The first nights of December may not hold much snow, but the season is here when the Christmas trees glow. All over the plaza, the kids ran amuck, in hopes they'd see Santa step out of a fire truck.
As usual, the annual Holiday Lighting on Central was a big hit with kids of all ages. Natalie Neavin was there Monday night for the first time with her 19-month-old son.
"He wants to see Santa Claus," Neavin said. "And the truck. He likes the vroom-vrooms."
Mayor Matt Bemrich is joined by Santa and Mrs. Claus for the traditional lighting of the Christmas tree at the plaza on Ninth Street and Central Avenue.
The baby vroom-vroomed at DART buses arriving next to the plaza at the corner of Central Avenue and Ninth Street. Meanwhile, Joshua Carlisle and his daughter Kyrah Carlisle, 13, were shivering in spite of the mild, upper 30s weather.
"We just moved here from Virginia," Joshua Carlisle said. "We're used to wearing T-shirts this time of year.
"I'm big on Christmas, and lighting the tree," he said. "This is family time."
Kids surged forward as Santa's fire truck arrived, and he and Mrs. Claus stepped onto the platform with Mayor Matt Bemrich to throw the switch for the 10,000 white lights draped over the plaza's biggest tree.
The crowd then filed across the street to the Trolley Center for holiday cookies, face painting, and other activities.
"I think we'll have 500 or more," said organizer Todd Redenius of the crowd. "It's been a very successful event over the years."
Redenius said Heartland Communications, which owns the center, offered the space up for free this year. Volunteers came in from multiple businesses to run the various activities, and more than 50 cheerleaders from Fort Dodge Senior High also gave their time.
Straight in the front door, a long line formed of kids waiting to write letters to Santa Claus and get their pictures taken with him.
Matt Jass, 9, said seeing Santa was his favorite part of the event. He knew what he wanted to ask for as well.
"An iPod," he said, "and maybe some Post-it notes, so I can make transforming ninja stars."
Choirs from St. Edmond High School and Fort Dodge Senior High sang traditional carols to the right and down the ramps. In the room behind them, the Noon Lions served donated cookies, hot chocolate and cider. Cheerleaders helped kids make birdfeeders out of pine cones and peanut butter.
"We do about 20 hours of community service each year. This is one thing we help out with," explained sophomore Emma Gibson. "It's been really busy so far."
Gibson didn't plan on visiting Santa that night, but if she did she would ask him for an iPhone 5s, she said.
The kids at her table had different ideas.
Quantaze Jordan, 6, said he wanted a scooter for Christmas. Jazmine Jackson, 10, said she wanted a camera, and 3-year-old Kevieon Spencer wanted a tablet.
Jackson said face painting was her favorite part of the event, but the boys disagreed.
"Cookies," Jordan said.
Kids could decorate their own cookies in a room to the left, while face painting and storytelling went on upstairs near the choirs.
Outside, hayrack rides took visitors on a tour of Fort Dodge's downtown, narrated by local historians Roger Natte and Pete Fritz.
As the visitors viewed storefronts decorated for the season, Natte explained how Fort Dodge got its start with a frontier village centered around the current city square. He pointed out some of the seven- or eight-story buildings that were considered skyscrapers back in their day.
"Fort Dodge, I think, must have been the parade center of the state," Natte said. "They had a parade for everything, and the big parade was the Christmas parade here."