Though it’s only mid November, Columbia is already feeling the holiday spirit. To kick off the season, the annual Vista Lights celebration took place Thursday night.
In its 30th year, Vista Lights has brought the Columbia community together for decades. This year, not only did participants get to explore over 90 local businesses that host open houses, but several entertainers performed and a kid’s zone gave families a chance to meet Santa and get their faces painted. The events culminated in the illumination of a towering Christmas tree by Mayor Steve Benjamin for the first time of the season.
For local Amber Flowers and her family, going to Vista Lights is a tradition.
“We’ve come here several years. It’s a good family-friendly event," she said.
Flowers has taken her children to Vista Lights for the past four years, but is impressed with this year’s celebration.
“There’s more events, more people,” she said. “It brings everybody together.”
In addition to bringing out families, the event gives local businesses a chance to showcase their offerings. Sunny Ross, who works at Kaminsky’s, was selling hot drinks while dressed festively as one of Santa’s helpers.
“I think it’s an awesome way the spread word about business. Just specifically speaking about Kaminsky’s, I know there have been a lot more orders for cakes and everything else since we've been doing this every year,” Ross said. “It’s really awesome for business.”
Allie McConnell, a second-year elementary education student, agreed.
“It’s a good way for people to see what the Vista has to offer,” she said.
Nine-year-old Keli Chestnut was excited for the desserts and to see Santa, but did admit that she was more impressed by previous years.
“It’s kind of plain,” she said. “There was more things going on [in the past] than what happens now.”
Emmare Chestnut, her mother, noticed a change from years past as well. She stated that in the past it was hard to include both families and adults.
“It was kind of boring for a kid," she explained. "If you’re a drinker, it works, but if you’re not a drinker and you have your kids ... I don't think I saw a lot for the kids.”
This year the children's area was separated from restaurants and bars serving alcohol, but there was a definite mesh of bar hopping adults and families exploring the event. Chestnut hopes moves like this will make the event more inclusive.
“I think everyone comes together, but I definitely think that if you’re a drinker it works better for you,” she said.