It's beginning to look a lot like the holiday season and Westerville is ready.
Westerville's annual tree-lighting ceremony is always a popular event, but this year's celebration has the added draw of showcasing the city's new Civic Green space outside the Westerville Municipal Building, 21 S. State St.
The city set out to "transform the center of Uptown" with the Civic Green, which adds green space, a performance stage, lit seating walls and other amenities in Uptown Westerville.
The project has been more than two years in the making, and cost the city $2.6 million.
Construction was largely finished in October, and the space was open for Uptown's Midnight Madness. But some finishing touches were still in the works, and the tree-lighting ceremony at 7 p.m. Dec. 1 marks its debut.
City spokeswoman Christa Dickey said the new layout is ideal for the huge Christmas tree that will be on display.
"That's going to be a pretty neat process," she said. "Before, everybody was pretty familiar with the tree being inside the big planter area. Now it's going to be anchored into the ground and the anchor won't be visible for the rest of the year. It's really going to create that gathering space we were hoping to achieve with the Civic Green and that park-like atmosphere in Uptown for the first time."
And for the tree-lighting, one of the city's more popular events, Dickey expects the Civic Green to improve both atmosphere and logistics.
"Everybody comes out for that, and that makes it a very festive atmosphere," she said. "Now, there will be more room for people and people can, for the first time, spread out and really get to enjoy the improvements we've made."
Other notable Westerville holiday events fill in the calendar.
After a controversy that left many residents without a ticket in 2016, Westerville took over logistical efforts for the city's popular Snowflake Castle from the Westerville Senior Center, and it has already sold out for another year.
Snowflake Castle gives children a chance to visit "Santa's Workshop," allowing them to make a toy, pose for a photo with Santa and stop at a gift shop for a $10 fee.
Last year, 1,500 tickets were released online, and the initial wave sold out in just 10 minutes. The tickets could be purchased by anyone, resident or nonresident, leaving no room for some Westerville residents who had been going to Snowflake Castle for years.
This year, the city took over operations and released 75 percent of the tickets exclusively for residents and 25 percent for nonresidents. The 2,520 tickets still sold out in just three days, but the process was significantly smoother, Dickey said.
"That's what we expected, and we prepared for that in advance," Dickey said. "We know the event is very popular, and we had recently seen some feedback that residents wanted us to treat this the same way we treat regular parks and recreation registration to give residents the priority before nonresidents."
Dickey said there are no plans to expand the event, because a larger Snowflake Castle would mean losing the "special" nature of the program.
"There's not discussion about expanding it just yet because it would really change the format," she said.
"We're talking about handmade toys made by volunteers and older adults and a very personal experience with Santa. ... This is a very personal holiday experience for our residents, and the event would have to change dramatically in order for it to expand. I'm not sure we're there yet," she said.
Snowflake Castle runs from Dec. 2-9 at the Everal Homestead and Barn, 60 N. Cleveland Ave.
Help for those in need
As always, the Westerville Area Resource Ministry's push to collect food and other donations this holiday season will go a long way toward helping families in need.
WARM's biggest effort is the annual food drive in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Westerville and the Westerville Sunrise Rotary Club.
With the help of Kroger, 14,000 grocery bags will be distributed to Westerville residents Saturday, Nov. 25. People can fill the bags and put them on their doorsteps on Dec. 2, when they will be picked up by volunteers.
"That's the largest food drive we do in one setting," said Cheryl Wooten, WARM's director of development and communications. "That serves the first quarter of 2018. It should serve several hundred families for a few months."
Wooten said WARM expects to gather about 18,000 pounds of food. While that number might seem massive, it's required to keep pace with the growing population of Westerville-area residents in need.
"18,000 pounds sounds like a lot, and it is, and we're very grateful, but we need every bit of that," she said.
Other events benefit WARM, such as the Westerville Division of Police's Fill-A-Cruiser between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Dec. 16, where police cars accept donations at Marc's Grocery Store, 111 Huber Village Blvd., and Walmart, 50 E. Schrock Road.
