Little Town of Lights Turns 25

Christmas is rich in traditions, and for Cedarville, that tradition is the Little Town of Lights. Little Town of Lights will celebrate its 25th anniversary 5-8:30 p.m. Dec. 5. The event is hosted by the Cedarville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Some of the biggest Little Town of Lights traditions include a parade with Santa Claus and other local floats, a wreath auction and a tree-lighting ceremony. This year, Santa will ride in an 1886 refurbished sleigh in the parade. The wreath auction includes wreaths donated by businesses and private individuals, and proceeds from the auction go to Cedarville’s food pantry.

Linda Curtis, of Donna Jean’s Bulk Food Store, began Little Town of Lights in 1990 as an open house for her business “Linda’s,” which was a beauty, antique and craft store.

“It started out as an open house for my business, and we involved two other businesses, and we involved the entire town after that, so after six week’s time we were able to get the whole town involved,” Curtis said.


Photos by Campbell Bortel: A group of volunteers decorated the Santa House next to the Cedarville Police Station in preparation for Cedarville’s Little Town of Lights Festival, which was first held in 1990. Chamber of Commerce Vice President Tony Gillaugh (center) wears the Santa suit, but his brother, J.D. Gillaugh, will wear the suit during the Dec. 5 festival.

Sandy Acton from Colonial Pizza and Mary Luttenberger from Cedarville Hardware were also early participants in Little Town of Lights.

Curtis said she wanted to revive a Cedarville tradition that was popular when she was a little girl.

“When I was a little girl, we had the first Saturday in December (that) Santa Claus came to town, and we stood on the streets, and we got candy, and we got to see Santa Claus, and it was exciting for children,” she said, “and there wasn’t anything like that going on anymore.”

Curtis, who retired from helping with Little Town of Lights in 2009, said Little Town of Lights is an intergenerational celebration.

“It brings the town together and brings back memories for our children and grandchildren that we had when we were young so it’s nostalgia and to bring everybody home,” she said. “Everybody comes home for Little Town of Lights, but mainly it’s a way to say ‘thank you’ for a year’s patronage from the businesses to the people.”

Chamber of Commerce Vice President Tony Gillaugh said a major tradition of Little Town of Lights is businesses giving away free items.

“The coffee shops will give away coffee, the hardware (store) gives away popcorn, the bank gives away Christmas tree cakes, the police department does hot dogs and brauts, the chamber does hot chocolate and cookies,” Gillaugh said. “It’s just something free for the people in town.”

Tina Wagner, who is in charge of public relations for the Chamber of Commerce and has lived in Chicago, said the hospitality the local businesses show is unique to Cedarville.

“In Chicago, businesses just don’t give out popcorn to their customers for no reason,” she said. “Beans-N-Cream gives away cookies and everybody gives away, and you just don’t hear about that in big cities.”

Wagner said Little Town of Lights provides an opportunity for Cedarville students to check out all of the businesses in town.

“Sometimes you stay on campus and don’t go into those businesses, so on that night with everybody open late you can go in and out of businesses and check things out that you normally wouldn’t do,” she said.

The event draws a crowd each year. Gillaugh said about 2,500 people came to the event in 2013, and 1,500 came in 2014.

“I’ve got friends that just cannot believe how friendly and courteous and kind and how much cheer is spreading throughout that night during Little Town of Lights,” Gillaugh said.

Gillaugh said Little Town of Lights is able to keep the nativity story in its celebrations.

“You can still leave the religious aspect in Little Town of Lights, and because it’s Cedarville being Cedarville, you’re not going to get the feedback you would if you were in a larger town by the nonbelievers and stuff like that,” he said.

Gillaugh has been a part of decorating for Little Town of Lights for about 15 years. He said he grew up in Cedarville but moved to Springfield as a young adult. He said he moved back to Cedarville about two years ago to get more involved with the Chamber of Commerce.

“Personally, it’s my way of giving back to the community,” he said.

Cedarville University’s Concert Chorale, led by senior professor of music Lyle Anderson, will open the evening at 5 p.m. downtown. Anderson said it’s good for Cedarville University students to be involved with the locals in the town of Cedarville through this event.

“We’re all Cedarville,” he said.

Gillaugh said the event unites Cedarville as a community.

“Instead of being neighbors, it’s more like being family,” he said.

Little Town of Lights Schedule: December 5, 2015

5-5:30 p.m. – Cedarville Concert Chorale performance

5:30 p.m. – Lighting of the Christmas tree ceremony with Mayor Robert Fudge

5-8 p.m. – Santa House by the historical society open, local businesses open

5:45 p.m. – Parade

7 p.m. – Entertainment from local band “Cutting Class” and the Cedarville United Presbyterian Church

7:35 p.m. – Wreath auction to benefit food pantry

Jen Taggart is a junior journalism major and off-campus news editor for Cedars. She enjoys writing, listening to music and fueling her chocolate addiction.

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