The Christmas season officially opened in downtown Hays with the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus and the lighting of the Christmas tree.

The event is part of the downtown Frostfest, which will culminate with the annual lighted Frostfest Parade at 6 p.m. Saturday. The parade’s theme this year is “A Kansas Christmas.”

Even with numerous holiday and sports activities throughout town, a large crowd had gathered shortly after 5 p.m. at Union Pacific Park and under the Downtown Pavilion at 10th and Main for the festivities. The evening opened with the Hays Cheer Association Oilers Cheerleading Squad, performing to a selection of Christmas songs set to a dance beat.

The Ellis Elementary Honor Choir sang several holiday songs, inviting the audience to join in on favorites including “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Silent Night,” which they also sang in German.

Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived by wagon about 15 minutes after their scheduled 5:30 p.m. appearance, but that didn’t stop the children from surrounding them as they made their way from Main Street to the pavilion. Santa took his time greeting the children, crouching to their level to talk to many of them and offering high-fives and hugs.

With the assistance of Hays Mayor Henry Schwaller and a countdown from the crowd, the tree in Union Pacific Park — planted 30 years ago — was lit.

Also through the evening at the pavilion, the Hays Public Library mascot Chilly and Paw Patrol characters offered story time and the Ellis County Historical Society offered history with a portrayal of Elizabeth Polly, the legendary “Blue Light Lady” whose spirit is said to walk the hills of the Fort Hays grounds, where she nursed the victims of a cholera epidemic until dying from the disease herself.

The Hays Arts Council’s Winter Art Walk attracted many of the Frostfest goers to venues throughout downtown, while south of town, Historic Fort Hays offered a Victorian holiday experience through its annual Christmas Past.