Gage County will begin celebrating the holiday season next weekend by lighting up more than 30,000 holiday lights on the courthouse.

The lights are turned on nightly through the season, with a special lighting ceremony to kick things off.

This year, the annual lighting ceremony at the courthouse will be held on Sunday, Nov. 19.

Project organizer, J.T. Thornburg, said this year holds a special place in his heart, as it marks 30 years since he started the tradition in 1987.

“It has been fun and I’m glad that I’m doing it,” he said. “Along with me and the community who is fundraising along with me, I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been rewarding and the community enjoys it and that’s what it’s all about. We’ll get in the Christmas spirit again."

Festivities will kick off at 5:25 p.m. with caroling by the Homestead Harmonizers, the all-male singing group that performs at the event.

At around 5:55 p.m., a special guest from the North Pole will make an appearance when Santa Claus himself visits the courthouse.

A short time later, at around 6 p.m. more than 30,000 holiday lights will be turned on to illuminate the courthouse grounds.

After the ceremony, Santa will stick around to visit the children and hand out candy.

Before the event, however, the Christ Episcopal Church, located at 524 N. Fifth St., will host a soup supper. The supper will run from 4:30-7 p.m. and will cost $6 for adults, $3 for children and children under 3-years-old eat free.

Thornburg said a lot has changed in the last 30 years of the event. One change is the need for a crane, provided annually by Shawn VanLaningham, to maintain the lights on the building, which stay up year-round.

“Now, we have to use cranes and stuff to get to the roof,” Thornburg said. “Before, we could crawl around on there. When we did it back in 1987 we used rope chairs and stuff like that because there were no cranes then. Since they put a new roof on the courthouse, we have to use cranes so we don’t get on the new shingles. That gets kind of expensive, just getting the cranes up there.”

Thornburg said that it takes around $4,000 to maintain the light project, which depends on donations from the community.

Maintenance has become more manageable after the transition to all LED bulbs a few years ago, which don’t burn out as frequently. Thornburg said the new, brighter bulbs were one of the biggest changes in the last 30 years.

He hopes the event will continue in the years to come, with support from the community.

“I had the idea in 1987 so I came home and talked to my wife,” Thornburg recalled. “I was retiring back then and donated all the equipment and materials. Then, in the second year, I created a fundraiser. The community has been very supportive.

“It’s a good feeling to have it going on for 30 years and I hope it goes on forever.”

Those wishing to help fund the event can make contributions to the Gage County Foundation, c/o Holiday Lights, P.O. Box 205, Beatrice, NE 68310. Donations are tax deductible.

Reach Scott Koperski at scott.koperski@beatricedailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKoperski.

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