ST. JOHN | Photos of a family’s beloved canine member, wooden ornaments hand-painted by Cub Scouts with messages of gratitude and bottles of detergent adorn some of the dozens of Christmas trees at Prairie West Park.
On Friday, those trees along with an array of figures, lit up the surrounding neighborhood and the night sky at the town’s annual Festival of the Lights.
A long-standing town tradition, the Festival of the Lights revolves around real evergreen trees that are set up at Prairie West Park and are decorated by various businesses, organizations and families.
The festival draws crowds every year. Youngsters line up to visit with Santa Claus in the park pavilion which is enclosed and decorated with an array of kid-centric figures including the Sesame Street troupe, rubber duckies and a toy train set.
Santa will again listen to Christmas wishes from 4 to 7 p.m. on Saturdays through Dec. 21.
Rory the Pup, the three-year old long-haired Chihuahua member of the Snell family, made her Christmas tree debut at this year’s festival
“At Halloween, the kids kept saying what a cute dog she is, so I decided to start her own Facebook page,” said Jill Snell of St. John, who visited Prairie West Park with 23-year old daughter, Avalon.
“Then we got a letter from the town about decorating these trees so we decided to do a tree for Rory,” Jill Snell said. “We’ve had her since she was six months old. My husband knew the people who owned her and they couldn’t keep her so we took her.”
Decorating one of the trees has been a three-year tradition for the Daugherty and Wenskus families of Schererville, said Linda Daugherty Wenskus as she checked the decorations prior to the festival.
“We love Christmas. (Decorating the tree) is a fun thing to do. This time of year just makes us happy,” she said.
The tradition extends to the family matriarch, 84-year old Claudine Daugherty; her son and daughter-in-law, David and Cindy; daughter Kim Daugherty and Linda and husband, Edward.
“We make it a family occasion, eating hot dogs, drinking hot chocolate and watching the fireworks,” Linda Wenskus said.
Among the businesses represented in the small forest of Christmas trees was the St. John-based Loads of Fun Laundromat. Empty bottles of liquid detergent and fabric softener made a whimsical display along with a string garland festooned with paper cutouts of clothing hanging from wooden clothespins.
Members of St. John Cub Scout Pack 550 created hand-painted wooden blocks that included a variety of “I Am Thankful For…” messages.
One member wrote “I am thankful for my family, dog, grandparents, God, earth, food, water and air”.