By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Thousands of lights instantly illuminated Ballard Park with the flip of a switch Thursday evening during an annual holiday tradition spanning two decades.
The Lighting of Ballard Park drew a crowd of roughly 350 people who bundled against chilly weather to enjoy the festivities. They included free train rides, Christmas carols and the crowning of the city’s essay contest winner.
Each year, school children throughout the city submit holiday-themed essays for a chance to flip the switch and win prizes.
This year, 10-year-old Sarah Daniel’s narrative about the meaning of Christmas earned her top prize: a Santa hat, a gift bag and the honor of flipping the ceremonial switch. She was joined by the second and third place winners, as well as Ward 1 City Councilman Markel Whittington.
“This lighting has been a tradition for 20-plus years,” Whittington said.
After they maneuvered the large red switch, an array of lighted decorations, trees and other adornments cast a festive glow throughout the sprawling park.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Sarah, who was a fifth-grader at Lawndale Elementary School at the time she wrote her essay. She’s now home-schooled.
“I couldn’t believe it when I won,” she said. “I was totally shocked. I was just screaming.”
The event drew a larger crowd than usual, said Shanta Eiland, program director for Tupelo’s Parks and Recreation Department, which organizes the festivities. She termed it a success.
Next door, families could visit the Oren Dunn City Museum during its open house and tour its exhibition of toys while sipping hot chocolate.
Among the participants was Mattie Hardaway and her three sons, all of whom sung carols as part of the Lawhon Elementary School choir.
“This is the first time we were here,” Hardaway said. “I liked it. It was neat.”