Get your jingle bells ready, and deck your halls. The Christmas season in Seward officially kicks off Nov. 25 with Seward’s annual Christmas Festival.
In its 13th year, the festival will celebrate being “Home for the Holidays.”
“It’s a wonderful event. We want to create different family traditions at Christmas,” said Donna Hendrickson, who helps with membership and event planning in her role with the Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership.
Hendrickson has helped plan the festival the past two years.
She said hours of volunteer work go into making the festival magical.
“It just amazes me how many people come together as a community,” Hendrickson said. “It’s a family oriented day.”
About 15 volunteers are part of the committee to coordinate the festival.
Civic groups and businesses contribute their own activities and sponsorships.
Hendrickson said the festival adds something for residents of Seward – known for its Fourth of July celebration – to do in the late fall.
“It’s easy to get out in the summer, but sometimes you need more of a reason to get out when it’s cold,” she said. “This brings people together at a time when it’s sometimes not as easy to get out.”
The festival began in 2011 when the Seward Chamber of Commerce purchased some of the floats used in Lincoln’s now-defunct Star City Parade.
That led to a lighted parade held at dusk, and the festival has continued to grow to an all-day event with more activities added each year.
Highlights of this year’s celebration include the Reindeer Run, which will be an officially metered race for the first time; a downtown display by the Model Train Club of Seward County; a Festival of Trees display and gingerbread house contest at the Civic Center; live reindeer and kids’ games on the courthouse lawn; meals hosted by civic groups throughout the community and other events all day.
As has become tradition, Santa will arrive on a fire truck at 10 a.m. and spend the rest of the morning with Mrs. Claus in their house on the courthouse lawn for visits from families.
Seward Memorial Library invites children to write letters to Santa and will mail them to the North Pole.
A Festival of Carols will be at 11 a.m. at the Civic Center Auditorium – a change from past years when it has been held at the Seward Bandshell.
“We’re hoping having that indoors will draw a few more people,” Hendrickson said.
The annual Tree Lighting will be at 4:45 p.m. with a proclamation by Mayor Josh Eickmeier, followed by the lighted parade down Seward Street at 5:30 p.m.
The parade floats, including a large polar bear and several push floats, are prepared by volunteers each year.
Megan Kahler and Sheri Fritz organize the parade. They clean the floats, string them with new lights, work out the lineup and help find sponsors for each one.
Kahler started in 2017 when she was part of the SCCDP staff. When she moved to a different job, she continued to stay involved.
“This is such a great event to start the holiday season, it’s hard not to want to be a part of it,” Kahler said.
She said volunteers are always welcome to join the planning committee, which meets the first Monday of each month for most of the year. Meetings are at the Civic Center at 7 p.m.
“While there are events that are static at the festival each year, we could always use fresh ideas and welcome new members to the group,” Kahler said.
Hendrickson said volunteers are one of the essential pieces of the festival.
“When you volunteer your time, you get more out of it than the people that you’re helping,” she said.
Another key piece is the sponsorships that enable the festival to keep going year after year.
“Expenses specifically for the parade are more lights, holiday decorations and general upkeep of the floats,” Kahler said. “We are grateful to the City of Seward for their partnership in building and maintaining a storage facility for these floats (as well as other city equipment). It keeps the floats out of the elements throughout the year, but they still need to be cleaned and spruced up for the parade.”
Donations to the festival may be made through Seward County Bridges, an organization that provides fiscal management for nonprofits in Seward County.
Checks may be made to Seward County Bridges with “Christmas Festival” in the memo line. They may be dropped off or mailed to the Seward Civic Center, 616 Bradford St., Seward, NE 68434.