WAKEENEY, Kan. (KSNW) – For nearly 70 years, WaKeeney has been called the “Christmas City of the High Plains,” and this year’s tree lighting ceremony lived up to that reputation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, here comes Santa Claus,” roared an announcer to the crowd gathered downtown. “Children of all ages, St. Nicholas has arrived in WaKeeney, Kansas!”
People cheer and music plays, as a flatbed trailer decked out with lights brings Santa to town, as it always does, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
A quick countdown, and St. Nick flips on the lights of a huge Christmas tree in the middle of Main street, setting the night sky ablaze with color.
It’s a tradition that dates back to 1950, when the 35-foot, handmade tree was first put up and decorated with lights that stretch across the road.
“Those were to be the heavens,” said tourism director, Cathy Albert. “That’s what the blue lights are, and those come out from the stars and go to all four corners of the intersection.”
Fresh greenery and lights also outline businesses on either side of the street, and a horse-drawn wagon takes families for a tour.
Even during this year’s cold weather, with the wind gusting up to 50 miles per hour, the townspeople wouldn’t miss it.
“‘Cause it’s my grandson’s first time seeing the tree,” said Sara Flax.
“It’s a tradition,” said Kari Wynn-Coffman. “Every year you get your picture taken right in front of the Christmas tree.”
But you don’t have to be from WaKeeney. Word of this party gets around!
“I go to meetings all across the state,” said Albert. “When I say I’m from WaKeeney, they say, ‘You’re from the Christmas city.’ That’s what we’re known for.”
Proof of that is Zach, a father and holiday traveler, who stopped by with his toddler.
“We’re coming this way from Kansas City on our way to Denver and found this cool, little town that had this celebration going on.”
While the history and pageantry of it all are lost on the little ones, kids love seeing Santa, his live reindeer in a pen nearby, and a simulated ride on Santa’s sleigh.
They also enjoy walking through the North Pole– an outdoor area decorated year-round with Christmas murals and yard art.
This season isn’t even over before organizers are looking ahead to the 2020 festivities.
“Next year will be our 70th anniversary,” said Albert.
The city wants to make the tree lighting ceremony bigger and better, with more events planned.
Albert is using a $5,000 grant to build Santa a new house where kids can visit.
She says more details will be revealed in the months ahead, but one thing is certain– WaKeeney wants to keep its crown as Christmas city!