Almost as soon as people have put down the forks from their turkey dinner on Thanksgiving Day, they’ll be able to look ahead to the next holiday. Downtown business owners and community members in Scottsbluff and Gering have already started the post-Thanksgiving prepping, planning downtown parades and activities.
The annual Gering Holiday Parade Friday, Nov. 25 at 6 p.m. will be the informal holiday kickoff for the season. Tenth Street will light up with festive holiday décor as members of the community showcase their creativity, wearing costumes and traveling down the street on floats. The fun continues after the parade with the opening of Santa’s Village.
RaNae Garton of the Gering Merchants Association said parade participants will travel down Tenth Street off of T Street south to the Gering Civic Center at M Street. There is no theme. Participants can begin lining up around Gardner Park after 4:30 p.m. Lineup is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
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“We haven’t had (a theme) for the past couple of years,” she said. “People can do their own thing and be creative.”
The merchants association would like a heads up if an organization or family plans to participate in the parade, however, anyone is welcome to show up that evening.
While no candy can be thrown from the floats, participants who are walking the parade route are encouraged to hand out candy to spectators.
As the holiday decorations light up Tenth Street and the public lines the streets to see the parade, Garton said she enjoys seeing families celebrating the holiday together, especially following the pandemic.
“The joy on the kids’ faces is just great,” she said. “We were so disappointed during the pandemic that we couldn’t do the parade, we couldn’t run the village. We still set the village up so families could still go at their own time and take pictures and stuff, but it just gives the kids something to look forward to.
“It’s just such a joyous season and we’re so lucky in that the community we live in is so giving. It’s a beautiful time of the year all around.”
The top three parade floats will be awarded by three judges. While there are no guidelines for selecting the winners, Garton said they look for designs that celebrate the holiday season. The winners will be announced after the parade on the Gering Merchants Association’s Facebook page.
Santa’s Village will open Friday, Nov. 25 from 6-9 p.m. Janet Mitchell, village chairman, said she enjoys seeing the children sit on Santa’s lap and telling him what they want for Christmas.
“Every day that Santa’s Village is open there are various activities for the kids to do,” Mitchell said. “When the kids go up to see Santa, we offer to take a family picture with their cell phone at no charge.”
The public will have the opportunity to walk through the various interactive buildings and meet Santa Claus. Inside each building, youth will discover activities where they can color a holiday image, move through a jail and sit in a miniature church.
“It’s an opportunity for the community to bring their families out to visit with Santa and to give them their letters to Santa by dropping them in the mailbox,” Garton said. “The police building has a jail in it, it has the Abominable Snowman and the Grinch. The church has pews and a pulpit, so the kids can have some fun in there. The candy cottage is the coloring station.”
New this year is live reindeer that will accompany Santa to Gering for a fun meet and greet opportunity.
“This year we will have reindeer that night (Nov. 25) and Saturday, Nov. 26,” Garton said. “The live reindeer people can interact with. They can touch them.”
After visiting with Santa, the elves will hand out a bag of candy. Cookies and hot chocolate will also be served complementary to all visitors.
Throughout the holiday season, Garton said various groups donate time to help run Santa’s Village.
“It takes a village to run that village,” Garton said.
Mitchell also shared that on Saturday, Dec. 3, the Pony Express will come and deliver children’s letters to Santa at Legacy of the Plains.
“They usually ride in around 11:30 a.m. and noon,” she said.
Santa’s Village will also be open during the evenings on Saturdays in December, except for Christmas Eve. Saturday hours are from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We are always open the night of the parade, but we’ve started opening one night in December each week, that way as families are coming into town, they have the opportunity to go see it at night,” Garton said. “It’s just so pretty when it’s all lit up and everything is going on.”
Mitchell noted that Santa’s Village is free because of the community support. However, a challenge the Gering Merchants Association deals with is the maintenance of the buildings.
“Last year we repainted most of the buildings and put new lights on them,” Mitchell told the Courier. “Unfortunately, we lost the space that we normally would store the buildings in, so for the past two years, the buildings have had to sit out in the elements. Thankfully we didn’t get hail so hopefully we won’t have too many repairs to do this year.”
The annual window decorating contest will also return this season. Decorations must be up by Saturday, Dec. 10. Prizes will be awarded to the top businesses. More information on the window decorating contest is forthcoming.
For more information about holiday happenings in Gering, visit the Gering Merchants Association Facebook page.