SHERIDAN — The Friday following Thanksgiving for Sheridanites means free hot cocoa and a chance to spend time with family members perusing shops downtown at the annual Christmas Stroll.
This year’s theme brought out string after string of lights in shop windows to showcase the theme “Light Up the Night.”
The process for choosing a theme each year takes time, patience and creativity. Judy Taylor — Christmas Stroll committee chairman by day and Mrs. Claus by night — said the committee members brainstorm a list of around 50 ideas and whittle them down from there. Thinking like a child is not always easy for the committee, but they eventually end up finding a theme that fits for children and businesses alike.
“(We) try not to think of it like an adult (but) think of it like a kid,” Taylor said.
“Because sometimes as adults you get a little far off and you can see things, so we want something that kids can see in their minds and then draw.”
Taylor said they remove some ideas by eliminating ones similar to ideas the committee has chosen in the past.
“Some of the factors that go into our selection is with businesses, is it something that will be easy for them to implement as they’re decorating?” said Jodi Hartley, marketing and communications director for the Sheridan County Chamber of Commerce.
Because of the lighting and decorating contest for the participating businesses, the committee works to keep the theme within their working ability.
Children grades first through sixth can participate in the Christmas Stroll button contest. The drawings must include the theme, fit on the space of a button and have room for the Chamber’s information.
“We want to make it something that is also exciting to them and easy for them to incorporate into a design,” Hartley said.
The design is chosen, buttons are made and people rush to purchase them for a chance to win prizes at participating businesses until Dec. 24. Hartley said the buttons almost sell out or completely sell out every year.
Each year the committee works to introduce a new element to keep things fresh from years past. Taylor said even if it’s working and the Stroll is successful, it’s nice to change things up and provide options and something to keep people coming back.
This year, newly established Cowboy Creamery created a Christmas Stroll flavor perfectly in line with a large attraction to the evening — free hot cocoa at nearly every turn. Because of the popularity of free hot cocoa being passed out up and down Main Street, owner Louis Mitchell created hot cocoa, a flavor everyone had the opportunity to try at the Chamber Friday evening. Taylor said Chamber tries diligently to keep everything offered at the Stroll free of charge, so hot cocoa tastings were available and, if people wished, could purchase the flavor from Cowboy Creamery at a later time.
Taylor, who also fronts as Mrs. Claus, walked through the history of Mr. and Mrs. Claus making their way to their current location at the Chamber of Commerce. Taylor started in the role strictly on the radio for seven or eight years, then a coworker convinced her to take her bit from behind the microphone to perform the act in person at a children’s Christmas party. Taylor quickly purchased fabric and created an outfit for her new persona.
The Mr. and Mrs. Claus duet transformed into Mrs. Claus meeting Santa at the train depot and riding into town to meet with children. The man playing Santa eventually retired and, therefore, Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad retired from the job, as well.
Total numbers for the evening have yet to be tallied, but the theme coincided perfectly with the quintessence of the Sheridan Christmas Stroll.
“It’s a wonderful way to really kick off the holiday season,” Hartley said. “We’re lighting up Sheridan; we have the fireworks at the end; we have the lighting and decorating contest.
“It’s really just a theme that fits with what Stroll is, what it’s all about.”