Gahanna ushered Santa Claus into the city during the Nov. 24 Holiday Lights Celebration, and he'll return to visit with local children Saturday, Dec. 7, and Dec. 14.

Laurie Jadwin, executive director of Visit Gahanna, said she was thrilled with the results from the annual celebration.

"The weather was just chilly enough to put everyone in the holiday spirit, and people of all ages -- from toddlers to grandparents -- were having fun, enjoying the 100-plus free activities that were offered as part of the event," she said.

Jadwin said the event is a collaboration that wouldn't be possible without many helping hands.

She said Visit Gahanna is grateful for the partners who worked to make Holiday Lights happen, including the parks and recreation department, which worked to decorate the Winter Village houses and the Creekside Park and Plaza area; Mifflin Township Division of Fire, which brought Santa to town and works with the Gahanna Division of Police to provide a safe event for all attendees, as well as the sponsors, businesses and organizations that provided activities for guests.

Bobbi Reynolds of Delaware attended the celebration to assist Carol Andruzis' Junior Drill Team at Creekside Plaza, where girls in kindergarten through eighth grade performed for the crowd.

"The team promotes self-esteem," she said.

"I love the Gahanna kids. And these parents are amazing."

Columbus resident Victoria McKelvey attended Holiday Lights with Rudy, a 9-year-old English bulldog, and Highway, a 3-year-old American pit bull terrier.

Sporting a red sweater and hat and pulled in a red wagon by McKelvey, Rudy was popular with adults and children alike.

"He makes everyone smile," she said.

McKelvey said Rudy had a rough first six years, and she tries to give him a good life by taking him to special events since rescuing him three years ago.

It wasn't cute dogs but Fire in the Water that caught the attention of other visitors.

Gahanna Parks & Recreation employee Joe Kolar said parks superintendent Alan Little saw the design elsewhere and brought it to Gahanna last year.

Kolar was in charge of adding wood to the steel containers that could be brought to shore via a pulley system.

"It's cool at dark when you get the reflection (of the fire) off the water," he said.

Holiday Lights culminated with Santa arriving on a Mifflin Township fire truck, along with fireworks and a light show coordinated to music.

Jadwin said Visit Gahanna partners with a local nonprofit every year to spotlight on their work within the community.

"This year, we were honored to work with the (Gahanna Lincoln High School) Lions Locker and the Gahanna police department by offering a special scavenger hunt to help raise funds to support 'Shop with a Cop,'" she said. "In exchange for a donation, participants searched for four gingerbread houses hidden inside businesses located within the event. Based on feedback that we have received, the businesses had as much fun as the participants, as they tried to offer hints to those in search of their hidden treasure."

Jadwin said Holiday Lights was the official kickoff to the holidays, but activities continue during the holiday season in Gahanna.

Coming up next is the Holiday Character Breakfast from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 7, at New Life Church, 3690 N. Stygler Road.

It features a pancake breakfast, crafts, costumed characters, a performance by the Gahanna Lincoln High School Performing Arts Department and, of course, Santa. Tickets can be purchased at visitgahanna.com.

Jadwin said the Santa Race 5K and Little Reindeer Dash will return at 9 a.m. Dec. 14 at Creekside Plaza. Holiday music, a special warm-up with Santa, costumed runners, holiday hats and collectible medals are just some things participants will enjoy.

To register, go to runsignup.com/Race/OH/Gahanna/TheSantaRace5k.

Visits with Santa will return to the Ohio Herb Center, 110 Mill St., from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Dec., 7, and Dec. 14.

Families can take a photo with Santa and then head into Mrs. Claus' parlor for make-and-take crafts and gifts.

For more information, go to ohioherbcenter.org.

mkuhlman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekMarla