Celebration of Lights has become a significant Hastings event; so much so that readers of the H Word blog selected it as the Hastings Event Bracket Challenge winner.
Now in its 24th year, Celebration of Lights will be 5-8 p.m. Thursday in downtown Hastings. Santa Claus and Kool-Aid Man will flip a switch at 7:15 p.m. to turn on more than 4 miles of white LED lights lining roofs and light poles.
To win the bracket challenge, Celebration of Lights was selected by voters over Downtown Do the Brew, Kool-Aid Days and the Flatwater Music Festival, among other Hastings activities, as the top activity in town. Voting occurred in October.
Jessi Hoeft, director of the Downtown Center Association, pointed out the event has plenty of good company.
"We have fantastic events here in Hastings," she said. "So for it to win out of all of those to be named the favorite is a pretty big deal."
Twenty-four years is a long time. Because it's been around for so long, Hoeft said, Celebration of Lights has become a tradition for a lot of families.
"A lot different people have had kids involved in it or have kids involved with it or were involved in it and now their kids are involved in it," she said. "So, it's just a fun tradition to continue."
New this year, the Dr. Seuss character the Grinch will join the handful of costumed characters who already participate in Celebration of Lights.
The Grinch, who comes to the event by way of Hastings College, will read "The Night Before Christmas" at 5:15 p.m. at The Well Read Book, 706 W. Second St., and at 6:15 p.m. at Prairie Books and Gifts, 641 W. Second St.
"It's just a fun addition," Hoeft said. "He's a well-known Christmas holiday character. So it's a fun thing to incorporate additional costumed characters."
The Grinch will join Santa and Kool-Aid Man on stage for the turning on of the lights.
Also new this year is the Kids' Carnival, sponsored by Central Community College-Hastings, from 5-6:30 p.m. in the Rivoli Theatre, 528 W. Second St. The handful of games there will be geared toward preschool-aged children.
Winners of the three Fall 4 Five downtown Hastings shopping sprees will be announced during Celebration of Lights.
Lighting downtown takes a lot of coordination. Hoeft said the lighting, which is coordinated by Randy Chick, director of the Downtown Business Improvement District, requires a few weeks just to check everything and make sure it is functional and ready.
"Once it happens it's just so pretty," she said. "I enjoy coming downtown after that and just seeing all the lights on the buildings lit up for the next couple months.
"We have a really pretty downtown, especially during that time of year."
With food trucks serving everything from barbecue to fresh doughnuts to walking tacos plus the food available at downtown restaurants, Hoeft said Celebration of Lights attendees should come hungry.
"We're trying to reach out to some different people who might not want to come out for bouncy houses or carriage rides but might be interested in food trucks," she said. "There's a lot of good food that will be served."
Temperatures Thursday night are forecasted to be chilly. The high is expected to be around 30 degrees, Hoeft said.
That comes one day after daytime temperatures are expected to be 65 degrees.
"We missed warm temperatures by one day but the good news is it's supposed to be dry," she said. "Everybody just needs to bundle up. It's a really good time to get out your scarves and hats."
Hoeft said Celebration of Lights, which always takes place the Thursday before Thanksgiving, is a great kickoff for the holiday season.
"It's a good time for the community and family and friends to get together," she said. "It just has a overall really good vibe downtown on that night. I'm excited to see the entertainment happen, and I just really enjoy this event. It's one of those events that I think everybody in Hastings attends."