By WAYLON CUNNINGHAM
Numbers from the Liberty Hill Christmas Festival on Saturday paint a picture of a town that loves a celebration.
1,600 pre-made snowballs were thrown. 95 runners participated in the Jingle Bell Run. 200 rides were given in a horse-drawn carriage. 216 hot chocolates, coffees, teas and more were sold from a single food truck. 150 cookies were decorated at Santa’s Village. 60 floats and trailers sailed down Loop 332 in the glow-in-the-dark parade, and tens of thousands of twinkling lights helped guide visitors through the walking Trail of Lights at Lions Foundation Park.
Organizer and spokesperson Michael Wright says the festival’s new format this year was key to what he calls “an amazing success.”
The decision to put the parade at night, and to focus the events on Saturday night, were among the changes made this year.
Wright says attendance was double what was expected. While organizers on the Christmas Festival Executive Committee, of which he is the chair, anticipated around 1,200. But a count given to Wright on Sunday suggested that over 2,000 visited the festival through the day.
“From everyone I’ve spoken with, it was one of the largest Christmas festivals in Liberty Hill,” said Rick Hall, who sits on the Christmas Festival Executive Committee as President of the Liberty Hill Chamber of Commerce.
Drawing particularly large crowds was the parade, organizers said.
“The magnitude of people attending was phenomenal, I don’t know where everyone came from,” said Hallie Gainer, the executive committee secretary. “I had tears in my eyes walking down the street, just knowing all the effort that went into it and seeing it coming to fruition.”
The parade, which was sponsored by Cecil Atkission Motors of Burnet, began with an invocation from Wright, who is pastor at Fellowship Church, broadcast throughout downtown on police loudspeakers. Local singer-songwriter Emily Cousins led parade spectators in singing the National Anthem.
Each float was announced by Williamson County Sheriff Robert Chody as it passed through the intersection of Loop 332 and RR 1869.
Leading the parade line, which began at Liberty Hill Elementary School and ended at Lions Foundation Park, was Liberty Hill Police Chief Maverick Campbell in a patrol vehicle. At its end was a light-decorated trailer from the Williamson County Cowboy Church. Congregationalists on the trailer and volunteers passed out electronic candles to parade watchers, and invited them to follow the procession to the park.
First place in the parade went to Janet Widmer’s mortgage and broker office, Supreme Lending, for their elaborate float featuring stacks of lit gift boxes and “elves” in costume.
Second place went to Fellowship Church. Third place went to Liberty Hill Orthodontics, and the Honorable Mention was awarded to the Liberty Hill Parent Teacher Organization.
Runners and walkers of all ages participated in the Jingle Bell 5K & Fun Run Saturday. Sponsored by Fellowship Church, many of the participants in the Fun Run dressed in holiday costume and brought pets.
Matt Bulick took First Place in the Run, Walker Gilbert won Second Place and Ryan McCarn finished in Third Place. For Best Costume, Sharon Munoz won First Place and Katie Amsler won 2nd Place.
Decorated lamp posts and displays at the Trail of Lights in the park were also judged for awards. The Trail of Lights was sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, which selected the winners and presented the awards.
First place went to Liberty Hill Pharmacy. Second place was awarded to Trinity AV Solutions, and in third place was Comanche Trail Veterinary Clinic.
The nearly mile-long trail will continue to be lit nightly until Jan. 5, 2018.
Also at the park Saturday were roughly 63 vendors selling hot foodstuffs and a variety of goods, such as handcrafted jewelry, art, clothing, toys and more.
Many attractions were provided for children.
Sponsored by Liberty Hill Dental, Santa’s Village allowed children to have their photos taken with Santa Claus by a professional. Prints were made and given to families on-site for free.
Children also wrote letters to Santa that were delivered to the North Pole. And, as in years past, the households of those children will soon receive a letter back.
Bounce houses, snow ball fights, a face painting booth, and a miniature horse named Miller all proved popular.
“He’s a kid magnet,” Gainer said of Miller. “He always, always draws people.”
Gainer is among those on the festival’s executive committee who already have their sights set on next year.
“It was successful this year, but there’s always room for improvement. We want it to be even bigger,” she said.
The festival’s executive committee included community leaders from churches, schools, city government and businesses.
“We hope next year blows this year away,” Wright said.