If everything goes well, Grant Kahlbaugh hopes that from 6 to 6:05 on Christmas Eve, Grand Forks will be filled with the tinkling of hundreds of bells.
The idea harkens back to the earliest days of the pandemic, when people in countries across the world would take to balconies, porches, rooftops, fire escapes and windowsills in unison to cheer for health care workers. The nightly cheering came to represent a few minutes of togetherness in a year when many felt far apart.
When Grand Forks residents step outside and ring bells for a few minutes on Dec. 24, Kahlbaugh said he sees it as a chance for the city to "ring in" the new year, and ring out the negativity of 2020. The idea came from Lions Global Service Chair Crystal Duker, who saw a similar event posted on an area Facebook page, Kalbaugh said.
"She thought that this would be a great idea to get area communities involved in bringing in some Christmas cheer," he said. "Basically, a lot of us are ready to say goodbye 2020, and good riddance."
On Christmas Eve, Kahlbaugh said he might don his red Lions Club District Governor jacket and go ring his own at the local Lions Clubs' annual Christmas in the Park event.
There's no fundraising or donation aspect of the Christmas Eve bell ringing, Kahlbaugh said -- by spreading the word about the event, the Lions Clubs are aiming to spread positivity, not money.
But those who wish to contribute to their community this holiday season in a more direct way still have time to attend Christmas in the Park. All funds raised by the event go to local organizations, such as area youth programs, local food cupboards, the Community Violence Intervention Center and the Grand Forks Senior Center.
So far this year, the event has raised about $25,000 and has seen near-record turnout with more than 4,200 vehicles in attendance. In the 19 years the Lions Clubs have hosted the event, it has now raised a total of about $355,000 for the Greater Grand Forks community.
The event was founded by Kahlbaugh's father, the late Elwin "Al" Kahlbaugh, also a former Lions District Governor who died late last year.
The annual event is a festive display populated by lots rented and run by local businesses and organizations. With headlights turned on low, cars can make their way slowly through the displays. It's an easy option for some socially distant festivities, Kahlbaugh said.
Candy canes are available for children and adults, and dog treats are available for canine viewers.
"A lot of our fundraising events this were canceled due to the pandemic," he said "With all four clubs participating in this, we're still going to be able to help out the charities that each club in town provides funds to -- the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, food cupboards, the Mission."
Christmas in the Park is held from 5:30 to 10 p.m. each night through Dec. 31 at Lincoln Drive Park, 120 Euclid Ave. Admission is charged per vehicle: $6 per car, $10 per limo and $20 per bus. Christmas in the Park is held annually by Grand Forks Lions Club, Red River Lions Club, South Forks Lions Club and the UND Campus Lions Club.