Hundreds of grown-ups and kids flocked to downtown Red Deer on Saturday to see Santa Claus and experience the twinkling lights, parade floats and treats of the Festival of Trees kick-off celebration.
But it wasn’t just the bright seasonal trappings that made the Festival Lights the Night event so special for Tracey Oake. who attended with her daughters Abbie, 9, and Lacey, 4.
“I love the community spirit,” said Oake, who moved here from England six years ago.
Her verdict is that “you guys do Christmas better” because of the focus on community.
“It all looks so beautiful, we really are glad we came,” added the Red Deer resident, who took her daughters to various craft and face painting booths in City Hall Park.
Music, hula hoop lessons and the chance to make paper bag reindeer was available to young and old.
And James Achtemichuk and his kids, Emma, 7, and Gavin, 5, were getting in on the reindeer-making action.
Achtemichuk, who was gluing a small pair of antlers onto his son’s creation, said the event “really brings out the Christmas spirit.”
Craft booth volunteer Lisa Armstrong, 21, said “We saw a lot of people, especially before the parade, but it was really well organized.”
Demand for free treats in City Hall Park was steady.
By the time the Santa Claus parade — sponsored by the Red Deer Downtown Business Association — started at 5 p.m., the complementary popcorn and Rice Krispie treats were in short supply and the last drops of hot chocolate were gone.
“The crowd was just phenomenal. We couldn’t keep up,” said Alaine Martin, a project officer for the Red Deer Regional Health Foundation’s Festival of Trees fundraiser.
She was thankful that the Gaetz Memorial United Church and The Hub on Ross had stepped up to supplement the kids’ crafts and hot chocolate.
The Festival kick-off celebration and Santa Claus parade were held on a weekend for the first time in many years, and Martin believes more families were able to attend.
Throngs of people lined both sides of the street along the parade route as the glitzy floats and decorated vehicles went by.
More businesses and service groups also entered this year’s parade. Martin said the 33 entries were more than double last year’s number. She figures a big part of the draw was the prize money offered for best floats by Bilton Welding and Manufacturing of Innisfail.
The $2,000 top prize went to a bright, fanciful float from Cornerstone Youth Theatre, the $1,500 second-place prize went to the brightly lit truck from Pidherney’s Trucking, and the $1,000 third prize went to the nativity themed float from Gaetz Memorial United Church. The $500 People’s Choice winner will be announced on Tuesday.
At 6 p.m., the tall Christmas tree in front of Red Deer’s Old Courthouse was lit up, to cheers from the crowd.
“This is really our thank-you to the community. We wanted to have a free event to show our appreciation,” said Martin, noting the 2,500 volunteers, more than 500 sponsors, and thousands of community members who support the annual fundraising Festival of Trees that runs Friday to Sunday at Westerner Park.