By Emily Le Coz | NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO - For more than two decades, Tupelo residents have ushered in the holiday season with the ceremonial lighting of its second-largest park.
City workers spend weeks festooning Ballard Park with Christmas-themed decorations dotted with thousands of lights. Then they wait until the first Thursday in December, invite the community, and flip the switch.
Oohs and aahs echo through the 153-acre green space as decorations come to life and cast their soft glow upon the faces of the gathered. The display has grown through the years, said Tupelo Parks and Recreation Director Don Lewis, estimating 20 different animated features and roughly 18 lit Christmas trees.
That doesn't include the strands of lights that adorn the Parks and Rec building, the bridge over the pond and other structures in the area.
The event continues to draw big crowds - sometimes several hundred people - who enjoy the moment when the park goes from dark to light.
"I don't want to lose that nostalgia to make it a family event to look at Christmas lights and see the decorations," Lewis said. "In years past, you could ride through the neighborhoods, and it was big family tradition to load up the kids and look at the Christmas lights. You don't see that as much anymore."