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Small Iowa town celebrates Christmas and community

ELMA, Iowa (KTTC) – Not only is today the 1st of December but also National Christmas Lights Day and the lights turned on in one small Iowa town that has a big love for Christmas.

Known as the Magical Lights, Holiday Delights Event, the Christmas celebration in the Howard County town of Elma began as an idea to bring the town together. It was inspired by a Hallmark Christmas movie.

“So then we talked to these people who are Christmas nuts,” said event coordinator Joe Whitinger. “It didn’t take too much talking and started bubbling from there.”

Sunday’s gathering marked the 5th annual event, always on the first Sunday after Thanksgiving. It has grown each year.

“We’re looking for more volunteers because it’s getting bigger than we ever thought it would,” said Whitinger.

This year saw the addition of a parade to go along with the chili dinner, Christmas carols, tree lighting, fireworks and lights in the park, which takes volunteers the most time.

“Every time you go down there to fix one, the other one goes wrong,” said volunteer Dennis O’Brien. “It’s a lot of work down there but I enjoy it. I do it for the kids.”

“And we have a lot of young families and it brings a smile to their face and it’s all worth it,” agreed Whitinger.

Some are already in the Christmas spirit.

“The girls decorated the house last night so we’re getting started,” said resident Trent Thile who brought his kids to the event.

Others are inspired by the tree lighting to finally put up their own.

“It’s actually in the back of the pickup,” said Thile.

While the lights are popular, they’re not the only thing the residents of Elma enjoy about Christmas.

“Spending time with family and getting some new things and being fortunate that we can get some things,” said Thile’s son.

As for the things that top his list?

“Maybe a new four-wheeler or a snowmobile,” said Thile with a glance at his dad.

Despite the snow and freezing rain, the town of about 500 showed up in full force.

“We’re Iowans,” Whitinger said. “It’s Christmas. Why wouldn’t you be here?”

“Doing things together makes a community I guess,” said Thile, who was raised in Elma. “It’s a small community but we all stick together.”

“Come to Elma and check it out,” concluded Thile’s daughter.

The lights display can be viewed anytime during the holiday season at Elma Park.

Alex Tejada

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