As drivers head into Smithfield from the west, they’re witness to heralding angels glowing on town light poles. As traffic crosses the Neuse River into downtown, those angels give way to another sign of the season, bright snowflakes.
At the corner of Market and Third streets stands the jewel of Smithfield’s holiday decoration, a towering Christmas tree, which the town lit Thursday night in a celebration that featured song and dance, cookie decorating and a cake-eating contest of sorts.
The hundreds of visitors to downtown were greeted by seasonal songs from chorus groups at West Smithfield and South Smithfield elementary schools, Neuse Charter Schools, Smithfield Middle and Smithfield-Selma High. They were treated to dance routines by Artistry in Motion students and enjoyed tunes played by the Smithfield Middle School band and the SSS saxophones. The crowd even joined the fun by singing Christmas carols.
Beauty queens – their tiaras glinting in the streetlights, Christmas lights and the unintentionally festive red and green traffic signals – chose names out of hat to devour cakes. The handful of contestants dove face first into frosting in search of Christmas decorations they exchanged for prizes.
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Children rushed around and climbed trees while parents shot photos and video and everyone took selfies with friends. Girls were decked out in holiday dresses and sparkling ribbons, stoles and party shoes. It was a chilly night, so some people came to the event wrapped in blankets, though others opted for shorts and sandals.
Other flashing lights joined the festivities briefly when a man suffered a seizure during the event, said Sarah Edwards, head of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. But emergency crews, just a block away, responded quickly.
The honor of lighting the tree went to Santa Claus, who arrived on an antique fire truck as carolers sang “Here Comes Santa Claus.” He stopped briefly to give a few hugs before flipping the switch on the tree.
“I’m happy to be here in Smithfield ... but it’s not quite cold enough for me,” Claus said in a decidedly Johnston County accent. “Merry Christmas.”
Parade up next
Smithfield’s Christmas parade is its biggest holiday celebration, and organizers expect it to be even bigger and better this year.
The parade will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday at Market and Sixth streets and make its way along Market Street to Second Street.
Bob Dumas, of the popular G105 radio show “Bob and the Showgram,” will serve as grand marshal.
“This is his 25th year on the radio,” said Tiffany Pearson, a program supervisor with the Smithfield Parks & Recreation Department, a parade organizer. “So that’s kind of a landmark and it’s going to be really special.”
The Smithfield-Selma and Princeton high school marching bands will perform in the parade. Dance group from Johnston Community College and Artistry in Motion will both perform. Local beauty queens, elected officials and others will appear too.
“We always hope that this one is the best yet,” Pearson said of the annual parade.
The parade will finish with “a special guest from the North Pole,” Pearson said.
Santa Claus will ride in the parade in an antique fire truck, Pearson said.