The special nature of the Ashland community was on bright display Monday night as 850,000 newly lit Christmas lights illuminated a chilly evening at Central Park.

The Opening Night Ceremony at the Central Park Bandstand was a night of celebration, of Christmas music and a time to come together for families, their kids and the community.

"Being with the family and enjoying a little bit of the Christmas spirit," said Clara Burton, who showed up to the park with her husband, Steven, and grandkids Blake, and Baylee Wilson, 10 and 4, to listen to Christmas music and see the big event of the night -- the illumination of the Christmas lights.

"Being with my grandkids, it's really good," she said.

Dianna Crowson attended the event with her granddaughter, Lily Schneider, 11. Caly Schneider, 5, was one of six beauty queens appearing on stage.

"We want to see her turn the lights on and enjoy the music," Crowson said.

Her granddaughter echoed those sentiments.

"I love seeing the lights," Lily said.

Love is a word that also describes the year's worth of labor that goes into Ashland's remarkable Christmas spirit. The annual events making up the Winter Wonderland of Lights Festival started with the Beauty Pageant on Nov. 3. The Opening Ceremony followed on Monday night. The Annual Christmas Parade is Nov. 21 at 7 p.m. with the theme "A Christmas Wish." The Winter Wonderland Express Train Rides are Nov. 17 thru 19, 24-26th, Dec. 1-3, 8-10 and 15-19th. They are from 6 to 9 p.m. at Central Park & 22nd Street and are $3 a person. Kids can visit and get pictures with Santa are Nov. 23 through 26th, Dec. 1 through 3, 8th through 10th, and 15th through 17th, at the Central Park Log House from 6 to 9 p.m. Breakfast with Santa is Saturday Dec. 2, 9 to 11 a.m. at the Transportation Center. Karaoke and Pizza with Santa with Trolley Rides around Central Park is Dec. 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Transportation Center. Events are sponsored by Kentucky Farmers Bank, The Transportation Center, Winter Wonderland of Lights Festival, Our Lady of Bellefonte Hospital, Jeff and Donna Suttle.

Marion Russell is chairman of the Winter Wonderland of Lights. He bears a striking resemblance to Santa but Russell said that is simply a coincidence.

"We are an all volunteer committee of the Ashland Alliance," Russell said, saying the city of Ashland and many other entities are very supportive of the all-volunteer group.

"We make Winter Wonderland happen," Russell said. "It is all the decorations you see throughout town and through the whole city. We buy them, we maintain them, the city assists in putting them up and taking them down. Winter Wonderland as a committee owns all of the decorations.

"We want to do this for the community," Russell said. "We want everyone to have a good, bright and happy holiday season."

TIm Gibbs, president and chief executive officer of Ashland Alliance, said "Everything we do is for family and kids. It's great for the kids."

He added the Winter Wonderland events demonstrate "who we are."

"We want every single kid ...to all come together and have a Merry Christmas," Gibbs said.

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