The halls were decked. The jingle bells rocked. The reindeer played.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village twinkled brightly Friday night during the charity's 21st annual tree lighting ceremony.
Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman flipped the inaugural switch on the 40-foot artificial tree, illuminating the brilliantly lit forest and officially declaring the start of the holiday season in "North Pole Nevada."
Santa, who also was in attendance, seemed to enjoy that part, which reminded him of home.
The tree lights flickered to holiday tunes, including Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas Is You."
"The North Pole never felt so good," Goodman joked about the warm weather.
The colorful glow from millions of lights drew crowds by the hundreds to the holiday spectacular, which runs from Thanksgiving to New Year's and grosses about $1.5 million annually for the nonprofit organization serving those with intellectual disabilities.
Goodman then took a tour of the 'Twas the Night Before Christmas 3-D house, which showcased characters such as the Grinch and Jack Skellington from "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Goodman seemed thrown off by her 3-D specs, worrying about where she walked as she handed out "good luck" chips to passers-by.
Then, she hammed it up for photographers by kissing a giant pig.
"It's so important we have this wonderful event," Goodman said.
Outside, people sledded down what resembled a frozen Slip'N Slide in giant inner tubes.
The Magical Forest is one of the organization's most important annual events and includes dozens of lighted trees sponsored by businesses and individuals.
Giant candy canes lined the walkways next to reindeer that appeared to be grazing. Snowmen with coal smiles waved to passers-by. The Forest Express chugged along, taking visitors through the two-acre park, which has a carousel, food stations and a gift shop.
The event began modestly two decades ago when Linda Smith, chief development officer, strung up some lights for donors and sold hot chocolate and cookies.
She made $3,000 that first year. A few nights in, she realized it could be a fundraiser.
"I never dreamt it would be anything like it is," Smith said. "It sort of reinvents itself every year."
The event "ensures the future of Opportunity Village to me," she said.
"This is bigger than me," she said. "It was a little idea. It belongs to this community. It gives me a lot of pride. I feel really great I was part of creating something that is so beloved by so many people."
By the end of the season, about 200,000 people will have walked through the Magical Forest.
The charity has three campuses in Southern Nevada and is self-sufficient.
A study done by Las Vegas-based financial consultant Applied Analysis showed the charity saves Nevada taxpayers $22 million annually because it trains individuals to join the workforce.
Contact reporter Kristi Jourdan at firstname.lastname@example.org or 383-0440.