The Friday evening after Thanksgiving, families who’ve been working on leftover turkey and pie all day gather downtown for Winterset’s Festival of Lights. They drink hot cocoa, warm their hands at sidewalk burn barrels, and stroll around the square admiring lighted store windows, buying their first Christmas gifts, and greeting friends and neighbors. Here, children make their wishes known to Santa not at a shopping mall, but inside our native limestone courthouse.
Meanwhile, decorated floats queue up at the old high school to be judged for prizes before the parade begins. At 7:15 Santa comes out and down the sidewalk to his sleigh (secured to a wagon pulled by a firetruck), and the long strings of lights that reach all the way from the corners of the square to the courthouse dome are magically lit. As the procession goes around the downtown block (twice), young adults visiting from the far off cities where they now live experience nostalgia for the past. Kids gather memories for nostalgia of the future.
“Elf” (free with donations of food items for a local pantry) begins at the Iowa Theater at 8:00. We print the 150 tickets in advance and hand them out until they’re gone. Last year, down to just one ticket, two junior high age girls, obviously best friends, appeared at the door, horrified as they grasped the one-seat-left situation. “Oh please, please, please, can’t she just sit on my lap?” one asked. They scooted in as we taped the “Sold Out” sign to the door.
Someday, one will be a bridesmaid in the wedding of the other. They’ll be standing together before a mirror and one will say, “Remember that time you sat on my lap for ‘Elf’ at The Iowa?”
(Photo by Charlotte Underwood for The Winterset Madisonian.)