Dayton’s annual downtown holiday celebration started with this giant party in 1972

The Dayton Holiday Festival, an annual celebration that began in 1972, kicks off this week on Courthouse Square.

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“One World of Christmas,” the original Gem City celebration of the season, was the brainchild of local philanthropist Virginia Kettering, who wanted to gather together the community to share in the holiday spirit.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

The community rallied behind the idea, according to accounts in the Dayton Daily News and the Journal Herald newspapers. Hours before the festival began, people scurried throughout downtown adding the finishing touches.

“I’m so tired I’m wacky,” Duane Sheeter told a reporter as he finished decorating 22 trees in a Rike’s department store display. “We’ve worked ourselves silly, but it’s been fun. Mrs. Kettering keeps coming by and asking me if I’m warm enough and getting enough food.”

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Main Street was blocked off from First to Fourth streets to accommodate the celebration.

Ice-skating exhibitions were held on a rink that took up half a block. Pony rides were held near the Loew’s Theatre and down the street a merry-go-round welcomed holiday revelers.

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Credit: Dayton Daily News Archive

Gangs of carolers sang in office building lobbies and on the steps of the Old Courthouse. A crowd gathered to watch a display of animated figures designed specifically for the new event in the windows of Rike’s.

Courthouse Square, where the Grand Illumination takes place today, didn’t exist in 1972, so the community Christmas tree was set up on the lawn of the Old Courthouse.

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At the appointed time for the tree lighting the crowd, estimated at more than 10,000, pushed in closer to the downtown landmark.

Children held up signs that read “Southeast kids love the One World of Christmas” and “Yes, Santa Claus, there is a Virginia.”

Mrs. Kettering flipped the switch to illuminate the festive lights as well as the spirit of the community, laying the foundation for a new Dayton tradition.

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