A favorite family tradition returns when Downtown Fort Wayne kicks off the holiday season with their Night of Lights on Wednesday, Nov. 22, as part of the greater HolidayFest that will run through New Year’s Day.

The night before Thanksgiving, iconic holiday displays including Santa Claus & His Reindeer on the northern wall of the PNC Bank building, the “Merry Christmas” wreath at I&M Plaza, and the Flagstar Christmas tree atop the walkway over Calhoun Street will be brought to life one by one throughout this festive night complete with opportunities for food, shopping, and new holiday memories.

More than lightings

While the lightings draw the crowds, there are plenty of other activities occurring throughout the evening.

Kanela is one of numerous organizations that will offer free goodies, along with Kilwins, Allen County Public Library, Good Shepherd Books & Gifts, Creative Women of the World, The Bell Mansion, 816 Pint & Slice, Grand Wayne Center, and the Allen County Courthouse. 

Embassy Theatre’s windows along Harrison Street will feature vintage montages, some of which come from exhibits originally displayed at the beloved Wolf & Dessauer department store. 

Night of Lights also marks the beginning of Embassy Theatre’s annual Festival of Trees, a fundraiser for the operation of the historic local landmark.

Santa and his reindeer will make an appearance at Baker Street Train Station from 4-8 p.m., and children can learn about the Christ of Christmas during the Christ Child Festival at the downtown Allen County Public Library from 3-8 p.m.

Star of the show

While there’s plenty to do, the most anticipated event of the night is the lighting of the massive Santa Claus & His Reindeer display on the side of the PNC Bank building. 

Preston Wallace, director of marketing for Downtown Fort Wayne, described the occasion as the “marquee of holiday lightings” for the region.

He said the display was originally created for the Wolf & Dessauer department store that sat at Calhoun and Washington streets.

“Santa & His Reindeer is kind of the tried-and-true holiday lighting decor that really has been steadfast in terms of what this event is, and what it means, and kind of the memories and traditions that the community and the region have experienced year over year,” he said.

He added people know that if they come downtown during the holiday season, regardless of where they are going, they are going to see the iconic display.

“This is something that my grandparents took my parents to,” Wallace said. “This is something that my parents took me to, something that I take my kids to. It’s just a tradition that’s really, really rich in our community and continues to be passed down generation over generation.”

This generational tradition drew about 40,000 attendees in 2022. 

If it was not a family tradition for you in the past, Wallace said now is a great time to start.

“We encourage people to start new traditions,” he said. “If this is something that you haven’t been to before, it’s never been a better time to start the tradition this year, and we’re hoping for really good weather.”

Getting bigger and bigger

Wallace said Night of Lights creates a positive impact on the local economy, particularly restaurants. 

Among the many places to grab a bite during the event is Fort Wayne’s Famous Coney Island, a year-round favorite that finds a particularly strong following during the holiday season. Wallace noted a line usually spans the sidewalk around of the building.

“We’ve got a whole host of different organizations that seemingly come on board year-over-year, but we also added some new ones over the years as well,” he said. “It’s really intriguing to see the growth that the event itself has experienced. 

“You know, we’ve been doing this event for decades, but to be able to see new partners get involved with it is a testament just to how successful the event is as a whole.”

Sights and sounds

If you need a break from the weather, there will also be music and shopping.

At 5:30 p.m., Homestead show choirs will perform an hour of traditional and contemporary holiday music across the street from the Aunt Millie’s Northern Lights display, which itself will be illuminated at 6 p.m. The Fort Wayne Children’s Choir will perform their Sounds of the Season concert inside the Allen County Courthouse from 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Kris Kringle Village will give holiday shoppers the opportunity to get the perfect gifts for their friends and loved ones at Arts United Center Plaza beginning at 5 p.m. Modeled after outdoor European Christmas markets, the village includes local artisans, food trucks, beverages, and live performances. 

If you miss the village during Night of Lights, the market continues through various dates in December, including weekend performances of the Fort Wayne Ballet’s annual Nutcracker

The conclusion of the night will be at Parkview Field, where fireworks begin to blast off at 8 p.m. Wallace said this event has been one of his favorite since Parkview Field opened in 2009. 

Wallace recommends attendees dress in layers or bring extra clothing because it can get cold and windy. He also suggests arriving early enough so they don’t miss any of their favorite events due to traffic and road closures.

“This is a fun, vibrant event in a really growing, evolving urban landscape downtown,” he said. “It’s never been more vibrant to experience and to enjoy some of the events and the offerings that downtown Fort Wayne has.”

For a full listing of times, road closures, and events for Night of Lights, go to whatzup.com
and holidayfestdowntown.com.