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Santa Claus works his gift-giving magic in only one night, but for the mere mortals behind the scenes of Fayetteville’s 22nd-annual Lights of the Ozarks festival, making the season merry and bright is a much more time-consuming operation.
As many as 3,300 man hours from a crew of 25 went into designing and constructing the displays and stringing and wrapping the Downtown Square with nearly a half million LED lights, according to Fayetteville Parks Maintenance Superintendent Byron Humphry.
“It’s a six-week job to decorate the square,” said Humphry, who has supervised the job the past 10 years. “We begin the first week of October, and we’re tweaking things here and there right up to the Lighting Night event. We want everything to be just right.”
The countdown for the lighting of the square begins shortly before 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, when the lights will blaze on to welcome the most wonderful time of the year to the downtown area. The Lighting Parade follows with festive floats sponsored by local organizations and businesses. Good ol’ Santa Claus will also make his first downtown appearance, ushering in the Christmas season.
Following Friday’s event, the lights will illuminate the square each evening through New Year’s Eve from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. for families and friends to enjoy. Along with the lights, Christmas and holiday tunes will fill the air from a sound system situated in the Old Post Office, located on the center of the square. Vendors will sell hot chocolate and other seasonal treats. Families can meet Santa Claus for photos and even visit Rudolph the Reindeer. Carriage rides are also available for those looking to add a bit of romance to the evening.
The lights will shine bright on rainy nights, Humphry said. However, Santa, Rudolph and the carriage horses will take the night off when the weather is wet, according to Ray Dotson of Ozark Mountain Carriages.
Choirs from local schools and churches will perform on Dec 11, 12 and 15 as part of the Choirs on the Square program.
Even after 10 years of working the event, Humphry said he still feels eager and anxious on Lighting Night, like a kid on Christmas Eve.
“When the lights are off and the countdown starts, there is some anxiety,” Humphry said. “We do tests and everything we can to make sure it’s a special night for the people that come out. When the lights do come on, it’s a big relief. When you hear the response of the crowd… It’s audible, the oohs and the aahs. It’s really gratifying to know your work makes people happy.”
Jessica Leonard, communications director of the Fayetteville Visitors Bureau, said the festival is a community event in the truest sense, bringing the city, local businesses and the University of Arkansas together to pull off the event, which draws people from all around the region to the heart of the city.
“We [Advertising and Promotions Commission] help with purchasing new lights over the years and our office also coordinates the festival, working with the vendors, putting together the Lighting Night parade.” Leonard said. “The city provides the manpower to actually design and hang the lights and displays, and the University of Arkansas Hospitality Department’s Meetings and Conventions class handles a lot of the Lighting Night activities.”
Leonard, whose office is on the square, has worked the event for six years and lived in Fayetteville for a decade, but still finds Lights of the Ozarks to be one of her favorite city events.
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