Every year since 1985 I’ve gone with a group of relatives to downtown Dayton for the Grande Illumination and a picture with Santa Claus on Friday night.
To me, Thanksgiving largely represents traditions. My family has several traditions that span over the entire weekend, most of which include eating. Strangely enough, my favorite tradition doesn’t have anything to do with food, yet is very filling. Every year since 1985 I’ve gone with a group of relatives to downtown Dayton for the Grande Illumination and a picture with Santa Claus on Friday night.
It’s not so much the big lighted tree that I enjoy, but all of the memories that evolve around that night. When we first started going Rikes was still open and we would dance the night away to the Harmonica Boys. They were called the Harmonica Boys, yet they played the accordions, which I could never figure out, but they were really good. I don’t know how to polka, or even dance, but even I couldn’t sit still for their music.
There used to also be some quality entertainment on the Courthouse Square stage, prior to the tree lighting. Usually musical acts that were geared towards children, but for all ages to enjoy. We would sing along, as my family believes they have star voices, but was just never discovered. For several years paper reindeer antler hats were given out and we would form a train and go around the Square with our antlers on singing. For some reason they stopped giving those out. A goal is to always make it on the news as all the area stations are present, and a couple of us have succeeded at being interviewed….not because they were hearing singing.
We will also never forget the chorus who for multiple years sang a song titled ‘Ding Dong,’ which I think were the only words, except for maybe another ‘Ding’ thrown in. There used to also be the largest collection of tuba players that would perform. This year there are acts scheduled all evening long.
Anyone who has ever been behind us in line for the Santa picture, probably isn’t so fond of our tradition. Santa isn’t either, as he hasn’t always showed up. Never stopped us though, as we would still gather around the chair and take our own picture. Some athleticism is required as in the years when there were a big group of us, some tricky positioning was needed to fit everyone in and then it must be held for all the photos. A highlight is hearing Santa groan when the order is made for 20 pictures, when a couple, each weighing over 200 pounds, is sitting on his knees. Ages of those in the picture have ranged from in the seventies to young babies. In addition, places traveled from include Arizona, Mississippi, Florida and London. As many as four generations have also been included in photos.
While there once between 20 and 30 of us, the numbers have dropped in recent years to around a dozen. The older some get the colder they start to feel. Thankfully there’s still some devoted souls who brave the elements to keep the tradition alive. It’s one of my favorite nights of the year and recommend that the Grande Illumination become a tradition for your family, even without the Harmonica Boys.
The tree lighting will be at 7:45 p.m. at the Courthouse Square, followed by the Dayton Children’s parade at approximately 8 p.m. And Santa will be at the Schuster Center for pictures from 2 to 7:45 p.m. While in the Schuster Center you can also see the traditional window displays that used to be at Rikes. And new this year from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Courthouse Square will be a life sized snow globe for people enter and take photos…Hmmmm, wonder how many of us will be able to fit inside?
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.