Store fronts in The Vista welcomed hundreds of people with their entrances in preparation for the Vista Lights festival. Photos by Michaela Catoe

A year after the pandemic shut down holiday frivolity, hundreds of people came out Thursday night to celebrate the holiday season with the 36th Annual Vista Lights.

Live performances from nine different groups, food from restaurants in The Vista and an appearance by Santa in the downtown entertainment district, all were a signal that the holidays and life in Columbia were beginning to return to normal. 

Emily and Thomas Glasgow, Columbia residents, brought their children out this year to experience the holiday bustle for the first time.

“This is our first year seeing the lights,” Emily Glasgow said. “We didn’t know it’s so big, it’s great.”

Their two children, ages 2 and seven months, roasted s’mores, watched dancers and saw Santa Claus from afar. 

Abby Anderson, executive director of the Congaree Vista Guild, said she is excited to have the event back for the holiday season after last year’s social distancing changes to avoid large gatherings. 

“We’re bringing it back to normal post-COVID life,” said Anderson. “It’s a great family event.”

The dancers and performers were not the only ones in cheery costumes. Dwayne Schumpert, who has been attending the Vista Lights for more than 10 years, put on his holiday regalia to usher in the festivities.

“I just put on a little bit to celebrate Vista Lights and spread some Christmas cheer,” Schumpert said. 

Marie Stover, chief operations officer and vice president of Midlands Media Group, said she has been attending the event for over five years.

“Our offices are in the Vista and we just love Vista Lights and love supporting it every year,” said Stover.

Mayor Steve Benjamin thanked the holiday revelers for coming out to celebrate the lighting of The Vista’s Christmas tree. 

Benjamin said he enjoys being able to see families in the crowd and the faces of babies light up, especially since it has been a very difficult couple of years all across the world.

“To have people come together in the spirit of love, giving and thanksgiving, it’s always very positive,” Benjamin said.

Though they are from Columbia, the Glasgows said they enjoyed their time at the Vista Lights.

Executive Director of the Congaree Vista Guild Abby Anderson has been working with Vista Lights for nearly three years.

Dwayne Schumpert, who has been attending the Vista Lights celebration for over ten years, said more will be added to his costume as Christmas gets near. 

Midlands Media Group has volunteers from high schools in Columbia giving out “magical reindeer food” to children. 

The Vista’s Christmas tree was lit to mark the beginning of the holiday season in the City of Columbia.

Mayor Steve Benjamin said his last time at Vista Lights as the mayor is “bittersweet”, but he is looking forward to his next season of life.