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Communities all over the world are lighting up Christmas trees, but Columbus Public Schools has something slightly different in mind to get the community into the Christmas, and hopefully Discoverer, spirit.

The CPS Foundation, in conjunction with the district’s alumni association, is gearing up to host its first-ever “Lighting of the Anchor” on Saturday at Columbus High School, 3434 Discoverer Drive. Members of the alumni association and district officials were determined to find ways to bring people back to their old high school, organizers noted, and the holiday season seemed to be a great way to do it.

“We’re really excited about it,” said CPS Foundation Executive Director Nicole Anderson, who also handles marketing and communications for the public school district. “I think the more opportunities where we can bring the elementary level together, along with the middle school level, high school level, staff, parents, families … we build a better community. We build a stronger community.”

The massive anchor sits outside of the high school and is a symbol of school spirit for the district that takes pride in fostering connectivity among everybody associated with it. The anchor will be officially lit for the season with fittingly maroon and white lights furnished by Siffring Landscaping & Garden Center out of Fremont about 7 p.m. As part of the celebration, there will be performances by the high school band, as well as the cheer and dance squads. Additionally, students of all age levels from schools throughout the district will participate in the singing of numerous popular Christmas carols.

“The lighting of the anchor concept came from engaging alumni,” said Kim Kwapnioski, former CPS Foundation executive director and a member of the alumni association who is part of the planning committee for the event. “We want to bring the past, present and future CHS students ... but this is also for the whole community.”

Although the anchor lighting is in the early evening, the festivities will actually commence hours earlier. From 3-8 p.m., the Discoverers' Spirit Shop will be open for business in the school. There, people will of course be able to pick up all the Discoverer merchandise their hearts desire. Additionally, numerous local businesses will have pop-up shops on site, including Columbus Community Hospital, Hy-Vee, Valencia Boutique, Specialtee, Barbara Jean’s and Berkshire Hathaway.

The festivities also coincide with the Discovers’ varsity girls and boys basketball squads competing in their first home games of the season. The girls tip-off at 3:45 p.m., while the boys follow at 5:30 p.m. Those who attend the games should expect to come across Santa Claus and CHS mascot Lil’ C in the cafeteria area.

The holiday festivities ramp up after the games. Attendees will be treated to some hot cocoa and s’mores pizza to keep warm in anticipation of the anchor lighting. Meanwhile, Santa will make his way outside to help ring in the season with everybody.

Abbi Hellbusch, another alumni association member who is on the event planning committee, said Mr. Claus will show up in the cafeteria about 6:15 p.m. to mingle with the crowd and give kids the chance to sit on his lap and reveal their Christmas wish lists. Thirty minutes later, he’ll make his way outdoors.

Hellbusch said the alumni association and school district planning “Lighting of the Anchor” was about bringing people together.

“Anytime we have the opportunity to make something special for our kids and community, we want to do that,” she said. “There’s a lot of good stuff happening in Columbus, and sometimes with the hustle and bustle of the holidays, we get busy. This is a fun way to take a step back, breathe and enjoy being part of this group.”

The three women specifically noted all of the area sponsors whose generosity is helping make this event happen. The intent is to make this an annual celebration in Columbus, much like the tree lighting ceremony at Rockefeller Center in New York City.

“It’s always fun to be on a committee and plan something new and unique. I do hope it becomes a tradition,” Hellbusch said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how it’s going to turn out. I’m excited to see it because I think it’s going to be pretty cool.”

Matt Lindberg is the managing editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at matt.lindberg@lee.net.

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