Indiana, PA - Indiana County

'Wonderful Life' festival to usher in Christmas

by on November 16, 2015 10:58 AM
Indiana, PA

The “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival and Parade — Indiana’s kickoff of the Christmas holiday season — continues to grow in popularity, not only among denizens but also with people far from the Christmas Tree Capital of the World.

Denise Liggett, executive director of the Indiana County Tourist Bureau, said three tour bus groups — one coming all the way from the state of Indiana — will join locals Friday evening to share the yuletide lights, music, food and goodwill in downtown Indiana. Those visitors will be extended an invitation to really immerse themselves in the start of Indiana’s holiday celebrations by walking or riding on a float in the festival’s parade along Philadelphia Street.

“It’s a great way to showcase what we have here,” Liggett said of the holiday festival and parade.

Many visitors, Liggett said, are drawn to Indiana, especially at this time of year, by the same magnet.

“It’s obviously Jimmy Stewart,” she said, referring to the actor’s enduring star power 18 years after his death.

The tourist bureau helped put together a package of events that will treat the out-of-towners to a visit to the Jimmy Stewart Museum, a “Wonderful Life”-themed dinner at Rustic Lodge and a tour of Fleming’s Christmas Tree Farm.

And when the tour groups leave they’ll take with them a “thank you for visiting” card with a photo of them posing with Stewart’s statue in front of the county courthouse.

Indiana’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” Festival and Parade is sponsored by the Lucy Donnelly Memorial Fund and Downtown Indiana, the business and merchants group. The county’s tourism bureau provides many in-kind services and logistical support for the festival, and it has become one of the bureau’s most popular and best-attended attractions. It’s an opportunity for a festive night out (or in the case of some of the tour groups, two nights out) and the out-of-town festival guests give a boost to the local economy.

“They’ll be eating in restaurants. They’ll be staying in hotels. They’ll be shopping downtown and in Smicksburg,” Liggett said.

Hastie Kinter, one of Downtown Indiana’s directors and head of the group’s Economic Development Committee, said she’s especially encouraged by the public’s response to what is essentially a wintertime parade. In its first years the parade featured about 20 units. Thirty-two units are on board for Friday’s parade and more parade reservations are expected to come in this week. Students and groups from area businesses, churches and other organizations plan to participate. And two high school marching bands, from Indiana Area High and United High, will provide some of the holiday music.

“The number of people watching the parade continues to grow” too, Kinter added.

The parade steps off at 7 p.m. in downtown Indiana, and the annual tree lighting will follow the parade.

Most of Friday evening’s festival activities will be centered along Philadelphia Street and in IRMC Park on North Seventh Street. The downtown will be illuminated by thousands of white lights outlining buildings and by the decorations on a 14-foot tall Christmas tree on the Vinegar Hill steps above the park.

Activities during the It’s a Wonderful Life Festival and Parade will be held at the following locations:

• Calvary Presbyterian Church, 695 School St., 5 to 9 p.m. Old-fashioned Christmas open house with hot chocolate, homemade confections, crafts for kids and the Calvary Handbell Choir.

• Norma White Reality, 200 S. Seventh St., 5 to 7 p.m. Open house and collection of new or gently used winter hats, coats and mittens.

• The Jimmy Stewart Museum, 835 Philadelphia St., 5 to 7 p.m. Open house and continuous showing of “The Making of It’s a Wonderful Life.” Nonperishable food collection to benefit the ICCAP food bank.

• Philadelphia Street Playhouse, 725 Philadelphia St., 5:30 to 7 p.m. Reading of beloved Christmas stories by the Indiana Players.

• IRMC Park, North Seventh Street, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Hot chocolate, kettle corn, crafts, music, hayrides and marshmallows to roast. Indiana Junior High School Spirit Band at 6 p.m. Love of Life ring drawing at 6:30 p.m.

• Downtown Indiana, Fifth to Eighth streets, 7 p.m. Holiday parade featuring area groups and organizations. Tree lighting and visits with Santa to follow the parade at IRMC Park.

• Indiana Theater, 637 Philadelphia St., 8:15 p.m. Free showing of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is
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