MURPHYSBORO — Thanksgiving is still a few days away, but lights are being strung, wreaths are going up, a giant wooden Christmas train adorns the library's front lawn and lots of children can share their wishes with Santa at his new cottage in Town Center Park.

This is in preparation for a new Christmas celebration, what organizers are calling a Murphysboro Hometown Christmas, which will offer events and activities for families leading up the big day.

Since January, organizers have been planning for this end-of-the-year event, hoping to restore Christmas spirit to the city. The event includes decorations and Christmas stands in the city's downtown area, coordination of decorations on city properties and such events as caroling, combined with a tree-lighting ceremony and debuting of the city's Santa's Cottage.

The tree-lighting ceremony begins at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1 in Town Center Park, where Murphysboro Hometown Christmas officially gets underway with the lighting of a 16-foot tree from a tree farm in Metropolis.

"Basically, we're just a small group of hometown people who wanted to make Murphysboro more of a family-friendly place to visit during the holidays and provide things for people to do in town, even (those from) surrounding towns," said Emily Eisert, one of the secretaries in the newly formed Murphysboro HomeTown Christmas.

At the end of that ceremony, Santa's Cottage, a structure built for a grade by Murphysboro High School students in Bill Boudet's class, will be introduced. Materials for the project were donated by Wright Do-it Center in Murphysboro. Children and their families will be able to visit Santa in his cottage, from 3 to 7 p.m. on the first three Saturdays in December.

The Santa's Cottage was scheduled to be placed on city property on today.

That night of the tree-lighting ceremony will also feature a horse-drawn carriage ride, pulling guests (for a small fee) for a few block, about five blocks, hopefully past churches who decide to participate with decorations and singing, according to one of the organizers.

There are six people on the volunteer committee, including lifelong residents like Eisert and Jamie Green, who moved back into Murphysboro a few years ago.  The Murphysboro Hometown Christmas is organized under a group called Murphysboro Main Street. 

"I can't tell you how proud I am of your group and the work they've been doing," Mayor Will Stephens told Green at a past city council meeting.

Eisert and others hope all that work gives local people reason to stay close this season.

"I think for all of the previous years, people from Murphysboro have left town to do holiday activities with their families and hopefully now they won’t have to,” she said. “People can stay here in town and be able to take their families to lots of free events that they don’t have to leave Murphysboro to get to.”

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Stephanie Esters is a reporter covering Jackson and Union counties.

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