The Vista tree on Gervais Street lights up the crowd below. (Photos by Sophia Laico/Carolina News and Reporter)
Thousands of people flooded the Vista Lights celebration Thursday, spilling onto festively decorated, blocked-off streets.
An estimated 8,000 people attended the celebration, said Abby Anderson, executive director of the Vista Guild.
“People have been doing it for years,” Columbia resident Morgan Jenkins said. “(It’s) tradition.”
This year, the celebration happened on the same night the University of South Carolina women’s basketball team played their rivals Clemson at the nearby Colonial Life Arena.
Bright lights and Christmas decor lit up every inch of the surrounding downtown blocks. Dogs were dressed up as Christmas trees and wearing cute, little hats. Some people sang along to Christmas music, while others danced with their friends and loved ones.
Live performances filled the stage leading to the highly anticipated tree lighting ceremony on Gervais Street.
Food and drink vendors filled the street, including hot chocolate stations and a smore station.
Even Santa and the Grinch joined in on the fun!
Vista Lights is a great opportunity for area businesses, Anderson said. Businesses stay open late and greet waves of customers.
This was the first Vista Lights for Neset Hikmet, the owner of Famers Market Xchange.
The Xchange, at Lady and Lincoln streets, has been open only for two-and-a-half months.
“Many people who walk in say that, ‘Ah, I didn’t know you were here,’” Hikmet said. “So, that’s probably the best benefit for us — getting our name out and people knowing where we are.”
Hikmet, who used to come to the event as a visitor, said the event was excellent.
Jenkins just recently moved back to the neighborhood. The last time she attended Vista Lights was seven years ago.
She praised the variety of different drink and food tents that were offered.
Marlen Andino, a first-time visitor, thought the “very superior” community-oriented event let her discover some places she wasn’t familiar with.
“Overall, I think it’s really good for the holidays, to start the Christmas holiday,” Andino said. “I think it’s really cool.”
Andino’s favorite parts were meeting the Grinch and watching the live performances.
Anderson said it’s important to put local businesses in the spotlight.
“It’s just a fun, family-friendly event that’s kind of got something for everybody,” she said.