Sights and sounds of Christmas fill Simpson Park

Several hundred people crowded Simpson Park despite frigid temperatures for the 2013 Festival of Lights Celebration and Lighting Ceremony Saturday evening.
Chillicothe Mayor Chuck Haney welcomed the crowd, followed by City Administrator Ike Holland. They both thanked the volunteers and parties involved in the event for their hard work.
Barb Burton recognized the Festival of Lights Committee, including Janet Barnhart, Marsha Beetsma, Mary Lou Wilhoit, Kathy Gilliland and Jim Hinrichs. Burton also thanked the Parks Department for their hard work in preparing for the event, and noted that without the generosity of the community, this event would not be possible.
Santa, along with Haney, counted down to the lighting.
Following the lighting, horse-drawn sleigh rides were given through the park, as well as tractor-drawn wagon rides. Children formed a long line to visit Santa, and Christmas music was provided by Tom Tingerthal. Several space heaters were donated and loaned for the event to help patrons warm up, and apple cider and hot chocolate were provided by Piggly-Wiggly for the event as well.
The Festival of Lights began in 2005 by Audrey and Steve Svec. According to Barb Burton, the idea came to them after seeing a lighting display in another town.
"They thought the lights and decorations would be beautiful in Simpson Park," Burton said.
The couple began collecting donations from the community to purchase lights and decorations, and worked with a group of volunteers to decorate the park in the initial years of the project. After the Svecs moved from Chillicothe in 2009, the current Festival of Lights Committee formed and they have been in charge since.
Through the years, the event has grown to include more lights and decorations throughout the park. Burton said that the key to decorating is the availability and efficient use of electricity.
"The Festival of Lights Committee consults with the Chillicothe Parks Department and Chillicothe Municipal Utilities to utilize power effectively," Burton explained.
The lights are connected to timers that are set to turn on just before dark each evening. This year, the committee is working to use more decorations and light strands using LED light bulbs, due to the cost effectiveness of them. Roughly, a quarter of the current decorations were changed to LED bulbs this year, and the process will continue through upcoming years.
The number of volunteers has also grown, Burton said. Volunteers include both individuals and businesses who decorate the park, donate money, donate decorations and maintain or repair decorations in the inventory.
"This event completely relies on donations of people and memorial donations to make it happen," Burton said. "We could not do it without volunteers."
The lights will be on each night through Jan. 1, 2014.