There is no better public Thanksgiving Day tradition than the Plaza Lighting in Kansas City. With thousands of spectators, entertainment, shopping, food and celebrities, no other city can touch this kick off of the holidays on Thanksgiving night. And after stuffing ourselves, it is a wonderful way to cap off the night. Of course I am partial, I live here.
People come from all over the country to participate in the lighting ceremony. Surrounding hotels are sold out a year ahead and in every office, hotel or apartment which has views of the famous Plaza, you can bet there will be a viewing party. Even my dentist’s office, which has a great view, hosts a shindig. Ugly Christmas sweaters are everywhere and you can smell the hot chocolate.
The Country Club Plaza was the vision of J.C. Nichols, the most famous developer of our fair city. He started to buy up land for “Nichols’ Folly”, as it was called, around 1907. Nichols had toured Europe as a young man and came back with the crazy idea of draining a swampy, hog farm area and building the first outdoor shopping area designed for automobiles. It was planned and built in European style, mostly that of his favorite city, Seville, Spain.
Today, there are several blocks with beautifully tiled buildings and the streets are adorned with several fountains and murals. The streetlights are reproductions of San Francisco’s famous Path of Gold. We boast beautiful landscaping and most vehicle parking is hidden by scalloped walls of covered, 3 story garages which was incredibly far sighted for the time.
The lighting began in 1925 with one strand of 16 colored lights and grew to an “official” ceremony in 1930. Today, there are about 80 miles of lights. Each year, we have a celebrity (this year it’s Rob Riggle) here to flip the switch. In addition are fireworks, live music, speeches and general revelry. If we don’t want to fight the crowds, we can watch it on a local TV station and the lights stay on until mid January.
If you like Christmas lights the way I do, Kansas City is worth a visit in winter. We don’t usually have snow, but when we do, the lights are even more magical.