Thousands of people caroled the night away on the Denton Square and kicked off the holiday season Friday at the Denton Holiday Lighting Festival.

As the sun set on a chilly December evening, attendees were greeted by the melodies of Christmas carols echoing around the Square, courtesy of the Denton Community Band. Following fan favorites such as Jingle Bells, the band gave way to Denton County Judge Andy Eads, who thanked everyone for attending and encouraged them to patronize the local businesses.

After much anticipation, Eads invited Santa Claus and 5-year-old Hannah Moore up on stage to light the tree. The winner of the Denton Record-Chronicle‘s Holiday Coloring Contest, Moore said she was thrilled to help the man of the hour flip the switch and light up the Square.

“It was so awesome,” Moore said. “I was really excited to be able to do that.”

Together with hundreds of children in attendance, Moore held court with Santa to discuss wish lists and take pictures with Olaf, Elsa and even the Grinch. Older folks, such as Steve Wilkinson, who has attended the festival more than 15 times, were able to enjoy the live music, merchant stands and several different varieties of Wassail, a hot spiced cider.

“I came to my first lighting decades ago,” Wilkinson said. “Back then, I had a blast with my college friends. Now, I get to see my kids share in that fun. There’s something here for everyone, but my favorite part is the music.”

Along with the Denton Community Band, jazz bands from Guyer and Ryan high schools played their own versions of holiday classics. Elsewhere around the Square, festivalgoers embarked on rides in horse-drawn carriages and treated themselves to such festival foods as corn dogs, funnel cakes and kettle corn.

The festival, which celebrated its 30th anniversary last year, has become a staple in Denton since its 1988 inception.

“It’s a fabulous event that has grown and grown over the years,” Ellen Painter, a volunteer, said before the event. “I’ve been here for about 25 years, and to see how it’s transformed has been incredible.”

Painter, like Wilkinson, makes a point to return to the festival each winter to get back into the holiday spirit.

“Just being here and seeing all the kids and the families running around having fun, that’s what it’s all about,” Painter said. “It’s an event for families, it’s free and it’s run by volunteers. That’s what makes this festival so special.”

JESSE BRACKEEN can be reached via Twitter at @BrackeenJesse.

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