Dean Holtz is anticipating record crowds at this year’s opening gala for the Celebration of Lights this Saturday.
It’s been three years since Sarnia’s popular lights festival was able to host a big community event on opening night.
Festival volunteers soldiered through during the pandemic, lighting up Centennial Park with more than 60,000 lights in 2020 and 2021. They even extended the Celebration of Lights so that Covid-weary Sarnians could enjoy it throughout January. But the community gala had to be put on ice until this year.
This month, the excitement building around the 38th edition of the Celebration of Lights was evident during set-up, Holtz said.
More than 100 volunteers were out to help secure the 50 light displays in the park. That’s considerably more help than usual.
So it’s possible this Saturday’s opening will exceed the 3,000 or so who attended the last gala in 2019, said Holtz.
He’s been chairperson for the past three years but, like so many Celebration of Lights volunteers, Holtz has a long term commitment and has helped in one capacity or another for 15 years.
“I got involved because I was asked to put a band together for the opening ceremonies,” said Holtz who is a keyboard player.
“I draw on highly-skilled musicians from numerous churches and we play popular versions of Christmas carols that people know and love,” he said. This Saturday’s concert is 5 p.m. – 6 p.m. at the Agora in Centennial Park.
Santa is due to arrive and will throw the lights on. Free hot chocolate is being served up thanks to Imperial Oil’s sponsorship.
Horse wagon rides are planned, as is a 15-minute fireworks show and free photos with Santa.
The committee works hard to find enough sponsors so that the $15,000 gala can be offered free-of-charge, said Holtz.
The entire festival is organized by community volunteers, he said. “A lot of people think the city does it, but it’s really a small group of local residents.
“That’s not to say the city isn’t extremely helpful. It really takes a community,” he said.
This year, a festival favourite is back after several years of repair. Neptune’s Castle, a gigantic, 20-foot-high light display has been completely rewired and restrung, work that was done in the summertime by Celebration of Lights volunteers.
Kathy Marcinkowski was one of them and helped repaint the frame and attach all new bulbs.
Marcinkowski has been volunteering for the past decade and, like many of the volunteers, she frequently braves the cold temperatures of Centennial Park to ensure the lights are ready for opening night.
“I started when my kids needed volunteer hours for school,” she said. “And I’ve stayed with it because it’s so satisfying to see people enjoy the lights.
“I do it because I just love the holidays.”
Tis that time of the year when Santa is his busiest. Here’s details on a few of the many special appearances he has planned in the coming weeks:
CELEBRATION OF LIGHTS OPENING GALA – Saturday, Nov. 26 starting at 5 p.m. in Centennial Park. Lights stay on nightly until Jan. 1. Tear-down Jan. 14.
CORUNNA SANTA CLAUS PARADE – Saturday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 p.m. presented by the Moore Optimists. Non-perishable food items collected along the route. Hot chocolate and Christmas treats at the clock tower starting at 6 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Claus at the tower following the parade.
POINT EDWARD THIRD ANNUAL CHRISTMAS CHEER – Friday, Dec. 2 starting at 7 p.m. Stroll from Livingston to Victoria streets along the trail and enjoy the lit up cul-d-sacs, firepit, hot chocolate and music.
CHRISTMAS IN THE VILLAGE (POINT EDWARD) – Saturday, Dec. 3. 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. Santa and Mrs. Claus under the pergola, horse and buggy rides, caricature paintings, tree decorating contest and much more. Snacks in the community hall and crafts in the library.
PETROLIA’S CHRISTMAS PARADE – Saturday Dec. 3 from 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.
SARNIA’S KINSMEN SANTA CLAUS PARADE – Saturday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m.
SARNIA CHRISTMAS ON THE FARM – Friday, Dec. 2; 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m in Canatara Park. Saturday, Dec. 3; 10 a.m – 2 p.m. Free holiday fun. Santa and Mrs. Claus in attendance.