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Festival of Lights makes Cape a winter wonderland

By Staff | Dec 9, 2014

Kids slid down a hill of fresh powder, and a light “snow” fell as the Christmas tree was lit with the help of Santa downtown, to the thrills of kids of all ages.

Rain didn’t stop thousands of Southwest Floridians from enjoying the annual Holiday Festival of Lights in downtown Cape Coral on Saturday.

There was non-stop fun for everyone at the largest holiday celebration between Tampa and Miami. More than 20,000 people came to Cape Coral Parkway to watch the oodles of entertainment, eats tons of food, bounce around on Kidz Street and best of all, meet Santa under the newly lit tree.

The event was sponsored by CenturyLink and the Cape Coral Chamber of Commerce. Amanda Brunson, event coordinator for the Chamber, said the event stood to be one of the biggest in the 25 years of the event.

“We try to improve upon the event every year and bring something new to it and bring in new vendors,” Brunson said. “We kind of flipped the event around; we put the snowdrift and Kidz Street on opposite ends this year, but everyone seems happy with it.”

There were two stages for area performers. The Calendar Girls and Hot Flashz were there, as were numerous dance troupes, cheer squads, karate demonstrators and other talent that strutted their stuff through the day and night.

One of the big attractions was the 25 tons of “snow” brought in from Miami and placed in the Winn Dixie parking lot for kids to slide down.

Annabella Lancour, 7, of Cape Coral, remembered the snow fondly, having lived in Wisconsin. She admitted it was odd to be sliding down the hill this time in a T-shirt.

“It’s strange. I didn’t do too much sled riding when I was younger,” Lancour said.

“We don’t miss the snow too much, but we like it once a year down here,” her mother Megan said.

Keith St. Amand echoed those sentiments, having lived in Michigan before moving his family here in June.

“I don’t miss this at all. After 53 years of it, no,” St. Amand said as he waited for his daughter’s turn to slide. “We had record cold temperatures last year and snowfall. It’s nice to have a warm winter.”

Those who have stores and shops on Cape Coral Parkway had their usual field day with all the added foot traffic.

There were also more than 40 vendors set up in tents, with others, like Red Headed Witches, a year-round Halloween costume store, promoting themselves on the street.

“We do character entertainment for birthday parties,” said Crissy Barchers of Red Readed Witches. “There are a lot of festive people, which is why we’re dressed in festive costumes and let the kids come and take pictures.”

As night fell, so did the rain. That didn’t stop the countdown for Santa or the tree lighting, which featured Mayor Marni Sawicki, most of the city council and City Manager John Szerlag.

“It’s a time for us to celebrate the holiday season, light the tree and start things off,” Sawicki said. “Everyone has fun and it’s nice when Cape Coral Parkway is lit up.

Sawicki took a pass on sliding down the hill.

The kids pleaded with Santa to finally arrive, which he did just in time to watch the tree light up in spectacular color, after which he held court with the kids, taking pictures and hearing what they want for Christmas.

Edward Pedraja, 12, took pictures with his siblings, Patrick and Adriana, 7 and 10, who didn’t ask Santa for anything.

“It’s great. It gives people more of the Christmas spirit. We did a lot, but were too late to slide down the hill,” Pedraja said.

Fred Harley took his two children, Fred Jr., 9, and Aja, 2, who waited in the long line to have their turn with Santa and learn what they want for Christmas.

“It’s exciting for the kids and good to get out. It’s good weather, so they’ll hopefully get to see Santa and hear their Christmas wishes,” Harley said. “I don’t know what they want. We have to wait until they sit on Santa’s lap. That’s how we find out.”