HEIDELBERG, Germany - The sounds of smooth holiday jazz and the sights of singing candy canes and tiny Christmas elves set the stage for U.S. Army Garrison Baden-Württemberg's final Holiday Magic event Friday at the Village Pavilion Community Center in Heidelberg.

The annual celebration featured live music, a Christmas market, train rides, food, horse carriage rides, a prize drawing, holiday crafts and a community tree-lighting ceremony.

The stage inside the community center was turned into a sparkling winter wonderland, where members of the Child, Youth and School Services Strong Beginnings program, PHV Elementary School, Roadside Theater Chorus, The Schools of Knowledge, Inspiration, Exploration and Skills program, Heidelberg Middle School, Heidelberg High School and the PHV Gospel Choir entertained the growing crowd of community members gathered inside the center's ballroom.

A projection screen was also set up on the front lawn to stream the festivities to everyone still eating and mingling outside.

One of the biggest hits of the night was the gingerbread house table manned by members of Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers. Children of all ages flocked to the station to build their very own edible creations adorned with rainbow sprinkles, gym drops, cookies, licorice, gummy bears and jellybeans. Hugh Denny helped his 8-year-old daughter Kristin carefully construct her own little gingerbread structure using bright red frosting.

"I think that the [F]MWR [Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation] staff puts a lot of thought into what they do, and they try to make it sort of multi-dimensional and provide for all of the community members. There's always something for everyone," Denny said. "It's sad to see the community closing. It's events like this that make Heidelberg what it is."

Family and MWR special events coordinator Leslie Green and his staff have planned for the event for the past six months, and for many of them, the evening proved to be a bittersweet one. "It's very sad, because this is the end of an era," Green said.

"We've been in Heidelberg many years, and it's always been a great place to serve the nation. There are great families here. That's what [F]MWR is all about, taking care of folks," Green said. "We're gonna miss doing this here," Green added.

According to Green, the Holiday Magic event has been going on since the early '80s.
Outside the community center, local organizations served up hot bowls of chili, cupcakes, pretzels, popcorn and other goodies to hungry event goers. Tables of jewelry, lanterns, art and holiday fare also awaited visitors.

Inside, long lines of parents and kids snaked around the Copper Lounge for a chance to sit on Santa's lap. Jacqueline Zackery and her 6-year-old son, Hayden, stood patiently among the sea of strollers and excited families.

"This is something we've done since we've been here for the past four and a half years, and since the base is closing, we wanted to come out one last time," Zackery said.
"It saddens me, because we love Heidelberg and we're fortunate to be here, but we're going to enjoy the night and make lots of memories," she added.

Later in the evening, Garrison Commander Col. Bryan DeCoster led the community tree lighting on the outdoor stage to officially usher in the holiday season.

"To see the children and families laughing and singing is one of my favorite things,"
Green said."We hope everyone that came out to Holiday Magic takes with them a strong sense of togetherness that we have here and continue to spread Christmas cheer throughout the entire year."