Santa and Mrs. Claus make their way down Ashland’s Main Street during the Festival of Light parade in Ashland. The couple was on their way to flip the switch to begin the city’s Grand Illumination. - Bob Pennell

Santa brings good cheer, a million lights to Ashland

There was no shortage of holiday cheer Friday surrounding the 21st annual Festival of Light celebration in downtown Ashland.

Thousands of revelers broke into "Jingle Bells," as Santa and Mrs. Claus simultaneously flicked on most of more than a million lights lining Ashland's downtown business at 5:46 p.m.

The Grand Illumination concluded a celebration on the Ashland Plaza and Santa's Parade, which started at 5 p.m. in front of the public library and moseyed down East Main Street before the Clauses dismounted their parade sleigh and took to the balcony of Alex's Plaza Restaurant and Bar for a countdown to the Grand Illumination.

Before beginning the 10-to-1 countdown, first Santa suggested counting down from 100, which drew a chorus of booing from the joyous crowd.

Attendance was estimated at about 10,000 revelers according to Katharine Flanagan, marketing director for the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event.

"It's a magic moment, there is a lot of intricate planning that goes into it," Flanagan said. "It really felt nice downtown today. It was warm and there were lines out the doors. People were happy."

Linnie Pucci, who retired in Ashland about 10 years ago from Cincinnati, Ohio, was one of the happiest in attendance.

"It's cool and crisp and everybody is all bundled up; it's dark at 5 o'clock and it's so intimate with everyone down here at the same time. That's what I like," she said. "You know, I love this little town. People are friendly, it's safe. I love living here."

On Monday, Pucci had attended the Ashland Fire & Rescue-sponsored Thanksgiving dinner at the Ashland Senior Center — which included six turkeys, two hams, 50 pounds of potatoes, several pies and trimmings.

"It was lovely," she said. "They were all there serving us."

Friday, Black Friday that is, was the busiest day of the year for Paddington Station, and most retail business in Ashland and around the country.

Thousands of shoppers streamed into Paddington Station leading up to the parade, said owner Pam Hammond, who breathed a sigh of relief thinking about the beginning of the parade and her upcoming break in the flow of customers.

"I think this season will end up being stronger than last year," said Hammond, noting that there are fewer days this year between Thanksgiving and Christmas that years past.

Hammond said she has owned and operated the store, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, for 20 years, and it is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Between Paddington Station and Paddington Jewel Box, across the street, Hammond said she brings in 23 staff members for Black Friday.

There was only one person 4-year-old Phoenix, of Ashland, wanted to talk to after the parade — Santa Claus, who was hearing gift wishes from children and posing for photographs until 8 p.m. at the Black Swan Theatre.

"Bike," is all Phoenix would say.

Her grandmother, Sandy Royce, who has lived in Ashland for 28 years, said she is thankful to have grandchildren to take to the parade.

"Every year I came with my family for a long time and now I come because I have grandchildren. It's a happy time, everybody is in a cheerful mood," Royce said. "I just love to see all the kids running down the street behind Santa Claus."

And they were. At 5:20 p.m. in front of the Ashland Springs Hotel, a mob of waving children, some on their parents' shoulders, were walking closely behind the sleigh at the finale of the parade.

In front of the sleigh were about 20 Ashland Danceworks dancers dressed like Santa, in red skirts, white shirts and red caps, busting choreographed moves to hip-hop versions of Christmas songs.

"I thought it was fun," said 10-year-old Kenndel Mazzella, who was making her way back to the car after the parade.

She did a little shopping on Black Friday, she said, having picked up a brand new feather ink pen.

Although she didn't get a chance to speak with Santa, Kenndell said for Christmas she would like "some old classic books," like "Alice in Wonderland."

She said she has been going to the Festival of Light for as long as she can remember, and plans to keep up the tradition.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or email Follow him on Twitter @MTwriter_swhlr.

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