This winter will mark 30 years since downtown Jefferson City held its first Living Windows event.
“It’s a great downtown tradition, I think it’s kind of the kickoff to the holiday season,” said Tricia Workman, who has worked on the Living Windows organizing committee for four years.
The festival began in 1988 when Beth Chisholm, a former News Tribune marketing director, proposed the idea after visiting a similar event in Lebanon, Missouri. Since then the event has been kept free to the public as a way to bring the Jefferson City and surrounding communities together with activities such as a letter station to Santa where kids will always get a return letter from the North Pole, multiple live performances from high school choirs from across the state and the opportunity to see live reindeer at the Missouri River Regional Library, which are funded by Mike Kehoe, Mike Bernskoetter and Jay Barnes.
Downtown businesses keep their doors open late for the night, and some of Jefferson City’s local talent are also brought in to perform in their storefronts.
“Most everyone wants to participate because it gets people in their shops and it’s a good way to network with the community,” Tricia said. “Typically they have some other dance troupes like Dancers’ Alley or Lincoln Dance Troupe or local church choirs or the JC Symphony (Orchestra) in all the windows. The majority of people are opening it up to groups to come in and do something holiday related.”
Living Windows’ first year of being held in Jefferson City appeared to be a big hit.
“We had probably 5,000 people the first year who came downtown for the Living Windows,” said Presiding Cole County Commissioner Sam Bushman, who had organized the Living Windows event for more than 20 years.
“It’s going to continue to happen I hope forever,” Sam continued. “I think if it were to ever stop then we would have lost our personality. It’s always been a family night. It’s just kind of a tradition and really no other town has living windows like ours does, ours is pretty unique.”
This year, the event’s organizing committee believes they could possibly see about 25,000 guests – weather permitting – and have a few additions planned.
“We’re extending it down east side more,” said Donna Deetz, who is also on the Living Windows organizing committee with Tricia. “It’s always stopped at Adams Street, well this year we’re dong the Polar Express, so it will go down High Street, around Lafayette and back up to the library. We’re trying to get the folks down to at least Lafayette Street or maybe further down to decorate.”
“The Capitol, all that construction … that’s usually where the hayrides are but we got to move stuff further East,” Tricia said. “Plus it’s a great way to connect the east side and downtown. Ultimately we’d all like to see east and downtown being all one connected unit where people are traversing as much as possible.”
“This whole area from about the Capitol building now down to the East End Entertainment District, which is the 1000 block of High Street, this whole area has just totally changed,” Donna added.
With new businesses in both downtown and the east side such as Sweet Smoke BBQ, JQ’s on High, Premium Pets and the newly relocated Love2Nourish, Tricia and Donna are excited to see the participation expanding.
“Really businesses downtown, and on the east side too, are such good sports,” Tricia said. “They understand being part of downtown; that there’s all these other activities. They’re excited to open up their storefront for people to get involved and even the non-retail people are great to work with because they don’t necessarily need the foot traffic; it’s just a nice way to interact with the community.”
Those who plan to attend should also note that the event will be slightly sooner than previous years. The Downtown Jefferson City Association will still be keeping the tradition of holding the Christmas Parade the first Saturday in December and host Living Windows the Friday before. Since the first Saturday in December will be Dec. 1 this year, the Living Windows event will be held on Nov. 30.
“This is the first time I can remember Living Windows being in November, but it’s tradition; you got to do it that way,” Sam said. “Then the mayor’s tree lighting; that’s only been around for about five years, but that’s that week, too. We tell people they can come here for the weekend and spend the whole weekend here and have an old fashioned small-town Christmas.”
Regardless of the start date, the weekend will be nothing short of holiday spirit. Guests are asked to dress warm, be prepared for some good old-fashioned fun and if they are interested in riding the Polar Express to pre-register on The Trolley Company Facebook page or the Living Windows Facebook event page.
For more information and updates about the Living Windows event, visit the Downtown Jefferson City Downtown Association website at downtownjeffersoncity.com/view-event?id=2067.