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Lights, trees, action: Thornton ready for WinterFest

Three day celebration kicks off Dec. 8

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Maybe it’s the Christmas lights, maybe it’s the trees or maybe it’s the fireworks but Thornton’s WinterFest has a special place in the recreation manager’s heart.

“It’s the coldest event that we do, it’s the longest event we do,” said Jan Kiehl, recreation manager for the City of Thornton. “And it’s my absolute favorite event that we do. It’s pretty special, especially when the lights come on at night.”

WinterFest kicks off for the 16th year Dec. 8 in the city’s Carpenter Park featuring a grove of Christmas trees, an entire Santas Village and a holiday market place.

It’s the only one of Thornton’s trio of fests, alongside ThorntonFest and AutumnFest, that lasts for three days.

“We do have winter weather, so dress accordingly,” she said. “We have had bitter cold a couple of years.”

Kiehl said the celebration began in 2002 as a successor to the city’s usual Christmas light ceremony.

“We outgrew that and the City Manager challenged Parks and Recreation to come with something,” Kiehl said. “He’d seen ThorntonFest, so he challenged us to come with something that really celebrates the holiday.”

The event kicks off Friday with a the 6:30 p.m. lighting of the main Christmas tree, by Santa Claus and Thornton City Councilors. Kids are welcome to visit with Santa, go ice skate on the Village Pond — weather permitting — and visit food and craft vendors. A Christmas beer garden runs until 9 p.m. each night.

The event gets back underway Saturday morning with the 9 a.m. WinterFest 5K around the park.

Santas Village reopens at 10 a.m. and that’s the center for activities for most of the day.

“We have more than 475 trees all decorated and lit up,” she said. “We have so any displays and a 40 foot Christmas tree at the center of the village and a 4,000 square foot temporary ice rink that is laid out and decorated like a pond. They can come skate and we’ll be renting skates for the weekend.”

The village includes Santa’s house, where kids can come and visit, and an Elf house where people can stop by and watch Santa’s helpers hard at work.

“They’ve have come every year at WinterFest,” Kiehl said. “They make crafts to keep themselves busy. Folks can walk in the workshop and see them working along.”

The event tent will host a holiday market, selling crafts and goods from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and ice carvers will be demonstrating their art nearby.

“That’s always a popular place for people to take pictures,” she said. “In the past we’ve done one giant sculpture — a sleigh or thrones for people to sit in and take pictures. This year, we are doing two sleighs so we can have two lines and accommodate more people.”

The Thornton Community Band is scheduled to perform holiday favorites beginning at 7 p.m.

“And of course, we have a fireworks show at 8:30 p.m., choreographed to Christmas music,” Kiehl said.

The festival reopens at 5 p.m. Sunday with the beer garden, food, crafts, skating and performances by the Thornton Community Chorus.

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