Heart of the Holidays Festival brings tons of Christmas cheer to York

YORK – The area of Sixth and Nebraska Avenue was bursting with Christmas spirit Sunday, Dec. 10, as throngs of people attended York’s Heart of the Holidays Festival.

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This festival – spearheaded by volunteers and supported by local donors – is only in its second year but it has quickly become one of the most popular community events of the year.

The festival opened at 1 p.m., complete with an ice skating rink outside the historic auditorium. Yes, an ice skating rink. The synthetic version performed the same as the real deal as it was embraced by many locals, whether they brought their own skates or rented them on site. The skating rink was open from 1-8 p.m., so there was plenty of time for everyone to participate if they wanted.

Santa arrived at 2 p.m., in grand fashion, as he was escorted to the festival by the York Fire Department and the York Police Department. Prior to his arrival, the York University Dancers entertained the growing crowd in front of the auditorium. Literally hundreds of kids chanted, “Santa, Santa, Santa” as soon as they could hear the sirens of the approaching cruiser and fire truck. Firefighters and police officers wore Santa hats in honor of their treasured guest and waved to the crowd as they made their very special delivery. As Santa waved to his little fans, cheers and applause exploded. After his big arrival, Santa was front and center in the auditorium where he visited with the little ones about their Christmas wishes.

This reporter had the grand opportunity to speak with Santa before he started meeting with the youngsters. When asked about his thoughts on his amazing welcome, he said, “Ho, ho, ho, I love York County, Nebraska! Everyone is so enthusiastic and I wish I had time to ice skate today as I’m usually too busy. So many sweet little ones and their folks are out here to celebrate Christmas. I can’t wait to meet with them all, in anticipation for the big day which is just around the corner. I just want to say thank you to everyone for greeting me and my friends from York Fire and York Police. It was so awesome! What a wonderful community festival. I could have done without Grinch being here, but he and I have an understanding that we will tolerate one another, to a certain extent of course. Thank you York for such a great event. And I will see you all very soon!”

An exclusive interview with an individual who wanted to remain anonymous revealed how Santa and his reindeer arrived at the fire station around 1:30 p.m., as there is a special sleigh landing pad there. While Santa refueled with cookies and milk at the fire station, his reindeer went ahead to the city auditorium where they waited outside. They maintained their post, at the ready for the moment when The Big Guy wanted to return to the North Pole. For most attendees, this was their first encounter with real life reindeer and it was amazing to see them up close and personal. Even though one would assume the reindeer would be slightly tired from their big flight, they were more than willing to pose for photos with their York friends.

Inside the auditorium, it was like Christmas had exploded. The decorations were off the chart. And then . . . so many activities. There were puppet shows; the playing of “The Grinch” movie; a “snowball fight;” and the popular balloon drop in the main auditorium.

To keep kids of all ages entertained, there were offerings of making crafts, decorating cookies (750 were baked for the occasion), caroling, drinking hot chocolate, playing games, creating stuffed and balloon animals, a human snow globe and even making reindeer food.

Right outside the front doors of the auditorium, there was a small house where McCormicks Heating and Air Conditioning and Peterson’s Petal Company were accepting toiletries, toys, canned food and donations for Blue Valley Community Action.

Outside, attendees could make their own Smores thanks to the creation of special fire pits and they could visit Smoresville as little Christmas huts had magically appeared in the parking lot across from the auditorium (in all actuality, they were loaned out and delivered by Hitz Towing, thanks to their generosity).

And yes, the Grinch made an appearance, although this was probably too much holiday cheer for his liking. He soaked in as much attention as he could get before Santa arrived, because that’s what Grinch does.

There were horse-drawn carriage rides throughout the downtown, with two teams moving at all times.

Of course, the reason for the season wasn’t forgotten as there was a Nativity Walk.

And if all that wasn’t enough, the town’s first ever “light parade” got underway at 5:15 p.m., complete with a lighted tractor (because after all, York County is a hub of agriculture), floats, semis, adorned York Fire truck and festive vehicles.

The event was free to the public as there was no admission charge.

The event was made possible by 88 local sponsors: 35 in-kind, 14 bronze, 12 silver, 23 copper and four platinum.

Committee members said they were thrilled with the turn-out and wanted to thank all those who helped in some way. A lot of work, time, coordination went into this beautiful event.

Committee members include Wally Byrne, Bre Ronne, Nancy Davidson, Sue Ann Romohr, Jason Hirschfeld and Ashley Luethje.

It truly was a magical Christmas afternoon.

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