BEATRICE - An annual holiday tradition helped kick off the Christmas season in southeast Nebraska, Sunday night.  Holiday lights will be on at night at the Gage County Courthouse now through Christmas and past the New Year’s Holiday.

Sunday night marked the 34th year of the Winter Lights Festival, held on the east lawn of the courthouse. Gage County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann says the project was started by J.T. Thornburgh, who founded the event more than three decades ago.

"J.T. came up with an idea that the community could get behind and all of us could be proud of, and enjoy. He put together a committee...he raised funds...he made deals, twisted arms...and he got this program in place. Years later, instead of just leaving, he stayed on as the chairman of the winter lights committee, which is a volunteer committee for over three decades. In leaving, he turned that over to co-chairs Steph Perkins and Nora Zimmerman...who keep everything moving smoothly...whether it's scheduling the big guy in red...or bagging candy or going through whatever maintenance needs done on the courthouse...adding lights, wreaths...there's been a lot of additions, thanks to that committee."

Tiemann also credited Building and Grounds Supervisor Dave Jones with overseeing the workings of the lights and the time period they are illuminated.
The Homestead Harmonizers sang at the festival, as has been the tradition for many years. A soup supper was held west of the courthouse sponsored by the Christ Church Episcopal.

The founder, Thornburgh, did the honors flipping the switch at six p.m., with Santa Claus leading the countdown.

The white L-E-D lights on the building are accompanied by similar lighting on the trees of the courthouse grounds…and sidewalk light fixtures include color-lighted wreaths. An estimated 200 attended Sunday evening’s Winter Lights Festival.