Drizzling rain didn’t deter Denton-area residents from turning out in force at the downtown Square for Wassail Fest and the annual tree lighting Friday night after inclement weather last week forced the events to be rescheduled.
Hundreds of visitors bundled up and braved the weather, weaving in and out of more than 40 stores that served up wassail — hot apple cider — and gathered on the lawn of the Courthouse on the Square for the tree lighting.
“Unless you have days like this, you don’t appreciate days like last year,” Mayor Mark Burroughs said, referring to the nice weather at last year’s Denton Holiday Lighting Festival.
Wassail Fest had even more business participants Friday than originally had been planned, but the Holiday Lighting Festival held a smaller version of its ceremony than had been planned for its 25th anniversary celebration. Still, crowds gathered on the muddy lawn as coloring contest winner Brea Ruyle, 10, turned on the tree lights with a little help from Santa.
A few musical groups performed under two white tents on the lawn after the lighting, while families huddled together in front of the large tree wrapped in multicolored lights.
LeAnn Squiler, a native of Denton who has attended the festival for about five years, performed with the Glory of Zion Singers and said that while this year wasn’t as big, it still made it feel like the holiday season.
“The weather’s pre-empted a lot of things, but our spirits weren’t dampened,” Squiler said. “We’re glad they got the tree lit, so I think the mission was accomplished.”
Some first-timers also made it out to the event, drawn to the tree after years of living in the city. Katelin Pegg and her boyfriend, Garrett Kirkpatrick, planned to attend last week, and Pegg said she was happy that the event was rescheduled instead of being canceled.
“I thought it would be something that we would enjoy,” Pegg said. “I like it so far, but I kind of wish the weather was better. I like the local musicians, that’s probably my favorite part so far. And the community — this is community.”
Though the local merchants were competing for the title of Wassail King or Queen, they came together to make sure the event still happened and brought shoppers back to the Square, said Lydia Norris, who works at Garden Gate.
“Everyone’s really coming together and really highlighting each other to get people on the Square,” she said.
The weather forced many businesses to shut down because of the ice and slowed traffic at the open stores, so merchants are working together to organize promotions to bring people to the Square after Wassail Fest, said Garden Gate owner Traci Davis.
Stores have announced longer hours and will be open on Sundays until Christmas, and five of the businesses are hosting a “Ladies Night Out” on Tuesday with special promotions and tastings.
“Definitely not being open that many days was a bit of a hit,” Davis said. “We’re just doing anything we can to get back the hours we lost.”
JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.