It’s the same, on purpose!

Dayton Holiday Festival kicks off the holidays for year 42

By Katie Christoff

Photo: The Downtown Dayton Partnership’s Grande Tree Illumination and Children’s Parade will kick off Nov. 28 from 4-9 p.m. in Courthouse Square

The day after Thanksgiving is known to many as Black Friday. But for 42 years, it’s also been known as the official start to the holiday season in Dayton.

On Friday, Nov. 28, this tradition will continue with the Grande Illumination and Children’s Parade Spectacular in Lights downtown, kicking off a month of holiday events put on by the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

The Holiday Festival was started in 1972 by Mrs. Virginia W. Kettering as an effort to create a nondenominational holiday event that was free and open to the entire community, according to Courtney Deutsch, events marketing manager for the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“Mrs. Kettering wanted all the activities to be free of charge, so no matter what your economic means, you’d be able to celebrate the holiday,” Deutsch said.

When Kettering passed away in 2003, the Virginia W. Kettering Dayton Holiday Festival Fund carried on her legacy and ensured the festival would remain free for city residents.

The Dayton Holiday Festival is a month-long event, but the Friday after Thanksgiving remains the traditional kickoff with the Grande Illumination and Children’s Parade. Each year, a large Christmas tree is lit up in Courthouse Square, followed by a parade downtown. The tree is always donated, and a countdown precedes the lighting, which will take place at 7:45 p.m.

The Children’s Parade Spectacular in Lights immediately follows and features entirely lit floats. According to Deutsch, everyone immediately disperses to the surrounding streets after the Grande Illumination for the 45-minute parade, which travels up Main Street then back down to Fourth Street.

“It’s Dayton’s only nighttime lighted parade,” Deutsch said. This year, 3D glasses will be handed out to children, and these glasses will make the twinkling lights of the parade appear as gingerbread men, she said.

Broughton said they’re expecting around 1,000 children to attend the parade this year.

The kickoff event also hosts holiday-themed events like crafts, performances and special promotions at many businesses downtown.

One such event is the Holiday Village set up in the lobby of Kettering Tower, Deutsch said. The Holiday Village boasts games, crafts, performances and a photo booth, and children can even talk to an elf while they’re there. Cameras are set up so the elves can see the children with whom they are speaking.

“The kids think they’re talking to Santa, and it’s adorable,” Emily Broughton, special events manager at the Downtown Dayton Partnership, said. “They can tell them things like, ‘Santa’s watching you,’ and ‘I can see what you’re doing right now,’ and kids love it. It’s so cute.”

Another Holiday Festival tradition is the Winter Wonderland windows set up in the lobby of the Schuster Center, which will remain in place through New Year’s.

“When these windows first started, people made an excuse to go downtown to see them,” Deutsch said. “It’s kind of a long-standing Dayton tradition.”

The Tike’s Shop is one of Broughton and Deutsch’s favorite parts of the Holiday Festival. The shop is also set up inside the Schuster Center and allows children to buy holiday gifts for their families. Parents drop their children off at the shop, run by high school students, where they can pick out a gift and wrap it without the help of their parents so as not to ruin the surprise. The shop will be open through December 23.

There is also an annual gingerbread house building competition set up in the old courthouse building, which offers a $500 prize.

“I’d imagine some participants put $500 into the houses,” Deutsch said. “They hand bake all of the cookies and even cut them into tiny furniture and lighting fixtures. It’s amazing.”

To add to the holiday ambience, horse-drawn carriage rides will be running all night downtown. Donations are accepted for these carriage rides, but still completely optional, Broughton said.

Mrs. Kettering’s antique train display will also be set up in the Kettering Tower Lobby through New Year’s Day.

Though the Dayton Holiday Festival is steeped in tradition, Broughton and Deutsch are proud to announce something new: a life-sized snow globe sponsored by Dayton Power & Light, in which people can pose to achieve the perfect holiday Instagram photo. This snow globe will be set up in Courthouse Square from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

“The Dayton Holiday Festival is very different from a lot of other festivals because it’s something people count on during the holidays,” Broughton said. “It’s very similar every year because it’s kind of a legacy for Mrs. Kettering.”

Since it’s such a large Dayton tradition, the festival receives lots of support from downtown businesses and the Dayton community, she said.

“It’s such a big event and goes over such a long time, so it’s nice that we have so much support from the community and sponsors,” Broughton said.

“We take pride [in] offering it as a free event,” Deutsch added. “We don’t make any income, so it has to rely on the community support and contributors.”

The Downtown Dayton Partnership’s Grande Tree Illumination and Children’s Parade will kick off the Dayton Holiday Festival on Friday, Nov. 28 from 4-9 p.m. in Courthouse Square, 10 W. Second St. All events are free of charge. For more information or a full schedule of Dayton Holiday Festival events, please visit or



Reach DCP freelance writer Katie Christoff at

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