Light Up Middletown Returns Nov. 30 to Spread Cheer to the Community

Writer  /  Julie Engelhardt

Santa Claus is coming to town — Middletown, that is — and his arrival will signal the return of a beloved tradition, Light Up Middletown, which has been a part of the city for two decades. This year the event will be held on Friday, November 30 starting at 6 p.m. and lasting for approximately three hours.

Light Up Middletown began in 1998. Commissioner Marcie Willhite, along with other city commissioners, came up with the idea to bring holiday cheer to Middletown and its residents. Willhite, who passed away several months ago at age 85, helmed the Light Up committee, helping it grow and prosper over the years.

“She will be missed, for sure,” says Laura Wright, Assistant Executive Director of the Middletown Chamber of Commerce. “She worked hard, but she loved it. I feel like her spirit will be here, and that she’ll be with us on the evening of the 30th. She just had a wonderful presence, and you know when someone is passionate about something.”

As always, the night will kick off at Wetherby Park with caroling and Santa Claus’s arrival. He will be seated in an 1800s-era antique sleigh and, instead of being pulled by eight tiny reindeer, it will be sitting atop a trailer towed by a tractor. Once the jolly old man arrives, a designated person will flip the switch that will bring the lights to life at the park.

“We were trying to figure out who we could get to flip the switch, and we considered having a member of Marcie’s family do the honors,” Wright says. “We thought it would be nice to do this in her memory.”

After the lights have been set aglow in the park, residents will follow Santa down Main Street where he will set up his temporary North Pole headquarters under a tent across from Celebration Hall. He will do a meet and greet with children, listening to their Christmas wishes and be available for pictures as well. Also, no matter if they’ve been naughty or nice, all boys and girls will receive one snuggly stuffed TY ™ toy from Santa. Donations for the toys are made possible through the generosity of Middletown. This tradition has been going on for many years, and the city makes sure that the children receive a different toy every time.

The children won’t be the only ones heading home with a gift. The city is trying something new with regards to a community giveaway. In past years, they’ve gifted poinsettias, but this year they will be handing out 500 glass ornaments to the ladies in attendance. They are transparent red glass balls with a picture of Middletown’s city hall on the front. This will be the first of many given out over the years and all will have historic pictures on them, making them a true collectible. City Hall was chosen as the first building for the ornaments due to its historic significance as well as importance to the community.

“This building was constructed back in the early 1800s, and it was originally a tavern,” Mayor Chapman says. “It was a stagecoach stop, and the field to the east of us was a stable that could hold up to fifty horses. They needed to have a lot of horses for the stagecoaches. There’s a big rock out front which was used so people could climb in and out of the stagecoach. The first floor was where they sold the liquor, and at the back of the building you’ll find stairs which head up to the second floor where they rented the rooms. It’s quite a neat old building and a lot of history with it.”

The city bought the building in the mid-90s and renovated it. The city hall was originally located across from the high school.

Entertainment plays a big part in Light Up Middletown. Area students from Eastern High School and Middletown Elementary provide choral music at the Community Center. Besides school group performances, Leslie Halfacre of the First Baptist Church will perform “God Bless America,” and Amber Martin, who is well-known for her performances with the Doo Wops, will also be entertaining.  Martin is an accomplished singer and has shared the stage or opened for well-known performers such as Crystal Gayle, Ernest Tubb, Little Texas, Little Jimmy Dickens and Neal McCoy. According to Freda Chapman, it was standing room only last year in the Community Center during the entertainment portion of the evening.

Once the performances have concluded and children have whispered their wishes to Santa, visitors are encouraged to get a jump on their holiday and Christmas shopping by visiting Celebration Hall and the fabulous Holiday Expo. The Expo features both hand-crafted and direct sales items, including children’s toys, women’s clothes and accessories, home décor, skin care, wooden wall art, ornaments and more. During the past few years, the Expo featured 40 vendors, but Wright hopes to double that number this year.

“It certainly has grown,” Wright says. “It takes two or three years for people to know about the event, and once they do, they love it.”

A returning vendor is Whitney Trowbridge with her LuLaRoe clothing and accessories.

“We are excited to participate in another great Middletown event after being part of the Fall Fun Festival these past three years as well as the Holiday Shop,” Trowbridge says. “Middletown offers so many fun events for families. Being able to stop and shop at the booths in November makes for easy gift giving.”

Returning this year is The Middletown Lions Club serving up free refreshments for the hungry crowd. The fare will include ham and turkey sandwiches, grilled hamburgers, hot dogs and bratwurst, drinks, a variety of cookies, as well as hot chocolate and coffee. Lions Club member Ron Wolf is pleased that the community is so receptive to this event.

“We’re happy to be a part of Middletown and the different activities that they hold every year,“ he says. “We help with the Concerts in the Park every summer by supplying food and drinks as well. By working with Light Up Middletown we can reach out further to the community to provide refreshments and some fun.”

Other groups will be assisting as well, including Middletown Boy Scout Troop 321, who will hand out sandwiches and cookies to the visitors.

Mayor Chapman is thrilled that this event has continued on for so many years and welcomes all to enjoy the night. He, too, misses Willhite and is honored to carry on her tradition.

“It’s definitely a community event,” he says. “It’s one of the times of the year when you see people who are friendly and smiling and talking and laughing and the kids are having a good time. It’s a time when the neighbors are all together. People like our community because it’s safe and we offer so much.”

The Mayor, City Commissioners and Middletown Chamber of Commerce hope all will come out for the evening to partake in their beloved event. A portion of Main Street will be closed for the evening, but parking is available on the west end of Main Street. 

For further information, visit call 502-245-0404 or reach them by email at

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