A Pickerington community tradition that signals the start of the local holiday season is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 6, in Olde Pickerington Village and will include an expanded North Pole village display.

None of the current organizers said they know the year when the Holiday Gathering celebration in Olde Pickerington Village began, but it has been a tradition for decades.

"I am not sure when the tradition started, but even when I was mayor in the early '90s, we had a tree-lighting ceremony," Pickerington Mayor Lee Gray said. "I believe it is one of the nice parts of living in a town like Pickerington.

"We have grown, but we still celebrate our traditions. The lights down Columbus Street are a treat for all to see. The carriage rides add to the experience. It makes you smile and feel like you are part of one of those Hallmark movies."

This year, the Holiday Gathering will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. It is organized by the Pickerington Village Association and the city of Pickerington.

The celebration will include numerous activities in and around Pickerington's historic downtown, including cookie-decorating at Porter's Coffee House and Bakery, children's crafts at various locations, ice-carving demonstrations and strolling carolers.

It also will feature horse-drawn wagon rides, face-painting, train rides for children, a reindeer-petting area and free popcorn and hot chocolate.

The tree-lighting ceremony will be at 7 p.m. at the downtown gazebo on the northwest corner of West Columbus and North Center streets.

"Everyone in the Pickerington-area community should come," said Peggy Portier, a village association member and the Pickerington-Violet Township Historical Society president. "All ages will find something to enjoy.

"Most all activities are free, except if you want to buy food. Donations are accepted for a few of the activities which go to charities, but are not required. There is a special $5 paint-and-take ornament at Picktown Art Works."

New this year is the Lighted Holiday Stroll, which will consist of 18 lighted inflatable decorations along West Columbus Street, from Hill Road to just east of Cross Street. Maps will be available.

Back for a second year will be a display of Department 56 North Pole figurines and structures and a miniature railroad display in the historical society's basement, 15 E. Columbus St.

The display is provided by Dottie and Keith Ebright, who have doubled its size from last year.

In addition to being displayed during the Holiday Gathering, there are additional free viewing times from 6 to 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, Dec. 9 to 13.

Keith Ebright, historical society vice president and a former Pickerington Schools administrator, said the display features 80 ceramic, lighted buildings, as well as electric trains and accessories.

He said it is a labor of love that takes about 20 hours to set up.

"I said, 'This year, OK, let's change it up a little bit,' " Ebright said. "Kind of what I've done is built the town and the city park, leading into the North Pole, 'Santa's Land.'

"You're looking at about $4,000 here. Mostly, they're handcrafted."

Ebright is the son of former Pickerington mayor Tully Otto "T.O." Ebright, who was in office from 1930 to 1950.

He noted his father used to portray Santa Claus in the 1950s and '60s, riding around town on the community's only firetruck and passing out candy to children.

"I didn't find out that was my dad until I was in third grade," Ebright said, adding his experiences as a child helped foster a lifelong love of Christmas.

So after joining the historical society's board of directors, he decided last year to introduce the display to the museum in December.

He hopes the village and train sets will help spread holiday cheer while drawing more people to the museum.

"My wife likes to decorate around the house, so we started the Christmas village," Ebright said. "It's just trying to bring the good old days of Christmas back and it kind of got out of hand.

"Now, I'm already thinking to next year."

In addition to unpacking each piece that's included in the display, Ebright said a lot of work is needed to install lights on each house. But the illumination and the moving features, such as trains and a hot-air balloon, enhance the visual aesthetics, he said.

"Last year, I'd just watch the kids come in and their eyes would get big watching the train go around and seeing the little people," he said. "That's what Christmas is all about.

"It's just fun. I hope people do come down and see it. It's not what you're going to see at Macy's, that's for sure. But it is something you can see in Pickerington at the (Pickerington-)Violet Township Historical Society Museum."