Santa Claus, carriage rides, the community tree-lighting and shopping all will be highlights of Pickerington's annual Olde Village Holiday Gathering next month.

Santa Claus, carriage rides, the community tree-lighting and shopping all will be highlights of Pickerington’s annual Olde Village Holiday Gathering next month.

Pickerington’s holiday season officially will kick off at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 2, when the annual Olde Village Holiday Gathering begins in the city’s historic district along Columbus Street.

The event, sponsored by the Olde Pickerington Village Business Association and the city of Pickerington, will continue until 8 p.m. that night.

This year, local merchants will stay open for extended hours to allow visitors to get in some early holiday shopping. There also will be a variety of traditional activities, such as children’s crafts in the businesses, caroling by the Pickerington Community Theatre Chorale and Pickerington Kiwanis Club and free carriage rides through the Olde Village.

“It’s an event to celebrate the holidays and get people outside,” said Rebecca Medinger, recreation administrator for the Pickerington Parks and Recreation Department. “Even though it might be cold outside, it’s a good, fun event for the whole family.”

Santa Claus also is expected to make his annual visit to Pickerington during the evening. He will be available for visits at David Beckham Photography, 6 Lockville Road, just off from the main festivities.

At 7:30 p.m., the city of Pickerington will host the annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony at Gazebo Park. The event will feature comments from Fairfield County Sheriff Dave Phalen before Mayor Mitch O’Brien, who this year chose not to seek re-election to a second term, will light the tree for the final time in his official capacity.

“The mayor will speak and Sheriff Phalen will do the benediction,” Medinger said. “After that, the mayor will light the tree.”

Also during the tree-lighting ceremony, the city will announce the winners of its 2011 holiday decorating contest.

Forms for the contest recently were distributed to Pickerington homes and businesses, but forms still are available at Pickerington City Hall, 100 Lockville Road.

Those wishing to participate in the contest must return their applications to the Pickerington Parks and Recreation Department, 100 Lockville Road, by Nov. 28. From there, local judges will drive by homes and businesses to scout entrants’ lighting and other holiday displays.

“It’s all outdoor decorations, whether that be lights or figurines,” Medinger said. “Last year was our first year for the contest.

“It’s kind of to help add to the whole holiday event and get all the businesses involved. As people come through, it’s always fun to see the places all lit up.”

Medinger said one business and one residence will be recognized as contest winners during the tree-lighting ceremony. The winners also will be awarded plaques.

Also on Dec. 2 prior to the Holiday Gathering, city officials will light the Mitten Tree at City Hall. That will be at 4 p.m. and will kick off a longstanding tradition in which city officials help collect mittens, gloves, hats, scarves, coats and other winter garments to be distributed to people in need.

“We’ve had the Mitten Tree for about 15 years,” Medinger said. “It goes to help out some families in need in Fairfield County.

“We’ll be collecting items at City Hall through Friday, Dec. 15. The following week, we’ll have them delivered, with help from Fairfield County Job and Family Services.”