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story.lead_photo.caption Guests crowd Nov. 30, 2018, on East High Street during the annual Living Windows event. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

Downtown Jefferson City storefronts and streets will once again be filled with holiday magic as Downtown Living Windows returns Dec. 6 for the 31st year.

Hosted by Downtown Jefferson City and featuring a collection of local businesses, Downtown Living Windows brings Christmas to life with living window displays including favorites like Santa Claus and a nativity scene.

Since 1988, the event has drawn thousands of visitors to see the festive performances and decorations. It was originally created by former News Tribune marketing director Beth Chisholm, who was inspired by a similar event in Lebanon, Missouri.

In its early years, the event was held to attract crowds to the downtown area. Ever since, the event has meant the beginning of the holiday season for Jefferson City and thousands of people filling the streets and sidewalks of downtown.

This year, the free event will spread down High Street between Jefferson and Adams streets, as well as portions of Madison and Monroe streets. Natalie Newville, a board member with the Downtown Association, said there will be more than 30 windows or performances to see.

"What I really like about this event, and what I think makes it so much fun to go to, is even if it's the same performer that's performed every year, their dances are always different — their songs are always different," Newville said.

One new inclusion will be the Scene One Theater Elves at High Rise Bakery, which is participating in its first Living Windows. The bakery will also be open for business during the event, manager Kevin Thompson said.

Those searching for a magical journey can ride the Polar Express, starting at the Missouri River Regional Library on High Street. JeffTran buses will play the part of the magic train, leaving from the library every 30 minutes.

Library staff — dressed as Mrs. Claus and a train conductor — will read the story of the Polar Express to riders, and everyone will receive some iconic items from the book — a train ticket and bell. Reservations for the Polar Express are encouraged, and are almost full, Newville said.

Reserve your spot on the train on the library's website. Newville said reservations are recommended, but there will be a chance to stand in line, and they will fill in seats on the buses if possible. Tickets are free.

Down by the river, the Missouri State Museum and Jefferson Landing State Historic Site will also participate in the event. The Lohman Building, 100 Jefferson St., will be open to visitors and offer free activities like hands-on crafts and hot apple cider.

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Back on High Street, Carrie's Hallmark Shop will host a book signing by local author and PFSbrands CEO Shawn Burcham. He will be offering signed copies of his book "Score with GRITT: Straight Talk Strategies for Success."

First Presbyterian Church, 324 Madison St., will return to host a nativity scene with live animals outside, and musical performances and refreshments inside.

If you're looking for more live animals, the library park will also be visited by real-life reindeer during the event.

Also, don't forget to visit the News Tribune's Candy Cane House in front of the Cole County Courthouse, and Santa Claus at Hawthorn Bank.

The night is filled with many living displays and treats, providing a night of family fun, Newville said.

"It's just so fun and festive. It's a great way to enjoy the holiday season."

Starting at 5 p.m. Dec. 6, High Street will be closed between Jefferson and Adams streets; Madison Street will be closed between McCarty to East State streets; and Madison Street will be closed from High Street to Commercial Way.

The Madison Street parking garage will be open, but visitors will only be able to access it from the Capitol Avenue entrance.

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