As I write this column, the calendar has changed from October to November and although I love family times at Thanksgiving, my mind is focused on Christmas. The Grand Opening of Phase 1 of the new Downtown Park is this Saturday night and will feature the lighting of the Chickasha Leg Lamp. It has been very exciting to see social media posts from people that are traveling across the country for a sneak peek before the park officially opens.
I was hired to come back to my hometown in February of 2020 to be the Director of the Chickasha Economic Development Council. Traditional Economic Developers focus almost strictly on recruiting new business, but within a few weeks of starting my new position Covid changed everything. The EDC and the Chamber immediately focused on helping our local businesses with campaigns like Restaurant Bingo, Shop Chickasha, Tunes in June and finally Christmas in July. Although the circumstances were serious, I enjoyed helping many of the businesses that are family owned and the backbone of the Chickasha economy.
During my interview process, I asked the committee what Chickasha was known for or what they thought made Chickasha stand out. Several things were mentioned: Horse Trailer Capital of the World, the railroad, being the County seat, but eventually they settled on the Festival of Light. The consensus was that the Festival is a tremendous event for Chickasha, but they wished we could have people not just drive through a long line and then leave and they also wanted visitors to come to Chickasha year around, not just during the Festival of Light.
My job is to help Chickasha businesses and promote our town in a positive light. As I look forward to the upcoming holidays season, I smile as I look back on what has happened the past two and a half years. In 2020, we Lit up the Big Tree at the Park, showed free Christmas movies, and launched fun Shop Chickasha events during Christmas in July. Then we put up the Downtown Christmas Tree and other decorations, while also inflating a 50 foot custom Leg Lamp. The news story of the Leg Lamp went viral around the world and shined a fun, positive light on Chickasha. We also had a music video produced called Home Town Christmas (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N03G9iASA0g&ab_channel=TheImaginaries) that showcased Chickasha as a “Hallmark movie” type town. The music video and leg lamp won a combined 3 Red Bud awards from the Oklahoma Travel Industry Association.
In 2021, we added festivities to Christmas in July, put up our Downtown Christmas Tree and other decorations again and then teamed up with the Chickasha Chamber and the Festival of Light Board to offer shuttle rides from the Depot to the Festival of Light on weekends. We again put up the inflatable leg lamp to attract additional visitors. We produced another music video, “Christmas Town” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gn9E-3ekVt8&ab_channel=TheImaginaries ), that showcased Chickasha as a town that embraces the spirit of Christmas year around. Emily Sutton, from KFOR had a part in the video and she came down to be the Grand Marshall in our Christmas Parade. After the parade, she rode the shuttle out the Festival of Light and then applauded Chickasha’s Christmas activities to over 200,000 of her followers on social media.
Now in 2022, we expect a lot of positive media again as we dedicate the new Park Saturday night. Besides the Leg Lamp, there will also be a Red Ryder BB Gun exhibit at the Depot, a perfect photo op for fans of the movie “A Christmas Story.” Matt Pinnell, Oklahoma’s Lt. Governor and Secretary of Tourism will help us “flip the switch” on both the Leg Lamp and an expected unprecedented busy tourism season. On Monday, the EDC will work with Life Skills Institute to start hanging lights in the “Frozen Forrest,” which will be made up of over 500,000 new lights North of the dam at the Park just in time for opening night of the Festival of Light on November 19th.
I grew up in the Catholic Church here and I’m back there worshiping again and that’s where I get my spiritual guidance, not from a figure on a light pole. My job is to promote the Chickasha brand of “Christmas Town” and help local businesses. I love the Festival of Light and the strong spiritual message that the original committee founded it on 30 years ago. My wish is that more people can understand that you can actually do both, worship the true meaning of Christmas while also promoting commerce that helps our local businesses and our overall economy, because when they understand that doing both is possible…well that’s #TheGoodStuff!