Holiday in the City opens with tree illumination, ice skating

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Temperatures dipped into the upper 20s, likely even lower considering wind chills, at dusk on Friday evening. Yet people couldn’t get enough of the ice and let lights warm their spirits as Holiday in the City kicked off.

Thousands showed up on the core block and the area on South Fountain Avenue between COHatch and Courtyard by Marriott where Springfield’s tree illumination officially ushered in Springfield’s holiday season.

Instead of a one-day celebration, Holiday in the City, which is presented by the Greater Springfield Partnership (GSP), will be celebrated over five weeks in 2021 with many family-friendly activities and events.

On City Hall Plaza, people lined up for the opening session of outdoor ice skating, added for the first time this year, to begin the evening. The first of 100,000 lights lit up various parts of downtown and holiday music added to the mood.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

At 6 p.m., Santa Claus pushed the button that lit the Clark County-grown 7,500-pound blue spruce tree to cheers and a few gasps.

That was hardly his last duty of the night as he posed for pictures with people of all ages, one of the youngest being 4-months-old. Santa will be available for visits and photos at various places around the city through the holiday season.

Holiday in the City has long been where families from out of town gather, and around 30 people came downtown to support GSP’s John Kelly, who was working the event, traveling from as far as Georgia, Kentucky and Indiana, and one even came on crutches, glad the event is spread out.

Janine Cochran left the warmer climate of Atlanta, where the temperature was at least 35 degrees on Friday, but simply borrowed a coat and enjoyed the climate.

“This is wonderful for Springfield,” she said. “I still like to feel the cold sometimes.”

While many basked in the lights and took photos on a replica of Santa’s sleigh following the illumination, the ice rink stayed busy with everyone from beginners and amateur skaters to at least one youngster whose skills could’ve been taken for an Olympic skating qualifier.

Credit: Bill Lackey

Credit: Bill Lackey

Many hugged the rink’s edge and others took spills, most with smiles and popped back up.

Alex Wright stumbled into the bullpen area off the ice to take a breather after being one of the first out there. It was the teen’s first time ice skating, encouraged by his sister, who had a little more luck staying upright and going.

“I’m trying to get my balance. It’s hard balancing,” he said. “Roller skating is better.”

But with that, he headed back out for more.

All ages shared the ice. Dads helped their little ones maintain balance, with one carrying his while he gracefully skated by. One youngster wore a bicycle helmet for safety’s sake.

One figure was easy to miss as he flew all over the rink, in and around his parents and other skaters safely – 7-year-old Xerxes Whitehead. He’s been on skates and playing hockey locally since he was 3.

Due to this experience, he now prefers the outdoors to indoor rinks after this first venture outside.

“I can go faster out here,” he said, smiling.

People were lined up waiting to skate as the evening went on. Visitors are limited with how many can be on the ice at one time.

Skating costs $5 with skates available, children under 5 can skate free, and it will be open 5-9 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays until Jan. 2.

Chris Schutte, Greater Springfield Partnership vice-president, destination marketing + communications, considered the turnout and the response to the skating rink a good start to the season.

“We’re pleased. People have been safe and respectful and there’s a lot more to come,” he said.

For more information on Holiday in the City and upcoming activities and events related to it, go to

About the Author