City to switch on holiday lights and save Santa in annual Lawrence tradition

Hundreds of children, parents and Lawrence residents gather below at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets as Santa Claus is heroically rescued from the roof of Weaver's department store by two Lawrence firefighters in a ladder truck Friday evening, Dec. 4, 2015.

The start of the Christmas season in Lawrence brings the customary holiday lights and carols, but also the city’s own tradition: the annual rooftop rescue of Santa Claus.

As they have been doing for more than 30 years, local firefighters will rescue a stranded Santa from the rooftop of a three-story building downtown. Once Santa is brought safely down via a ladder truck, he will be available for Christmas wishes and photos.

“It’s a really fun way to see Santa up close,” said Downtown Lawrence Inc. Executive Director Sally Zogry. “Obviously, it’s a little bit of a different kind of event than any other community has.”

The city’s annual Holiday Lighting Ceremony and Santa Rescue will begin at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The event will include activities, musical performances and the illumination of holiday lights throughout downtown. All events will take place in downtown Lawrence at the intersection of Ninth and Massachusetts streets.

Z’s Divine Espresso will serve free hot chocolate, and First Christian Church will be sponsoring a kids craft table, Zogry said. She said the holiday lights downtown would be turned on — with a countdown from Mayor Leslie Soden — at 6:15 p.m. This year’s festivities include a new “Winter Wonderland” display in South Park, which will feature holiday figures.

Zogry said the event would begin with four local musical acts. Those include performances by Lawrence High Chorale and Liberty Memorial Central Middle School Excalibur Choir, as well as performances from Theatre Lawrence and the Lawrence Arts Center.

“We have such great music and arts in this town and it’s always exciting to showcase students and then also our two local theaters,” Zogry said.

Zogry said Santa will be rescued about 6:20 p.m. from the roof of Weaver’s Department Store, 901 Massachusetts St. Following his rescue, Santa will be available for Christmas wishes at the U.S. Bank Plaza. Zogry said children who visited Santa would get a cookie from Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe and a downtown Lawrence coupon card.