The burning question Friday evening from one little boy awaiting Santa’s arrival by Sunflower Clydesdales carriage at Union Pacific Park in downtown Hays was “Where’s Rudolph?”

“I left him at home,” said the jolly man in red and white fur as he disembarked and approached the crowded pavilion at 10th and Main. Hopping and giggling kids were drinking cocoa, bundled up against a frigid 26 degrees, and waiting with their parents for pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus.

“Right now it’s a straight shot from here to the North Pole, so I didn’t need to bring him,” Santa answered the boy.

And unlike last year when there was a slight delay in getting the lights to light, this year the 45-foot pine tree in Union Pacific Park lit up right on cue after the crowd counted down from 10. The tree has been lit every year since it was planted 29 years ago by Hays resident Hazel Dick.

Dustin and Nastassja Key, Ellis, were there with their 3-year-old daughter Arista.

“We came to town mainly just for the carriage rides,” said Dustin. “She has a fascination with horses. She’s old enough now we thought she’d enjoy it.”

“Those are my horses,” said Arista, pointing at the Clydesdales to the amusement of her parents.

It was a nice night despite the cold, said Fort Hays State University students Katya Frank and Brittany Rogness, both from Wisconsin, and Holly Anderson from Colorado.

“We’re taking a break before finals,” said Rogness, bravely keeping her head warm in Chiefs’ and Broncos' territory with a Green Bay Packers stocking cap. “I have to be a supportive fan, even in the hard times.”

Revelers at the Frostfest tree lighting also took advantage of the 2018 Hays Arts Council Winter Art Walk Friday evening, which allowed them to duck into downtown shops and seek shelter while enjoying art.

Amongst the crowd milling in the Hays Arts Center, 112 E. 11th, was Abilene artist Jeremy Danner, viewing the 161 photographs selected for the 35th Annual Five State Photography Exhibition juried by Kansas City photographer Kevin Sisemore. On display through Jan. 26, 2019, are 326 entries from Kansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Missouri and Nebraska.

His daughter, Adreinne Danner, an art student at FHSU, brought him up for the event, his first visit to the area.

“I had expected a lot of farm images, but this is pretty good, there are a lot I like,” he said, eyeing the photos with appreciation. “I’m surprised. I was expecting your county-fair kind of thing. This is as good as anything anywhere. I’m actually pretty impressed by them. I’d recommend it for anyone to come take a look.”

Garry Howard, Hays, said his favorite piece was “The Hope for Paradise Seemed Far Away” by Sharon Burris, Ardmore, Okla.

“I always enjoy the Art Walk,” Howard said. “I took a lot of art classes in high school and college and Professor Kathleen Kuchar made me appreciate abstract art after I took her class.”

Next door at Platinum Group headquarters, artist Jack Flagor was showing his mandalas painted in acrylic on canvas panels using the tips of punches.

Asked how he does it, Flagor said “dots — lots and lots of dots.” Laughing, he told another guest, “When I go to sleep, I see dots.”

Flagor got his start years ago watching Bob Ross, the American TV instructor who hosted The Joy of Painting in the 1980s and 1990s, and whose videos remain popular on Youtube.

“He said anyone can do it, so I went down to Ace and got some brushes,” Flagor said.

Meanwhile, at the Fort Hays State Historic Site south of downtown, volunteers re-enacted Christmas Past for visitors, complete with lanterns and tents and campfires. A horse drawn wagon gave tours around the darkened fort under a clear velvety black sky twinkling with the Big Dipper and other stars.

Tatum Kimzey and her brother Cord Sprague, dressed in period clothes and nearly invisible on the dark prairie, were offering apple cider from a kettle hanging above the embers of their campfire. The secret to staying warm?

“Layers,” Kimzey said. That wasn’t the only trick to life on the modern prairie.

“We don’t like big flames,” Sprague said, tipping the kettle to fill a styrofoam cup for a visitor. “One time it melted the bottom of the cup.”