ASHLAND — The Miss Winter Wonderland Queen flipped the switch that turned on the lights in Central Park Monday evening, marking the beginning of the Christmas season in Ashland for the 24th year in a row.
Many gathered at the park’s bandstand in the cold and rain, bundled up and holding umbrellas, to kick off the holidays. Free hot chocolate and cookies were served, and jingle bells were handed out to the crowd.
“This is great turnout for the weather,” said Marion Russell, Winter Wonderland of Lights chairman.
He said new additions to the festival include new garland and stocking decorations along Winchester Avenue and more LED lights than last year.
“LED lights are 95 percent throughout the park,” Russell said.
He said the festival has always been near and dear to his heart.
“It means having six weeks of Christmas,” he said.
Opening night festivities included music and singing by the Jeff Carter Group and the South Ashland United Methodist Church Choir. The master of ceremonies, Rob Johnson, introduced the Grand Marshal — Bill Jackson of Carter County, who helped establish the area ambulance system — and the Winter Wonderland Pageant winners, including 18-year-old miss queen Kayla Rivera.
“I’ve never been in a beauty contest, but I am dying to flip the switch,” said Bill Hannah, president of the Ashland alliance.
Ida and Robert Fugitt, of Ashland, said it is a yearly tradition for them to attend the festival’s opening ceremony.
“This is the big event. We used to bring the grandkids, but they’re too big to come now. This starts everything. We’ll see the parade and go to the Paramount Arts Center,” Mrs. Fugitt said.
Sheila Ferguson, of Willard, said this year was the first time she and her daughter, Andrea, 5, attended the opening ceremony.
“We love it. She (Andrea) likes the lights,” Ferguson said.
“I like the elves,” her daughter said.
To conclude the evening, the choir was joined by the audience in singing “Here Comes Santa Claus” to welcome the jolly, bearded man to the stage. He was followed shortly by a long line of children eager to voice their Christmas list.
The festival will continue with the annual Christmas Parade on Nov. 20, train rides from 6 to 9 p.m. every Friday through Sunday until Nov. 22 and Breakfast with Santa from 9 to 11 a.m. Dec. 1 at the Boyd County Public Library. The lights display will be in the park through Jan. 6.
SHANNON MILLER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or