The big news about Night of Lights this year has to do with the return of Wee Willie Wand.
It may not be common knowledge among Hoosiers born after 1960, but Fort Wayne once had its very own Christmas elf.
His name was Wee Willie Wand and he was created by someone at the Wolf & Dessauer department store.
He appeared on local TV with Phil Steigerwald, the only area Santa Claus that most residents knew, and will ever know, by name.
The show was called Santa in Wanderland and it aired daily throughout the holiday season.
Wee Willie Wand dolls were sold at the store beginning in 1949. They can occasionally be found on eBay, but you’d better be ready to shell out serious bucks for one.
Wee Willie Wand was different from (meaning, better than) other Christmas elves because he had his own magic wand.
Flagstar Bank will bring back Wee Willie Wand for this year’s Night of Lights, which happens on November 27.
“Willie will be in the front of Flagstar Bank on Wayne Street as well as on the I&M Power Center Plaza,” according to Rick Zolman, events & programming manager for the Downtown Improvement District.
O Christmas Tree
Flagstar plans to rekindle another Fort Wayne Christmas tradition: The Christmas tree on the walkway over Calhoun Street.
The Christmas tree used to be mounted atop an arch outside of Murphy’s department store on the corner of Wayne and Calhoun. Now it’ll be on a walkway.
“There will actually be two Christmas trees,” Zolman said. “One on the walkway over Calhoun Street and one over their rotunda on Wayne Street. It’s fun to see Flagstar jumping in since they’re newer to the market.”
Santa Claus is Coming
For decades, the Night of Lights has been how Fort Wayne residents usher in the holiday season.
It revolves around a central event: The lighting of a Santa sign that once graced the side of the Wolf & Dessauer department store and is now mounted on the PNC Bank building at Main and Calhoun streets.
Other lightings and launches have joined it: the turret on the History Center, lights on the former Aunt Millie’s bread factory, Santa’s workshop at the Community Center, a light display at the Ash Brokerage building, a wreath in I&M Power Center Plaza, holiday offerings at the Botanical Conservatory, and the Embassy Theatre’s Festival of Trees and its decorated windows.
Let it snow
With downtown Fort Wayne blossoming at an astronomical rate, more businesses and downtown inhabitants want to be involved every year.
Newer participants include Ash Brokerage, Flagstar, and Parkview Field, where a Christmas fireworks display has been the culminating event of Night of Lights since 2010.
Bistro Nota, a new Calhoun Street eatery, will get involved this year with an open house, Zolman said.
Nola on 13, the New Orleans-themed restaurant on the 13th floor of the I&M Power Center building, will offer a VIP experience that involves food (of course) and a bird’s eye view of Night of Lights festivities.
“It’s terrific because if there’s inclement weather or you just don’t want to deal with the crowds, you can get above the crowd and still participate in the event,” Zolman said.
Downtown Wellness Spa will host something that likely has never been seen in Fort Wayne: A Sparkle Bar.
Despite the name, Goldschläger will not be involved.
It is instead an opportunity for you to add sparkle to your face and any other part of your body that cries out for it.
If a Sparkle Bar isn’t your thing, how about a Mint Cookie Tasting Bar? DeBrands Fine Chocolates will be providing the latter.
Perhaps you’re more of a Hot Chocolate Bar sort of person. If so, JK O’Donnell’s Irish Pub will have one of those set up outside of its West Wayne Street establishment.
Despite the locale, Baileys Irish Cream will (presumably) not be involved.
Other downtown businesses and offices that will provide seasonal goodies like cocoa, cider, punch, and cookies include Alyssum Montessori School, the History Center, the Allen County Courthouse, Good Shepherd Books & Gifts, Horizon Bank, and the Grand Wayne Center.
The Grand Wayne Center, which has always favored us during Night of Lights with a slate of free seasonal performances, will be offering some programming this year themed to the film, A Christmas Story.
Not much is known beyond that.
The Botanical Conservatory will again host an annual Night of Lights glimpse of its annual holiday show.
This year, the conservatory will present a retrospective of all its holiday shows called “Christmas Connections.”
The penultimate event before the fireworks is the Ringing of the Bells, involving an alliance of downtown churches.
“It’s really cool to hear when you’re down here because you can hear the bells echoing a little bit,” Zolman said.
It all ends with a fireworks display at Parkview Field.
Zolman said he will be too busy that night to attend the fireworks, but he’ll be able to enjoy them anyway
“To see the flash of the fireworks in the buildings’ windows is unreal,” he said. “It’s a great finale to the event.”
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