Santa kicks off the holiday season at the Festival of Lights

Volunteers stand at the entrance of the gazebo welcoming the first few kids that get to meet Santa on Dec. 1, 2018.

Bryan Vohsing

Boys and girls from all over the Kent area came downtown Saturday to meet Santa for the first time this holiday season at the Festival of Lights.

Some kids sat on their parents’ shoulders to get a better view. Other kids eagerly shook the barricade made of orange traffic cones and Christmas lights. Chants for Santa grew louder as the train, decorated with lights and garland, slowly pulled up to the Main Street bridge.

Santa finally arrived, was greeted by Mayor Jerry Fiala and was escorted to the gazebo next to Franklin Avenue as kids screamed at the top of their lungs.

Santa and the mayor began a countdown, and when it hit zero, lights strung all over the trees and gazebo came on all at once, lighting up downtown with holiday spirit.

Hours before all of this excitement, some were unsure whether Santa would be able to come at all.

“It was pouring down rain at about 4 o’clock so I got a lot of phone calls of people asking if it was still going to be going on,” said Lori Wemhoff, executive director of the Kent Area Chamber of Commerce who planned the event. “I said, ‘you know it’s Santa Claus, you’ve got to have (him).’”

The rain stopped around 5:15 p.m., 15 minutes before the event, but that didn’t stop some excited families from getting in line for Santa at 5:00 p.m.  

In previous years, Festival of Lights was held in the Hometown Bank Plaza, but this year, the event was moved around the gazebo on Franklin Avenue. Over the years, the event has grown so much that the city has to shut down the Main Street bridge and parts of Franklin Avenue.

Besides meeting Santa, there were many other things for families to do. College Town Kent provided a horse-drawn carriage wrapped in lights. Tree City Coffee provided free hot chocolate and Kent Junior Mothers provided free cookies.

The Kent Roosevelt High School girls basketball team and DECA students volunteered at the Santa letter writing station.

“[The event] always brings people downtown and they go to eat, they go to shop,” Wemhoff said. “And when you throw Santa Claus into it and he comes in on a train – that’s pretty unique.”

Bryan Vohsing is the Business and Downtown/Trumbull reporter. Contact him at [email protected].