It’s a Christmas tradition that dates back more than 30 years as crowds gather in downtown Atlantic for Thursday night’s festivities to kick off the holiday season.

Bailey Smith, executive director of the Atlantic Area Chamber of Commerce, says the Grand Lighting Ceremony at 5 p.m. features the simultaneous switching on of more than 200,000 twinkling lights — and a lot of work goes into making it happen.
“The street department spends pretty much the whole month of October and the early part of November restringing all the lights, making sure all the light bulbs aren’t broken,” Smith says. “They hang all of the garland and then they also hang all of the ornamental designs.”

Atlantic is Travel Iowa’s number-one destination in the state to celebrate the Christmas Season and Smith says the Grand Lighting is a big reason why. The LED lights are wired into the power grid operated by Atlantic Municipal Utilities.

“AMU spends a few weeks making sure all the electricity works and that all the timers are set correctly so that when it does become dusk, all the lights will turn on and stay on until the new year,” she says. Live music will set the mood for the ceremonial flipping of the switch to light up the western Iowa town.
“We will have the Cass County Choral Society performing Christmas carols for the crowd,” Smith say. “Hy-Vee will be down here serving a free hot dog meal to all attendees, and then we’ll also have TS Bank down at the depot handing out free hot chocolate.” A special visitor from the North Pole will make an appearance to illuminate the community’s downtown corridor.

Santa Claus will arrive by fire truck around 5:30 p.m.  Smith says, “He will use his magic, with some crowd participation, to turn the lights on.” In years past, Santa has arrived by helicopter. Kids will be able to visit with him in Santa’s Cabin in the downtown Atlantic City Park.

(By Ric Hanson, KJAN, Atlantic)