As she stood among the throngs packed into Union Station on Saturday evening, Jessica Hanna had her hands full.
With a bottle in each one, the young Kansas City mother didn’t miss a beat as she fed her 5-month-old twin daughters and tried to keep her 4-year-old son from wandering too far from their strollers.
“We decided to get out of the house and check this out,” Hanna said with a laugh. “This is our first time to do this, and it’s been great. And the girls really seem to be noticing all the lights.”
Thousands packed the Grand Hall for the annual Holiday Tree Lighting Ceremony, featuring a 40-foot tree with 25,000 new lights. The event was extra special this year because Union Station is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
“Isn’t it beautiful here tonight?” a gleeful Santa asked the impatient crowd as the countdown was about to begin. “Now, let’s get this tree lit.”
The turnout thrilled George Guastello, Union Station’s president and CEO.
“This is one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever had,” he said.
Kathy Haverkamp, design coordinator with All Seasons Event Rental, said it took two weeks to decorate the tree. And it was well worth the effort, she said.
“This is awesome to see all these people here,” she said as she prepared to hit the switch that would light the gigantic wreaths hanging along the upper walls. “We’ve added a lot to this. It’s just enchanting in here at night.”
Afterward, families and couples posed for pictures at the base of the tree while others moved into Sprint Festival Plaza, where the Metropolitan Strings Academy played holiday music and children lined up to ride the miniature holiday train. Others posed for photos with Santa, elves and even the Grinch.
Marcy and Jason Bryant came from Warrensburg, Mo., with their children Gracie, 8, and Connor, 3.
“They’re so ready for Christmas,” Marcy said. “We saw Santa when we pulled into the parking garage, and they went crazy. We were wondering how to explain what Santa was doing in the parking garage. So we told them he was here for a special delivery.”
Fifteen-month-old Reagan Brucker of Grain Valley was taking it all in with her parents, Philip and Rachael, grandmother Cathy Althaus and great-grandmother Dorothy Angotti, both of Independence. The four-generation entourage started the afternoon at Crown Center, then made their way to Union Station.
“This is our first year to do this, and it’s been great,” said Rachael Brucker. “A very enjoyable family time.”
As Sydney and Sadie Hanna contentedly downed their bottles and their eyes began to droop, brother Braden spun and twirled on the floor near the monstrous tree.
“My favorite part was when the lights took off,” he said, adding that the festivities made him start thinking about Christmas.
And hey, where’d Santa go? He might want to hear this.
“I already know what I want,” Braden said decisively. “Lego sets. I want to build spaceships with them.”