For Mario and Rosario Valdes, Thursday night capped a day of firsts.
Earlier in the day the couple, who recently moved to Kansas City from Venezuela with their daughter, Maria, had celebrated their first Thanksgiving and now were standing in the Country Club Plaza waiting for their first Plaza lighting ceremony.
“It’s fun,” Mario Valdes said. “It’s at night, it’s open, it’s safe.”
Maria, 8 1/2 , sat on her father’s shoulders, looking around at the tens of thousands of revelers packing the Plaza, waving glow sticks, holding up their phones to photograph themselves and the scene and wearing necklaces of Christmas lights.
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“It’s really pretty,” she said before excitedly pointing at the main stage where members of the Kansas City Ballet were performing.
The Plaza lighting, now in its 87th year of signaling the beginning of the holiday season, featured the usual combination of Christmas music, choreography and people chucking masses of T-shirts, plastic balls and other knickknacks into the crowd.
Many participants said this was their first time seeing the ceremony.
Christian Koenig of Liberty and his family listened to veteran ceremonygoers and arrived at the event several hours early to get a spot up close to the main stage at Nichols Road and Pennsylvania Avenue.
“We live here, and we said this is the year we need to do this,” Koenig said.
Shari Dye, who lives in Macon, Mo., said she was visiting friends in Excelsior Springs and decided to see the lights in person.
“I enjoy the music, the atmosphere, the people,” Dye said. “You have to smile when Christmas carols are playing.”
Among the performers were Kansas City A Capella, the Blue Valley High School Chamber Singers, the Brad Cunningham Band and The Elders.
Shortly before 7 p.m., tennis player Jack Sock, who graduated from Blue Valley North High School and won two medals at the Rio Olympics this summer, flipped the switch with the help of a 6-year-old boy who had been standing near the stage.
Thousands of lights outlining the Plaza skyline lit up and set off a fireworks display to the roar of the crowd that stretched along Nichols Road from the main stage to a large television screen at Broadway and spilled into side streets.
“To see this, it’s (the crowd) going all the way back, it’s insane,” said Sock, who admitted this was his first time to see a lighting ceremony.
In the crowd were Matt and Megan Asikainen of Kansas City, Kan., who had recently moved back from St. Louis and wanted to show their children the Plaza lights.
Matt Asikainen said he liked the tradition of the event, while his wife said, “This is definitely better than standing in line at Wal-Mart.”
Daniel Bredeman and Irena Henning, both of Kansas City, said they had been to see the lighting ceremony many times in the past, but this was their first time seeing it together. They shot selfies on their phones as the fireworks ignited in the background.
“It’s one of the biggest events in Kansas City where everyone gets together,” Bredeman said. “There’s just happy vibes.”
The lights will continue to shine at the Plaza from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. through mid-January.
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