With the focus on Thanksgiving Day in the early part of the week followed by the crush of holiday shopping starting on Black Friday, the main kickoff of Christmas celebration will be joined by the main man himself — Santa — Saturday at the Christmas tree lighting at Town Square.
“It’s basically to bring the community together to kick off the Christmas season …, ” said Joe Ross, who co-chairs the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce’s tree lighting committeee. “It’s always a good time. ”
The event is a major celebration each year, with crowds gathering generally regardless of the weather — which is forecast to be nice this year, with the National Weather Service predicting mostly sunny weather with a high near 45 and a low near 27.
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, said the people usually crowd the square during the event.
“Santa and Mrs. Claus arrive, local organizations serve chili and hot chocolate, the Chamber Ambassadors do a food drive for the food bank, and local groups lead people in Christmas carols, ” said Vandeberg.
For the last several years, the tree -lighting ceremony has been set for the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and that continues this year with the festivities set to start at 5:30 p. m. Saturday.
The ceremony went back in decades in Havre, with, for many years, a tree set up in the intersection of 3rd Avenue and 2nd Street and a lighting ceremony held at that location.
Vandeberg said that apparently stopped after she moved from town, and, when she came back to Havre in 1986, no tree was being displayed. She and other downtown business owners decided to get the tradition up and running again.
They made an agreement with Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation and with assistance from local companies, a tree once again was cut down and displayed in Havre, starting in 1987.
That tree again was displayed at the downtown intersection of 3rd and 2nd
Then, when the Chamber successfully created Havre’s Town Square, the ceremony was moved there. In its first year, 2001, the newly planted tree was lit for the ceremony, basically in what looked like a parking lot.
Town Square was created after a lengthy planning and negotiation process, with the Chamber eventually signing 10-year leases for the space on the 300 Block of 1st Street with Wells Fargo Bank and Bear Paw Credit Union. Vandeberg said the 10-year leases recently have been renewed.
She said the construction and landscaping at the area started the year following the first tree lighting ceremony, with massive changes in the appearance of the area now.
Town Square includes a series of tables and benches, landscaped lawns and shrubs, a locally made life-size replica of a bison on one side, and the Veterans Memorial Wall on the other, with the ever-growing evergreen Christmas tree dominating the middle of the scene.
The site has become a regular space for local activities in downtown Havre, with one of the highlights being the annual tree-lighting ceremony.
The arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus is a prominent part of the tree lighting each year. After they arrive, children are invited to visit with Santa.
Caroling also is a prominent part of the event, with members of the Havre High School choir and other local musicians expected to lead in the singing.
Ross said vendors will be providing treats like hot chocolate, people dressed as Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch and Sponge Bob Square Pants as well as other characters will be available for photo opportunities, and fire barrels with wood provided by Lon and Stacey Waid will be burning so people can keep their hands warm.
The Rotary Club of Havre also is providing a special treat this year, with showings of “Ice Age 3, Dawn of the Dinosaurs, ” at 11 a. m. Saturday and Sunday with admission free with the donation of a nonperishable food item for the Havre Food Bank.
Major drawings also are held, along with the food and booths with local vendors.
Vandeberg said registration sheets will be around town for the Super Certificate Giveaway, which typically awards a group of gift certificates worth from $1,300 to $1,500 in merchandise from local Chamber members to the winner. The person whose name is drawn must be present at the tree lighting to win.
This year, another drawing is available. Children can register to win a special gift basket at the tree lighting.
“The registration is for young’uns, they can win something as well, ” Vandeberg said.