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Bright lights, big tree, big crowd; Railside kicks off Christmas season
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Bright lights, big tree, big crowd; Railside kicks off Christmas season

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Railside Chirstmas 2021

Carriage rides were just part of the fun of the Railside Christmas celebration on Third Street in downtown Grand Island.

Even though Thanksgiving isn’t quite here, hundreds of people put downtown Grand Island in the Christmas spirit Friday night at the 29th annual Community Tree Lighting event.

The downtown area was filled with bright lights, traffic and pedestrians. After the tree was lit in Railside Plaza, groups performed at the intersection of Third and Wheeler streets. People gathered in a circle to watch dancers perform to waltzes and holiday tunes. The entertainment also included martial arts demonstrations.

The evening unfolded with the smell of kettle corn in the air.

Mayor Roger Steele thanked the organizers and the crowd for throwing a “festive holiday party.”

The Northwest High School Gold Tones kicked off the evening with a holiday vocal performance at 5:30 p.m. The 25 singers, wearing Santa hats, performed such Christmas songs as “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”

Two members of the Gold Tones said the performance was fun.

“We always enjoy doing this,” said Alex Lesiak.

Sydney Millsap said the Northwest students perform the holiday songs on other occasions.

“On the last day of school before Christmas break we usually go around the hallways and just carol,” she said. “Sometimes we get asked to sing at a lot of events for Christmas. “

The Gold Tones have performed at Stuhr Museum “and then occasionally we go to nursing homes and sing,” Millsap said.

At 5:45 p.m., Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived. The Clauses then moved to the Grand Island Tourism office, where people could have photos taken with the jolly duo free of charge, courtesy of J&B Photography.

Shortly before 6 p.m., Steele lit the Christmas tree.

Amos Anson, president of the Railside business improvement district, and Steele both thanked the Cochnar family for donating the Colorado blue spruce. The tree was provided by the children of the late James F. and Anne Mae Cochnar.

The tree “has tremendous memories for them,” Steele said. “And isn’t it wonderful that as a family they want to share those memories with us. How gracious and how kind.” The crowd responded to that comment with applause.

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Steele acknowledged a couple of elected officials in the audience — City Council members Mitch Nickerson and Chuck Haase.

“I point them out because if you have any complaints about how the city is run, go talk to Chuck or talk to Mitch,” Steele said, smiling. “But seriously, they are very hard-working public servants and they support Railside.”

Steele mentioned the big lineup of entertainment Friday night.

“This kind of an activity does not just happen all on its own. It takes the hard work of many very special people,” he said.

He talked about the work of the BID and all the businesses in Railside.

“They have spent hours planning for this evening’s festivities, to make Railside the center of family-friendly entertainment,” Steele said. “It’s very symbolic that we’re here, in the heart of Grand Island, where people have been kicking off the holiday season for decades and decades.”

Steele thanked the businesses “for giving us this magnificent evening.”

The event marked the return of big crowds to the downtown Christmas celebration. Only eight people attended the tree lighting last year, when large gatherings were discouraged during the pandemic.

Anson noted that many city departments played a role in the holiday event.

Railside has some businesses that many people in the audience probably hadn’t seen, he said. “There’s all kinds of new ones.”

The holiday season is a “great opportunity for everyone to see some of the progress that we’ve been working on down here,” Anson said.

He encouraged the crowd to enjoy the activities, support the businesses and to “spread the good word.”

For the first time, the Railside district held a holiday planter-decorating contest involving the planters along the street.

Railside Executive Director Sherry Siwinski announced the winners Friday evening. The contest was won by the Bradley Law Office, followed by Amur Equipment Finance in second place, the Grand Theatre in third place, the Convention and Visitors Bureau in fourth place and Health and Human Services in fifth.

Downtown Grand Island kicked off the holidy season on friday night with the Railside Christmas Celebration. The celebration was jam packed with many festive activities such as christmas carols, dancers, carriage rides, and a lighting of the tree ceremony.

jeff.bahr@theindependent.com

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