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PHOTO BY LARRY STAUTH JR. Santa Claus, along with Mrs. Claus and Rudolf, waves to the crowd during his annual trip to Ashland for the Festival of Lights.

Ashland lights it up for the holidays

The day after Thanksgiving, you and your visiting kin can get out of the house, trek to downtown shops and then attend — along with up to 20,000 others — Santa’s parade and spectacular Festival of Light on Ashland’s Plaza. Santa and Mrs. Claus, standing on the Brickroom balcony, will count down and trigger the Grand Illumination of more than 1 million lights, making the whole half-mile of downtown a bit of a fairyland for a month.

Caroling happens in shops all day Friday. The parade starts at 5 p.m., with the Illumination about 5:30. At 6, Santa and Mrs. Claus will greet children in Santa’s Workshop in the Black Swan Theater at Pioneer and Main, listening to wish lists and posing for snapshots into the evening.

It’s a short but festive parade with elves and dancers, and for several years Santa and Mrs. Claus have been played (don’t tell the kids) by Chamber Executive Director Sandra Slattery and her husband, City Councilor Dennis Slattery.

Dana Preston, Ashland Chamber of Commerce membership and business development director, notes, “It’s a great festive time for family and friends to get excited and celebrate the holidays, especially after the hard smoke issues of the summer.

“There’s something magical about it, welcoming the elves and dancing of the Rockettes,” she says. “Having all those lights come on, it creates memories for young people, and when they grow up and leave and come back for it with their significant other, well, often, it convinces the significant other to want to move here and be part of it.”

The steadily expanding parade features entries from Southern Oregon University, Mt. Ashland Ski Area and others. The Rockettes are a local assemblage of volunteer prancers. Musicians will perform from the Brickroom balcony before the Illumination, and strolling quartets of carolers will visit shops and restaurants on Saturdays until Christmas.

The big draw during the Yule period is shopping in dozens of stores that offer unique, often hand-crafted gifts you won’t find in big-box stores and, says Preston, most are independent and locally owned, thus helping keep cash in the valley.

“They’re warm and inviting and you can often work directly with the owner,” she notes.

Shops are known to put a lot of work into their window displays — and shoppers will have the opportunity to participate in the “Walking in a Window Wonderland” competition, voting for their favorite display online or at the Chamber.

Lithia Artisans Market holds its 18th annual Christmas Fair at the Historic Ashland Armory, Oak and Pioneer streets, Friday through Sunday, Nov. 23-25. It opens immediately after Santa’s parade and, says organizer Marcus Scott, brings family and friends together in one big festive event packed with the best handcrafted arts from 50 local artists.

Siskiyou Singers will perform their holiday concert, Dvorak’s Mass in D Major, with 30-piece orchestra, plus other holiday favorites, Dec. 7, 8 and 9. Southern Oregon Repertory Singers perform their Welcome Yule Dec. 15-16 at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall. Winchester Inn on Second Street offers its Dickens Feast from Nov. 30 through Christmas eve.

Shoppers can participate in Give Back Wednesdays, knowing part of their money spent will go to local nonprofits. Weather permitting, there will be skating at the rink by Lithia Park and skiing at Mt. Ashland.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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