Drive-thru tree lighting event features new displays and in-person activities

by Laura Bednar

After 2020’s successful drive-thru light display and Santa meet-up, Independence brought the event back for 2021, but not without new additions.

Last year, the annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony was converted into a drive-thru format due to the pandemic, but Recreation Director Tom Walchanowicz said, “It was such a big success with the drive-up Santa, we wanted to do it again.”

Children told Santa what they wanted for Christmas from their cars and received a goodie bag. The big man himself was at the end of the route with a myriad of lights along the way, starting from Brecksville Road and winding through Elmwood Park.

Walchanowicz said overall there were more lights, with the city’s recreation, technical services and service departments beginning setup in late September. All the lights are LED, and most of the money to buy lights came from a Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council grant for energy efficiency.

At a September meeting, city council approved Luminous Harmony to design a plan for holiday lighting for $6,000, with the cost of additional lighting and electrical components not to exceed $75,577.

Luminous Harmony created this year’s newest display, lights on City Hall synchronized to blink and glow with holiday music. Light-O-Rama provided the controller for the display, and city employees Luna Farace and Rich Crane completed the hookups and computerization for the control panel, which is connected through data cables to City Hall, according to Walchanowicz.

Three holiday songs are played: “Carol of the Bells” by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, “12 Days of Christmas” by Straight No Chaser and “Lights of Christmas” by TobyMac featuring Owl City.

Resident Angie Conklyn and her family, who visited the drive-thru lighting last year, said this year was “definitely bigger and better.” She said she especially enjoyed the City Hall lights: “We got to see them when TSO was playing.”

Other additions included lights around tree trunks in the park that would turn on and off in synchronized patterns and an RGB tree that displayed different patterns and shapes through the Light-O-Rama controller.

Also, three trees made of lights floated on Elmwood Pond. Walchanowicz said a company that specializes in pond features set up the trees on the pond bank, and city employees put them into the water with tethers to the shore.

Several activities were offered in the park for those who wanted an out-of-vehicle experience. Families could take photos with a live reindeer, meet Mrs. Claus and snack on refreshments in the Kiwanis Pavilion.

“It’s safer to have the crowds in the park,” said Walchanowicz, adding that when the tree-lighting ceremony took place in Public Square, there were a few near misses with vehicles as people crossed Brecksville Road.

People could walk through the park to view some light displays, including a tunnel made of red, green and blue arches. Various public address systems played holiday music for residents on foot.

The City Hall light show and music will play on weekends, Friday through Sunday from 6-10 p.m., with a final show on Jan. 2. Residents can tune their radios to 93.7 to hear the holiday music in their cars. ∞

Residents (l-r) Michael DiGeronimo, Kirsten Ridley, and Isabelle DiGeronimo pose with their faces in a real ice sculpture.