Thousands of people, under clear skies and encouraged by warm temperatures, filled the streets of North Wilkesboro Friday night for the 21st annual Light Up Downtown.
The event annually kicks off the holiday season in North Wilkesboro. The initial intent of the celebration was to encourage shopping in the downtown, said North Wilkesboro Tourism Director Crystal Keener.
North Wilkesboro Mayor Robert Johnson, who has been involved with the event since its inception, said this was probably the largest crowd yet. The streets were filled with attendees and stores were filled with shoppers past 9 p.m.
The event, which began at 5:30 p.m., was officially kicked off shortly after 6 p.m. when 2016 Little Miss Princess Kathryn Faw and Jazlynn Caul, granddaughter of North Wilkesboro Fire Chief Jimmy Martin, assisted Johnson with pushing a button and turning on the town’s Christmas lights. That took place at the main stage on 9th Street.
Johnson got in the Christmas spirit, wearing an elf suit, complete with pointed ears. The costume was loaned to him by Linda Broyhill.
“This is one of the most glorious and happy times of the year,” Johnson told the crowd gathered on 9th Street beside town hall. “What a way to kick off this holiday season. We sing praise, honor and glory to our Lord Jesus Christ.”
From the stage, Johnson announced that City Florist on Main Street won the event’s annual storefront window decoration contest. Honorable mentions went to Ivy Ridge, also on Main Street, and Wilkes Country Corner, located at the intersection of 10th and C streets.
A panel of Downtown North Wilkesboro Partnership board members judged the entries.
“So many people had really good windows,” Keener said in an interview this morning. She said she was impressed by the effort made by merchants.
The event was initially begun by the North Wilkes High School Marching Band, which played Christmas carols as it paraded down Main Street, turned right to go down 10th Street and made its way up 9th Street to the rear of the stage.
“It was a wonderful evening,” Johnson said. He speculated that the large number of vendors, along with a live nativity scene—complete with a camel, a donkey, sheep and goats—also had an impact on the number of folks in attendance. This was the second year that the nativity scene, at Apple Festival Park at the intersection of Main and 10th streets, was part of Light Up Downtown.
The mayor said he is especially appreciative for the town’s employees and fire department members who worked hard to get the Christmas lights ready in time for the Light Up event. He also was complimentary of Keener and the Downtown North Wilkesboro Partnership for planning and organizing the celebration.
Johnson said he was also really happy with the participation of the town’s merchants, who kept their shops open late for the event.
Keener, at her third Light Up Downtown, said she also was pleased with the turnout.
She noted that many of the downtown’s businesses were full of patrons well into the evening, which is one of the intents of the Light Up event.
Little Mountain Railroad provided train rides on Main Street for children. Stationed in the Wilkes Journal-Patriot parking lot, parents and children were lined up to take their turn.
Throughout the night, the Blue Ridge Tractor Company again offered free hayrides through the streets.
Performances by handbell choirs on Main Street and inside Melody Square attracted crowds, as did carolers, cloggers and dancers at the main stage. Musicians also performed on a stage set up on 10th Street at the intersection with D Street.
The Cub Creek Handbell choir performed on Main Street and the Wilkesboro United Methodist Church Handbell Choir was at Melody Square.
A variety of food and craft vendors lined Main Street during the event.
Wilkes Art Gallery hosted the Reindeer Village, a holiday crafts venue where children made reindeer antlers and wrote letters to Santa. In addition, Santa Claus made a visit to Melody Square to entertain children’s requests and pose for some photos.