The first Franklin holiday lighting ceremony was a dud.

A cold night in 1958, when temperatures sunk to 11 degrees, kept people at home. Only about a dozen people showed up, according to the next day’s Franklin Evening Star.

But planners weren’t discouraged. A ceremony was conducted the next year, and every year since. What started so feebly has become one of Franklin’s most well-attended events.

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“It’s a great community tradition, but also a great family tradition. Families know that the first Saturday of December, we’re doing holiday lighting. They’re going to bundle up and go downtown and participate in the whole thing,” said Holly Johnston, special events coordinator for the Franklin Parks Department. “It’s evolved over the years, but it has survived all this time.”

Franklin will celebrate its 60th holiday lighting ceremony Saturday, once again leaving the downtown courthouse square aglow in holiday cheer. Throughout the day, people can explore local artisans at the annual Winter Market, submit their best Christmas cookie ideas and take in musical performances from local elementary school choirs and the organist at First Presbyterian Church.

Mrs. Claus will be on hand for storytime and crafts, while Santa himself will appear to hear kids’ wish lists.

“We just add more every year,” Johnston said. “It’s fun to see everyone get so excited about it.”

The first holiday lighting event was Nov. 28, 1958, planned jointly by the Franklin Chamber of Commerce and the Franklin Ministerial Association. Officials envisioned a way for the community to come together to get in the Christmas spirit.

Elementary school children performed Christmas carols, and the Rev. J.J. Hardy, pastor at Bethel A.M.E. church, read a Bible passage. Finally, the lights were turned on.

Though attendance was poor the first year, by the following year the lighting event was drawing more than 600 people. Today, the ceremony is a day-long celebration with crowds packed along the square.

The lighting ceremony is the centerpiece of the day. But organizers have packed favorites from dawn to night, starting with Ralphie’s Run, a 5K sponsored by Care Net Pregnancy Centers of Central Indiana.

People can tour the specially decorated trees at the Johnson County Museum of History and have free photos taken with Santa while there. A live Nativity scene is planned at downtown business byTavi, and Melchoir Marionettes will perform puppet shows at Tabernacle Christian Church. Two screenings of the holiday classic “A Christmas Story” are scheduled at the Historic Artcraft Theatre.

Compass Park, the home of the Indiana Masonic Home, will feature a series of events throughout the day, including the best gingerbread baking creations in the region, breakfast with Santa and a choir concert made up of students from different Franklin elementary schools.

The campus’ own Christmas decorations, spread out across the Compass Park grounds, will go on at 6 p.m.

One of the most popular events is the lighted parade, which blazes through the center of town in brilliant illumination.

“It’s our own version of Disney and their electric parade,” Johnston said. “That’s always a beautiful thing to see.”

But organizers have also tweaked and added to the celebration.

New this year will be the luminaria display. People will be able to purchase a lighted bag for $5 and dedicate it to a loved one. All of the proceeds go to fund future lighting ceremonies, Johnston said.

“Our idea was that it would be something pretty on the courthouse steps,” she said. “For a lot of people, this has been their tradition for years. Over the years, some of the people we’ve loved are still here, and others are not. This is an inexpensive way to share their memories.”

Businesses throughout downtown will participate in a window-decorating contest. People will get to vote on whichever business creates the most festive winter or Christmas scene, with the winner claiming a newly created trophy for the creation as well as bragging rights for the next year, Johnston said.

If you go

Franklin Holiday Lighting

When: Saturday

Where: Downtown Franklin

Schedule

  • 8:30 a.m.: Jingle Jog, Franklin Parks and Recreation Center, 396 Branigin Blvd; registration begins at 7:30
  • 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.: Gingerbread baking contest entries on display, Compass Park community center
  • 8 to 11 a.m.: Breakfast with Santa, Compass Park, 690 State St.
  • 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Dec-A-Tree display, Johnson County Museum of History, 135 N. Main St.
  • 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.: Live Nativity at byTavi, 51 W. Monroe St.
  • 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.: Visits with Santa, Johnson County Museum of History
  • 2 to 8 p.m.: Winter market is open, Franklin Elks Lodge 1818, 56 E. Jefferson St.
  • 2 p.m.: “A Christmas Story,” Artcraft Theatre, 57 N. Main St.
  • 3 to 4:30 p.m.: Entries for the cookie contest accepted, Mutual Savings Bank, 80 E. Jefferson St.
  • 3 to 7 p.m.: Holiday book sale, Mutual Savings Bank
  • 3 p.m.: Melchior Marionettes, Tabernacle Christian Church, 198 N. Water St.
  • 3:30 p.m.: Franklin combined elementary school choir concert, Compass Park
  • 4 p.m.: Organ concert, First Presbyterian Church, 100 E. Madison St.
  • 4:30 to 5 p.m.: Storytime with Mrs. Claus, Mutual Savings Bank
  • 5:30 p.m.: Lighted holiday parade begins
  • 6 p.m.: Lighting of ground displays, Compass Park
  • 6 to 7 p.m.: Craft time with Mrs. Claus and all cookies on display, Mutual Savings Bank
  • 6 to 8 p.m.: Carriage rides
  • 6:15 p.m.: Lighting of luminarias, courthouse steps
  • 7 p.m.: Lighting ceremony
  • 7 to 8 p.m.: Santa Shack open
  • 7:30 p.m.: “A Christmas Story,” Artcraft Theatre

Local restaurants and food trucks available throughout the day

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.