WARM is also debuting a new "text-to-give" donation system this year. By texting WARM to 20222, people can donate $10 from a cellphone. The $10 donations can be made as many times as a donor would like.
"(Monetary) donations are king," Wooten said. "We can leverage those funds a great deal."
For more information, visit WARMWesterville.org.
Swim with Santa
Santa will swim with his lifeguard elves at the Westerville Community Center, 350 N. Cleveland Ave from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 26.
Children can get photos with Santa, and all children 11 and under are welcome.
Normal pool rates apply.
For more information, visit Westerville.org.
Rudolph Run, Children's Christmas Parade
The annual Westerville Sertoma Children's Christmas Parade and Rudolph Run 5K on Dec. 3 will have a helping hand from the Westerville Lions Club this year, resulting in the theme of "The Sights and Sounds of Christmas."
One of the main charitable focuses of the Lions Club is vision and eye care, while the Westerville Sertoma often works with hearing-related charities, lending a double meaning to the theme.
The day kicks off with the Rudolph Run/Walk 5K at 2 p.m., which begins at St. Paul's church, 313 N. State St., and takes place on State Street, between Cherrington and County Line roads.
Meanwhile, the parade will be lined up at Electric Avenue and be ready to begin once the runners are near.
For more information, visit WestervilleSertoma.org.
Hanby Christmas open house
The historical Hanby House, 160 W. Main St., hosts its annual open houses with Christmas music, hot cider and holiday decorations at the home of Benjamin Hanby, the composer who wrote "Up on the Housetop."
This year's open houses will be held from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Dec. 5 and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 9.
On Dec. 5, the house will host live reindeer from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., while Dec. 9 will largely be reserved for live performers.
For more information, visit HanbyHouse.org.
Home for the holidays
Each year, the merchants of Uptown Westerville stay open late on Fridays leading up to Christmas.
This year, luminarias will light State Street while businesses stay open until at least 8 p.m. Dec. 8, 15 and 22.
For more information, visit UptownWestervilleInc.com.
Progressive Christmas Concert
The Westerville Habitat Partnership's annual Progressive Christmas Concert is half tour and half performance.
Guides take concert-goers to three different churches -- First Presbyterian, 41 W. College Ave.; Church of the Master, 24 N. Grove St.; and Church of the Messiah, 51 N. State St. -- for performances, walking through Westerville to each location. The sites are all within less than two blocks of each other.
The show runs from 7 to 9:15 p.m. Dec. 8.
Tickets are $11 for adults, with children admitted free. Proceeds go toward building projects by the Habitat Partnership.
Tickets can be purchased at the participating churches and at the Westerville Visitors and Convention Bureau, 20 W. Main St.
Sounds of the season
The Westerville Symphony's annual holiday concert takes place at 5 p.m. Dec. 10 at Otterbein University's Fritsche Theater in Cowan Hall, 30 S. Grove St.
The show includes classics arranged specifically for the symphony such as "Sleigh Ride" and "Up on the Housetop," as well as a sing-along portion.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $20 for seniors and teenagers. Children are admitted free.
For more information, visit westervillesymphony.org.
Dinner at the North Pole
Santa's elves will serve dinner to guests at the Community Center while Santa shares stories from the North Pole.
Christmas crafts and sing-alongs will help create a holiday atmosphere.
Tickets to the dinner are $15 for children, $10 for adults. Dinner runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14 and 15.
There also will be one Lunch at the North Pole at noon Dec. 15.
For more information, visit Westerville.org.
Ice Sculpture tour
For the third year in a row, Uptown will be decorated by lit ice sculptures throughout State Street.
Organized by the Westerville Uptown Merchants Association, the sculpture tour has grown in popularity and with that demand has come more interest in the sculptures themselves.
The event once featured just eight sculptures, and this year's installment should have about 18.
"We get more and more people asking to have a sculpture in front of their business," WUMA president Debbie Bennati said.
The sculptures are expected to be on display and lit by 5 p.m. Dec. 15.