Family traditions are important to Megan Howe.
At a young age, the Owensboro woman lost her great-grandmother, who was very dear to Howe. Keeping family traditions is one way to keep her great-grandma close in spirit.
"I always try to make my kids realize how important traditions are," Howe said.
On Saturday afternoon, she continued a family holiday tradition.
Howe brought a group of five -- her son, Tyler, 14; Tyler's girlfriend, Marshaya Carbon, 14; Howe's mom, Tracey Kimbley; son, Aiden, 12; and daughter, Lily Ann, 6 -- downtown for the 12th annual Holiday Stroll. They were among scores of families who arrived at midafternoon to play the Elf on the Shelf Scavenger Hunt.
Ten elves were hidden downtown -- stuck in trees, sitting in windows, riding on the trolley. By using the city of Owensboro's Instagram page, families could read clues to find each one. Those who found all 10 were put in a drawing to win a prize.
It was a picture-perfect afternoon for being outside in early December. The daytime high temperature was forecast to hit 53 with lots of sun.
The first Elf on the Shelf clue took the Howe team to The Creme Coffee House, which was wall-to-wall people around 3:30 p.m.
Then, the group made its way down Second Street to Mellow Mushroom and Lil Bit Sassy, where Santa waited on the second floor to pose for pictures with kids.
After that, they found the elf hidden in the large holiday tree at Smothers Park. Another elf waited for them in the window at SIP Wine Room's new downtown location.
Clue six said: "These elves are sneaky and full of tricks. You need to catch a ride to find elf No. 6."
The Howe team walked to the Owensboro Convention Center and waited at least 20 minutes for the city trolley. By that time, the sun was setting, and the temperature was falling.
No one complained.
"The first year we did it, it was cold," Howe said. "You forget about it once you start having fun."
Howe and her family have participated in Holiday Stroll's scavenger hunt all five years. By the way, they always find all the elves.
It's a family tradition.
Afterward, they go to McDonald's for a big cup of hot chocolate. Then, they drive to Santa Claus, Indiana, where the family visits Land of Lights and poses for a photo with Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer.
By 5 p.m. Saturday, hundreds of people had gathered at Smothers Park for Holiday Stroll's tree-lighting ceremony.
Some members of the Kentucky Youth Chorale were dressed like Dickens characters. They opened the event by singing "Joy to the World."
When they finished, the crowd chanted the countdown for the tree lighting: ten, nine, eight, seven ...
On cue, the lights came on to oohs, aahs and much applause.
Onlookers came dressed for the occasion. Many wore headbands that featured reindeer antlers, Santa hats, snowmen or gingerbread cookies.
On Saturday, Mindy Buckman and her daughter, Lilly, 9, of Livermore, came to Holiday Stroll for the first time. Lilly wore a Santa hat with reindeer antlers.
They arrived about 3:30 p.m., hoping to play Elf on a Shelf, but they couldn't get the city's Instagram clues to come up on their phone.
That's OK, Buckman said. "It was a beautiful day, a nice day to do this."
The pair ate pretzels, drank hot chocolate and meandered around downtown. They attended the tree-lighting ceremony.
Before heading back to Livermore, they planned to listen to more holiday music, do some people watching and drink more hot chocolate. They were in no hurry to leave.
For them, perhaps their first Holiday Stroll will be the start of a new family tradition.
Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835, firstname.lastname@example.org