ALBANY – As the big day for the 29th downtown Christmas celebration approaches, the area is now properly decorated, the 40-foot cypress tree that has been declared the city Christmas tree placed prominently by city employees Tuesday. Even the crisp weather has a holiday feel to it.
A Story Book Christmas activities will kick off at 4 p.m. Saturday featuring ice skating and live entertainment in the Christmas Village in the 100 block of Pine Avenue. The festivities also include the lighting of the Christmas tree at 5:45 p.m., a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus and, of course, the annual parade.
The parade lasts from 6 p.m.-8 p.m., but there are lots of reasons to arrive early and stay late, said Downtown Manager Lequrica Gaskins.
“We want to encourage people to stay around after the parade for the Christmas village,” she said. “There will be ice skating, a game truck, vendors – arts and crafts, retail, food. We will have food trucks. We have had a lot of people register for the parade and for being a vendor.”
More than 80 parade entrants and about 30 vendors have signed up to participate. There will be no charge for activities such as entertainment, ice skating and the videogame truck.
The theme of the celebration was selected over the summer. Children in camps chose 20 names and took a vote. “A Story Book Christmas” came out on top.
“We wanted our children to participate in what our theme was,” Gaskins said.
Local talent and a DJ will provide entertainment in the Christmas Village from 4-4:45 p.m., and will continue during the parade pre-show from 5-5:45 p.m., during which time children can meet familiar characters, including Spider-Man, the Grinch, the Red Queen from “Alice in Wonderland,” and Elsa from “Frozen.”
During the lighting of the tree ceremony at 5:45 p.m., the city will honor Bennett Jones. Jones was born with a heart condition. The 8-year-old Lee County boy died Sept. 4 at St. Louis Children’s Hospital in St. Louis on the day of his heart transplant surgery.
Bennett’s brother and sister will participate in the lighting of the tree, Gaskins said.
Santa and Mrs. Claus will arrive during the parade, and children can meet them and have photos taken from 8-9 p.m., during which time more live entertainment will be featured. The gaming bus is something new for older children.
Some downtown stores also will extend their business hours that night.
“I’d say thank you to the downtown merchants who are staying open late,” Gaskins said.