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Ford City kicks off Christmas season with Light Up Night

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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Miss Armstrong County, Anna Oberneder, sings 'When You Wish Upon A Star' during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Santa Claus waves to the crowd assembled along Ford Street during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Disco Dan, a 1-year-old African penguin, was on display for children to look at during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Ford City high school senior Maria John sings Christmas songs with the rest of the high school chorus during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Horse and carriage rides took patrons around Ford City during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Patrons fill Ford Street during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Riley Wasson, 5, of Valley Township, waves her star wand during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.
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Jason Bridge | Trib Total Media
Santa Claus orders a present be opened letting balloons fly out during the Ford City light up night celebration on Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014.

From penguins to Pinocchio, Ford City’s Light Up Night celebration on Saturday mixed together all kinds of holiday magic to make the season bright.

The festivities centered around the heart of the borough with vendor booths, children’s activities and the arrival of Santa all happening near the intersection of Ford Street and Fourth Avenue.

Those enduring the November chill had their pick of everything from fresh-popped popcorn to a unique twist on hot chocolate called “a melted snowman.”

Curt Sirwell’s booth was behind the milky, marshmallow-topped drink. A youth pastor at New Life Center Assembly of God, the Ford City native was serving up treats to raise money for the Ninth Street Church.

He couldn’t recall having Light Up Night-like events in his hometown when he was a child.

“Pittsburgh always had this, but the small towns just recently seem to be putting them together,” he said. “It’s really nice to see the community come together.”

Hundreds made their way through the center of town to the cheerful soundtrack of Christmas favorites performed by local vocalists.

Offerings for the young and young at heart included face painting, Carnegie Science Center experiments and a visit from Disco Dan, a South American penguin from the National Aviary in Pittsburgh.

The small tuxedoed bird was clearly a hit.

More than 100 packed the Greenbaum Building on Ford Street to see Disco Dan, who peered patiently at the crowd. Aviary educator Jamie Travitz fielded questions from kids in Santa hats, winter boots and faces painted like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

Though penguins are popular in recent holiday themes, most live in climates that are warmer than commonly thought, Travitz said.

“And actually, there are no penguins at the North Pole, so this is a teachable moment,” he said.

The only guest who could rival Disco Dan’s appearance was in fact a North Pole resident — and the best-known one at that.

Barbara Klukan of the Ford City Renaissance Partnership cleverly wove Santa’s arrival and the lighting of the borough’s holiday decorations into an original Christmas play about a mischievous elf.

Santa followed a beam of light down Ford Street to the stage, where characters including Tinkerbell and Pinocchio waited. As he did, Klukan led the crowd in chanting “dreaming, wishing, hoping.”

Each year, Klukan incorporates an original story into the lighting of the town and Santa’s arrival. This year is the fourth that Ford City Renaissance orchestrated the borough’s Light Up Night.

“I’m hoping we got a message across,” she said. “We were trying to get to the true meaning of Christmas.”

Julie E. Martin is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at [email protected] or 724-543-1303, ext. 1315.

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