Local crowds share in annual Festival of Lights

It was the first Festival of Lights in Brandon Park for Jeff Wolfe and Alyssa Eckert, both of Williamsport.

The couple were among several hundred adults, youngsters, tots and infants who were gathered under a full moon to watch the trees light up in Christmas colors.

“Definitely,” Wolfe said when asked if the lighting of the trees made him and Eckert ready to welcome in the holiday season.

Crowds gathered around ice carvers Bob Salaki and his wife Linda.

The city couple were on the side of the Dr. Kenneth Cooper Bandshell finishing carving the top half of a snowman. The snowman’s cap and face were starting to take shape a few minutes before the dancers from Milissa Augstine Dancers took the stage.

The ice carvers used their hands to chisel off thin layers of the crystal clear ice.

It took the ice carvers 72 hours to create a Christmas tree and reindeer on display at the festival. They worked ahead of time to prepare for the event.

The ice was provided by Ben Thomke. Bob Salaki said the ice goes through a purification process with fresh water clearing away any dirt or specks. It is used for entertainment and for weddings.

A long line grew longer for those wanting a horse-drawn carriage ride through the park.

The horses snorted and their breath could be seen as temperatures dipped but were not unbearable.

Several children huddled around a table as they created homemade ornaments using a variety of materials.

Emcee, Jake Michaels from Backyard Broadcasting, welcomed the crowd to the festival.

Packard and Center streets already were illuminated with giant clear white snowflake lights.

Then, Santa, Mrs. Claus and Bernard the Elf arrived on stage with Mayor Gabriel J. Campana and his daughter, Caroline.

“Merry Christmas Williamsport,” Campana declared.

Campana had the crowd count down with him from 10 to zero and the switch was thrown as dozens of trees burst into an array of colors.

The lights reached up some of the conifers as high as 50 feet. They were positioned by the city Streets and Parks Department personnel in various designs, including ovals and looked similar to a string of lights in a private residence.

Then, dancers with the Millissa Augustine Dance & Fitness Academy began their performances. Their outfits sparkled in the holiday lights and their dancing was choreographed to the music, making those standing or seated on the concrete benches in front of the bandshell sway to the delightful sounds of the season.

Thad Meckely, chairman of the Brandon Park and Shade Tree Commission, guessed there had to be at least 400 people attend the festival.

“This is a great turnout,” he said, adding the city was busy with First Friday and events at the Pajama Factory and elsewhere on the first day and night of December.

Afterward, with the colored lights glowing all around, Santa sat on his high-backed chair in front of the stage to listen to the wishes of all the boys and girls.