The Denton Holiday Lighting Festival will light up the downtown Square on Friday evening for the 25th time.
The lighting festival kicks off with a sing-along and the lighting of the community Christmas tree at 5:30 p.m., organizers said. Music, dancing, arts and crafts, food and a visit from Santa continue the festivities until 9 p.m.
The Wassail Fest, a separate event that runs concurrently, will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on the downtown Square, offering the hot cider served by downtown merchants.
Micah Pazoureck, co-chairwoman of the Denton Holiday Festival Association, said the festival began in 1988 with just a few hundred people in attendance.
The festival now draws an estimated 13,000 to 15,000 people from all over Denton County, who gather at the historic courthouse to enjoy what Pazoureck calls “the official start of the holiday season.”
Pazoureck attributes the growth of the event to good weather and a “wise decision” to move the festival from a Thursday night to a Friday night in 2011.
“Since it was no longer a school night — or even a work night for some — this allowed people to come out and stay longer,” she said. “They could then really enjoy themselves. It’s just a family-friendly way to kick off the holiday season.”
One of the things she said many festivalgoers still don’t realize is that the DHFA is a nonprofit organization governed by a volunteer board of directors.
“We run solely off donations and sponsorships to put this festival on,” Pazoureck said. “Donations are always appreciated to keep it going. … This really is an event put on for the community by the community.”
While the festival has grown, attendees said it hasn’t lost that quaint, small-town feel.
Janie McLeod, now the community events coordinator for the city of Denton, said she was involved with the festival when it first began while she was working with the Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“This event has so many positive impacts on the community — it is a fun, family-friendly event with a variety of great entertainment, is good for the downtown businesses and brings everyone together regardless of ages,” she said.
McLeod said that the festival is a tradition that she shared with her family and now shares with her grandchildren.
Organizers encourage anyone attending the festival to bring a new, unwrapped toy as part of their toy drive to give children in Denton County a Christmas they otherwise might not have.
“Just look for the large Peterbilt truck with the huge flags designating our toy drop-off area near Wells Fargo and Abbey Inn,” Pazoureck said.
Christine Gossett, an event coordinator with the Denton Main Street Association, said Wassail Fest, now in its 15th year, runs simultaneously with the lighting festival, even though the two are separate entities.
Wassail Fest is a free event. The public will be able to vote on their favorite Wassail recipe during the evening.
Gossett said the idea for the fest derived from the Main Street board to help draw traffic to the locally owned merchants on the Square.
Claire Amano, owner of Serendipity and chairwoman for this year’s Wassail Fest, said her store had only been open for five months last year when it participated for the first time. She said her shop served up 700 cups of hot cider and ran out before the evening was over.
Organizers said ballots for taste-testing will be available at various locations around the Square, including the Denton Citizen’s Police Academy booth on the Hickory and Elm Street side of the courthouse lawn, at tables located on the four outside corners of the Square and at the Campus Theatre. Ballots should be turned in by 8 p.m. at the ballot collection box located in front of the Campus Theatre to be eligible for door prizes from participating merchants.
Amano’s husband, Jeff, said the event really drew customers to their business, which sells “shabby chic” furniture items. They have had customers come in as long ago as March and April mentioning they learned about the store during the festival.
“We had more than five times the foot traffic through our store than we generally have,” he said. “It’s great exposure and I encourage everyone to participate.”
MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.