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Annual Holiday Festival of Lights kicks off Christmas season

By Staff | Nov 28, 2008

The Holiday Festival of Lights returns next weekend to kick off the holiday season for the Cape and all of Southwest Florida.
Sponsored by Comcast, this seasonal tradition will invade downtown Cape Coral on Saturday, Dec. 6, for a fun-filled evening of family entertainment that’s even bigger and better than previous years.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people are expected to hit the downtown area, experiencing what the Chamber of Commerce’s Bob Knickman said are a host of brand new features this year.
New for 2008 is the addition of a second children’s fun zone, a third food court, a fourth performance area, a special presentation of “Where’s Rudolph” from Over the Top Productions and a game show production from Da Bomb Entertainment.
Knickman, who’s been involved with the Festival of Lights for the previous four years, said each year just keeps getting bigger and batter, a far cry from when he took over the event.
“It has grown by leaps and bounds over the last four years. The first year we got 10 – 15,000, and we were just swamped,” Knickman said. “We ran out of food, there weren’t enough toilets … it was just unreal. So, from then on we said, if we were going to make these things right, we’ve got to plan them right.”
Organizers began to model their plan of action after their very own Red, White, & Boom event, which also draws thousands upon thousands of people into the downtown corridor.
The idea, of course, is impossible without the help of the numerous volunteers who come out to aid the community.
The Community Bank of Cape Coral’s Toni Barber, charged with organizing the volunteers, said she expects roughly 75 volunteers to start working on Friday, Dec. 5, to get things ready.
“We get so many people who come out to support this event,” Barber said. “It’s impossible to do this without them.”
Another part of the event is dedicated to fund-raising efforts, which go to benefit the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral Scholarship Fund in Memory of Douglas W. Lockard.
Past fund-raising efforts have solely relied on auctioning holiday wreaths. Knickman jokingly said people have been collecting so many wreaths over he years the chamber needed to think up a new, fun way to raise money for the scholarship.
“We did it with wreaths but this year we changed them to gift baskets,” Knickman said. “A lot of chamber members donated a gift basket at least $100 toward the baskets. The cool thing is that all the baskets are themed.”
A full view of the themed baskets is available on-line, but a quick glance indicates several exciting possibilities, including a wine refrigerator basket, golf and coffee baskets, a basket for overnight stays with grandma and grandpa, even a basket for the college student.
Over 30 themed Christmas gift baskets with values of at least $100 have already been donated, with all proceeds from the silent auction going to scholarships for local youngsters.
Cape schools will also be taking advantage of the wreath process, with special Christmas wreaths being a part of the silent auction. All monies raised from the wreaths go directly back to schools and trophies will be awarded to the top money raising wreaths for elementary, middle and high schools.
“We have wreaths from about 12 schools,” Knickman said. “People can give bids on the site during a silent auction. And all the money raised goes right back to the school that made the wreath.”
Another new addition this year is a revamped entrance for the big man himself, Santa Claus.
Previous years found Saint Nick astride a Cape Coral fire engine for his grand entrance, but as the crowds grew and the entrance became more difficult, a new plan had to be devised.
“We used to bring him on a fire truck but it became difficult because of the crowds,” Knickman said. “This year we’re constructing a huge chimney by the Christmas tree and Santa is coming down the chimney to make his appearance at the event.”
Of course, the Holiday Festival of Lights would not be complete without the sound of music, and this year is no different.
The Bunche Band will be performing from 6:30 -10 p.m. on the center stage at Vincennes Boulevard, and local talent Caira Everly singing a special performance during the tree lighting ceremony, according to a press release announcing the events activities.
The event will, in effect, cover all of downtown Cape, much like the fake snow that will be falling in the Publix parking lot.
Knickman said blocks of ice will be fed into a “shaving monster blower,” that kids will be able to make snowballs with, and slide on.
There will also be al area where families will be able to gather and have their photographs taken while surrounded by a winter wonderland.
There’s still a little room left for vendors who are looking to set up shop at the Festival of Lights.
Knickman said the chamber will be accepting new vendors as late as Monday.
For more information, call the Chamber of Commerce at 549-6900.