Windows, a collection of holiday-themed displays in the windows and on the sidewalks of downtown businesses.
Leroy stood outside Cole County Abstract & Title, but he was brought to the event by Capital City Christian Church. Leroy and some more live animals are part of their Journey to Bethlehem, which will be next weekend.
Down the street, the worship band from Solid Rock Church entertained the crowds with a mix of favorite holiday tunes and worship songs. Julie Rollins, worship director, said it's the bands''second year attending.
"We love Christmas, and just coming together as a community and celebrating it together, and everybody celebrating community and loving on people, and getting to meet new people — that's exciting. I love that," Rollins said.
For the band, it also provides a chance to spread a message.
"Not only do we love Christmas — we love the fun of Christmas, and the merriment of Christmas — we also love the message of Christmas," Rollins said. "We want to spread the hope of Jesus out into the streets.
"What cooler thing to do, to come out here among thousands of people and spread that message of hope and love to people."
The worship band weren't the only ones sharing music on Friday night, as bundled up visitors strolled the streets. Down at Midwest Travel, a group of children stood behind the glass of the store's windows singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and other popular carols.
The Missouri River Regional Library was host to a pair of reindeer, and at the First Presbyterian Church, a returning favorite, the live nativity scene, offered the chance to pet a sheep.
Amanda Leroux took a moment inside the church to snap some photos of her children Duncan, 8, and Gretchen, 5.
Leroux said the family has attended for four years now.
"It's one of our holiday traditions," Leroux said. "We look forward to it every year — coming to see the live nativity, and all the ballerinas in the windows, and the Santa Claus."
Duncan said they hadn't made it to Santa yet, at Hawthorn Bank, but they were heading that way.
"We came to see the ballerinas and drink hot chocolate," Duncan said, adding those things, and the cookies many passed out, were his favorite parts of the event.
The Leroux family were one of hundreds that came out to the event, despite the chilly temperatures, to see dancers, musicians and other performers down High and Monroe streets.
Some of the Living Windows weren't necessarily holiday themed, like the Sons of the American Revolution, who set up camp in front of Spectators Sports Bar & Grill. Jim Baker, central district color guard commander with SAR, said they were using the event to help create interest in the organization and find new members.
"We're more of a living history," said Baker, clad in a navy blue Revolutionary War-era military outfit, complete with a tricorn hat. "Anytime you can have a large number of people to spread the word, it's a great avenue."
So, Baker and some other group members were out, trying to drum up membership and spread the history of their ancestors, who fought in the war.
Baker said this was only his second time at the event, despite being a long-time resident of the area.
"It gives (visitors) a free avenue for family and friends to walk up, and just see what Jefferson City has to offer," Baker said.
The event was originally created in 1988, when former News Tribune marketing director Beth Chisholm was inspired by a similar event in Lebanon, Missouri, and wanted to bring it to Jefferson City. It was designed to draw visitors to the downtown area.
Every year since, it's brought the city out to celebrate the holidays together.
For Rollins, that sense of community makes standing out in the cold worth it.
"I love that we all get to come together and celebrate this holiday as a town of Jefferson City," she said.Gallery: Jefferson City Christmas Festivities 2019