After Krekeler Jewelers’ Annual Farmington Christmas Parade at 6 p.m.
Friday is one of the most anticipated days of the year. It all starts with the annual Krekeler Jeweler’s Farmington Christmas Parade. This year’s parade, beginning at 6 p.m., is themed “Caroling Christmas.”
“We’re expecting to see all different types of Christmas carols represented on the various floats,” said Candy Hente, Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce executive director. “Because it is a nighttime parade, all of the floats are required to have lights and be decorated.”
And as usual, there will be awards for the very best of the best floats.
“There will be Best in Show, First Runner Up, Second Place and Third Place,” Hente said. “The judging will be done ahead of time, so we will have signs on the floats designating who won the various awards.”
The parade lineup begins at 5 p.m. on West Liberty and North Franklin Streets. The parade route starts on West Liberty, goes to A Street and then left on West Columbia, onto North Henry, and then finally ends on East Liberty.
“We’ve adjusted the parade lineup route to accommodate more floats because we almost had the tail meet the front last year,” Hente said. “Last year was one of the biggest parades we’ve had, and we’re expecting this year will be too.”
Once the parade is over, the crowd gathers at Long Memorial Hall (City Hall) for the official grand opening of Winter Wonderland.
The dazzling and detailed holiday display is a months-long labor of love. Some of the Farmington Parks and Recreation crew members start preparing for Farmington’s Winter Wonderland months in advance. Once they begin setting up the detailed display, they work seven hours a day to ensure the job is completed by a very important deadline — the date of the Krekeler Jewelers’ Farmington Christmas Parade.
Much effort goes into making Winter Wonderland a hugely successful annual winter event.
Farmington’s annual Winter Wonderland is made possible by the hard work of city employees Sammy Worley, Jeremy Jarrett, Sheila Archer and Jon Hampton.
Devoted and hard-working city employees make the annual event possible. One of those employees is Kelvin Amonette, the city’s parks and recreation foreman. He has been working for the City of Farmington since he was 15. He took about a year off many years ago to move to California but didn’t like it, so he returned to Farmington and accepted a job with the city.
Amonette has been instrumental in setting up Winter Wonderland for many years.
“But it’s been going on longer than I’ve been here,” he said. “It was on a lot smaller scale years ago. It’s definitely grown over the years.”
Winter Wonderland has always been held at Long Memorial Hall. It began simply, with Santa Claus visiting with kids on the stage, a few decorations on the floor and some Christmas lights.
“Now, it’s hard for us to expand Winter Wonderland because we can’t make it any bigger,” Amonette said.
For some city employees who recreate Winter Wonderland each year, Christmas actually lasts about three months — from getting everything out to assembling and tearing everything down after the event concludes. Sometimes, there’s even a delay if it snows.
Many of the decorations and items needed — including Christmas trees, bulbs, ornaments, lights and more — are stored under the stage at Long Memorial Hall. More things are stored upstairs in the building. Once the items are brought out of storage, the crew sets up major items like the walkway and then the train tables.
“We put up the framework on the east side, and then we bring in all the tables for the east side,” Amonette said. “Then we do the framework for the west side and set up those tables. It’s really like a big puzzle. But the big puzzle has been nailed, screwed together and stapled over the years.”
That means the crew must also make annual repairs. Sometimes, that includes gluing a building back together, repairing plaster-made snow mounds and more.
Next comes the train track on which the three G-scale train sets run the perimeter of the display. Once the train track has been completed, it’s time to add the tiny rocks around the track — a very time-consuming task that takes as much as two days.
Then, the final details are added, like buildings, people, cars and more. The street lights and telephone posts must also be wired, which is another two-day job.
There are other details to add, like the animated figures, tree forest, rooftop with sled, chimney, Santa’s chair, and so on. The towering tree is added to the foyer and includes about 30 sets of lights, which take one to two days to complete.
The final item is to put up the glass walls, which visitors look through when they visit the holiday display and then complete a final cleaning before the area opens to the public.
According to Farmington Parks and Recreation Director Doug Stotler, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to purchase new and replace existing items for the display. Costs have greatly increased for everything. The city recently purchased a 10-pack of round street lights, which cost about $50. The items must also fit the scale of the town. The G-scale train set is even more difficult to find replacement items for.
“We have the biggest train set within southeast Missouri,” Amonette said, “so to replace one of our train engines may cost $1,500 to $2,000 each.”
The G-scale trains include four different trains which run at one time.
For this year’s display, all lighting for the town display was converted from incandescent to LED lights. Most likely, all outdoor lighting will be converted to LED bulbs next year.
When it came time to begin setting up the 2023 Winter Wonderland display, only three of the city employees had done it in the past. Those employees have been training new employees on the overall process.
“It’s definitely been an interesting last few months,” Amonette said.
Stotler, who has worked for the City of Farmington for around a year and a half, said Sam Holloway is the primary lead for the Parks and Recreation Department, while Amonette and Worley coordinate the majority of the setup of trains, stage and the walkway for Winter Wonderland.
“It’s a very intricate system,” he said. “It’s a puzzle. The staff has done it so many times that they’re just terrific at getting everything prepared. If I walked in, there is no way I could set up Winter Wonderland. There are so many parts and pieces to it that I would have no idea on how to put it all together. But we have a hard-working staff that does.”
Amonette said everything must be put in place in a specific order. For instance, all of the lights which support the city scene come from underneath because the outlets are in the floor. The crew crawls underneath the tables, or platforms made of plywood, on which the trains and city are located to plug in the lights and provide power for the items.
As for the décor, Amonette said they change things a bit from year to year and try to add new items.
The city started a sponsor program for the holiday display in 2001. Various local businesses sponsor buildings and animated figures for a three-year period. This helps offset some of the costs of Winter Wonderland. (Contact Sam Holloway at 573-756-0900 for sponsorship details.)
Once Winter Wonderland opens to the public, a Farmington Parks and Recreation Department employee engineers the trains during open hours.
Amonette said that when they work during the evenings and see all the smiles of the kids and adults, it makes all of their hard work and long hours worthwhile.
“Their smiles put a smile on our face,” he said.
The breakdown of Winter Wonderland is also a tedious process. Everything is taken down and apart and then stored in specific containers at a variety of locations until next year. All of the trains and track are stored in hand-made containers built especially for these items by the parks department.
“Even though Winter Wonderland takes an enormous amount of time to set up, it has become a part of the Farmington culture,” said Stotler.
It’s obviously not just the children and their parents who have a ball at Winter Wonderland. Although the work is often difficult, the workers behind the scenes have the time of their lives, too.
Groups may call the civic center to schedule a Winter Wonderland tour during regular business hours.
Pam Clifton is a contributing writer for the Daily Journal.
Winter Wonderland hours
Open Dec. 1-22, Monday through Friday, from 6-8 p.m.
Special Saturday hours: Dec. 9 and 16 from 1-3 p.m.