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Kannapolis Christmas festival lights up the night

KANNAPOLIS — Gingerbread houses, Santa and singing bears, plus plenty of glow from lights and fireworks, got Christmas off to a rousing start Saturday in Kannapolis.
An estimated 6,000 people attended the third annual Kannapolis Christmas festival — an afternoon of carnival rides, free activities and fun leading up to the city’s tree-lighting ceremony at dark.
Kannapolis Parks and Recreation Director Gary Mills said the turnout was excellent.
Former Kannapolis Mayor Ray Moss and his wife, Betty, were this year’s special guests to officially light the city’s Christmas tree and start the fireworks display — assisted, of course, by Santa.
“Ray was instrumental in helping this park look the way it looks right now,” Mills said.
Moss recalled the days when what is now Village Park was a field where “berries were picked and rabbits were hunted.”
He praised Mills as one of “a hard working group of people” who made the park possible.
Moss recalled the words of a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Where there is darkness, let me bring light,” Moss said.
“This Christmas season, I’m going to find a way to turn on a light in the darkness,” Moss said. He urged others to do likewise.
“This, to me, is fantastic,” said Becky Tolle, recreation and special events coordinator.
She gestured out at the families scattered across the Village Park lawn, on chairs and blankets.
Many were sipping the free hot cocoa provided by park staff.
“They’re having their family time, waiting for the tree lighting to start,” Tolle said. “And that’s what it’s all about.”
Family time, and togetherness … although many people’s “togetherness” involved standing in line to ride the park’s most popular attraction, the Rotary Express train, through a field of thousands of Christmas lights.
In addition to the city’s traditional decorations, including many adopted from the former Cannon Mills light display, Mills said there are new lights this year provided by the Cabarrus Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Those are to be found not only in Village Park, but all around downtown Kannapolis.
There were some changes this year: not as many stage acts, and an earlier start time of 6:15 for the tree lighting and fireworks display.
That allowed more time for rides and fun afterward, Tolle said.
Earlier in the day, kids competed to build gingerbread houses, which were then on display throughout the evening.
Local churches and civic organizations created Christmas displays, which were also judged, with top prizes of $100 as well as second- and third-place prizes.
As dark fell, the carnival rides lit up.
And families retreated from the cold to a room where park staff helped kids create their own Christmas cards from paper, felt, stickers and more.
“Earlier in the day, we had ornaments that they painted,” Tolle said — plus jingle-bell bracelets and other free crafts.
The free family activities drew many of those who enjoyed concerts and other fun earlier this year.
Wayne and Jean Anderson of Kannapolis brought their grandkids, Kathie, 8, and James, who turns 7 today.
The kids made Christmas cards for their family while their grandparents and great aunt Anne Vaughn looked on.
Jean Anderson said the family came to last year’s event as well, and tries to support the local parks’ events.
Avis Munday brought her four children — daughters Melinda and Sarah, sons Samuel and Benjamin — for their third Kannapolis Christmas in a row.
The best part of the evening?
“The rides,” Samuel said.
“For me, friends to play with,” Ben said.
But they left the mini-midway of carnival rides early to stake out a spot by the city’s Christmas tree.
“Once they light the tree, everybody crowds around, You want to get a good spot,” Melinda said.
The park’s Christmas festivities continue, with the specially-lit train, light displays and music, every evening in December except for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The last day to enjoy the holiday fun is December 30.
And Christmas cheer continues in Kannapolis next Saturday, Dec. 8, with the annual downtown Parade of Lights presented by the Cabarrus Events Association.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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