Editor's note: This is an initial story about the Hallmark celebration. See the expanded and more in-depth piece in next week's print edition.
There’s no doubt it felt just like Christmas in David City.
Although the half-inch or so of snow that briefly accumulated during the early hours of Wednesday disappeared before the Hallmark Channel’s first-ever "Hometown Christmas" event started, the near-freezing temperatures lingered in the air and complemented the hundreds of white lights outlining downtown buildings and the assortment of other holiday decorations spanning multiple blocks.
Soaking in the scene shortly after 5:30, David City Mayor Alan Zavodny was a bit taken aback by the turnout, which easily exceeded 1,500 people in the town with a population not drastically larger.
“It’s been spectacular,” Zavodny said of the event that was hosted in collaboration with the Butler County Chamber of Commerce. “I’ve lived here nearly my whole life, pretty much, and I’ve never seen it look this great.”
The event was made possible because of the city’s ties to Hallmark Cards' late founder Joyce C. Hall, who jump-started the famed company in Kansas City, Missouri, in the early 1900s. Although Hall went on to become a major household name, his humble beginnings and formative years were spent in David City.
Pam Slay, head of publicity for California-based Hallmark Channel, said that she and her colleagues were looking for a way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of "Countdown to Christmas," the popular series featuring the channel’s beloved made-for-television movies that help ring in the holiday season for millions nationwide.
There are 40 new movies being shown this Christmas season, Slay said, adding that since it started airing last weekend already 22 million viewers have tuned in. With the big anniversary coming up, she and others wanted to find additional ways to make people feel special around the holiday season.
“And we came up with the initiative called 'Hometown Christmas,'” she said. “And we thought about who could be the first city, the inaugural city in this program that will go on for years and years, and we thought about Joyce Hall, the founder of Hallmark Cards, being from David City.
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“And Mr. Hall founded his company with a simple mission: To care enough. And that became the mission of this event.”
The enjoyment being experienced downtown was palpable as people walked around chatting with friends while eating an assortment of holiday treats and watching Santa Claus roll into downtown in his 1910 Model T Ford. The overall atmosphere was made possible by the Hallmark Channel donating an undisclosed amount of funds for the city to purchase new holiday lighting and decorations for the occasion.
During all the hustle and bustle, sisters Mary Ann Briza and Marilyn Hascall did their best to stay out of the traffic by standing just out front of the decorated Hruska Memorial Public Library. Both Briza and Hascall were dressed to the nines for the occasion, sporting old-school multi-colored light strands around their necks in addition to Christmas sweaters.
It’s really something cool to see,” said Briza, a David City native but current Columbus resident. “Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year, and you know, it’s Christmas today and Halloween tomorrow – it’s really great.”
Hascall, who is currently battling cancer, wore a black face mask to protect her weakened immune system. Even that was decorated with a pattern of bright lights.
"I’m wearing the mask to avoid everybody’s germs,” Hascall said. “But I just wanted to add a little holiday spirit to my mask.”
For Slay, the best part of the Christmas in October event was seeing David City residents really coming to bat for it, braving the elements and showing up in hordes to absorb the abundance of holiday and community spirit.
“We brought them a gem of an idea, and look, there must be two or three thousand people here,” Slay said. “This is all about the community and what they did. They brought all of the warmth … We started off trying to give a gift back, but the reflection of love and gratitude and generosity that we have received, we (Hallmark) really became the recipient of the gift.”
Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Banner-Press. Reach him via email at email@example.com.