COUNCIL BLUFFS — It was a typical Christmas scene in Bayliss Park: Santa and Mrs. Claus were lighting the trees Thursday night to kick off Winterfest.
And this year, the holiday spirit may have more meaning.
"I believe everyone is a little more grateful this year," said Geoff Hubbard, an official with the Council Bluffs Parks Department. "They still have their families, their friends, and that is what's important."
"I think everybody in the community will be thankful for what they have," said Arlo Burk, owner of Bayliss Park Hall.
They were referring to how local residents banded together to meet the challenge of an unforgiving Missouri River during this summer's flooding.
Indeed, hundreds gathered to view the lighting of the park, enjoy carriage rides, visit with Santa and generally soak in the atmosphere.
The evening began in Bayliss Hall with holiday music by the Heartland Christian School Choir. A crowd gathered to welcome the Clauses, along with Mayor Tom Hanafan, as they arrived courtesy of a Fire Department truck.
Hanafan urged the crowd to keep the flood victims in their thoughts.
"It's very important to remember those during this horrible time," he said.
Following the tree-lighting ceremony, Santa led the crowd back to the hall, where photos were taken and gift requests heard.
Children also enjoyed face painting and coloring activities, with cocoa and cookies supplied by the Solid Rock Church. Many enjoyed the free carriage rides around the park.
After such a tough year, perhaps the most fitting statement came at the end of the lighting ceremony, when Hanafan simply said, "Enjoy the holidays."