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Holiday Festival of Lights marks 40th year

By Staff | Dec 10, 2019

Tiny tots, with their eyes all a glow, looked up to the sky Saturday night and watched as the 25-foot Christmas tree on Cape Coral Parkway was illuminated to the joy of the those in attendance at the 2019 CenturyLink Holiday Festival of Lights.

Put on by the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral and supported by numerous sponsors, the annual Holiday Festival of Lights brought the magic of Christmas to local residents once again.

This year marked the 40th celebration of a Christmas tree lighting in the Cape and droves of residents came out to partake in the festivities that transformed Cape Coral Parkway into a winter wonderland — Southwest Florida style.

“The city is happy to have this in our community and have a tree lighting,” said Cape Coral Mayor Joe Coviello. “You see the decorations, this year, not only here on the parkway, but on 47th Terrace, have expanded quite a bit and it’s very exciting to see this many people come out for this event.”

Young ones could be spotted taking a ride along the Tiny Tots Train Ride, having fun in Candy Cane Park and sliding down a 15-ton snow slide with excitement etched on their faces.

You could even hear one little girl exclaim, “Look, Mommy! It’s real snow!”

No Holiday Festival of Lights could be complete without the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Claus, who took a ride aboard a Cape Coral Fire Department truck en route to lighting up the Christmas tree — and the faces of everyone present.

Coviello said the tree in downtown Cape is a special treat for residents — some who come year after year to get a photo with the tall beauty.

“The funny thing about this tradition — it’s not just about tonight; I heard that there are families that, once this tree is up and it’s lit, they’ll come here and they’ll take pictures in front of the tree, and a lot of (families) have (those photos) over many, many years.”

Cape resident and pioneer, Elmer Tabor and his family have decorated the tree each year. Now, it’s time for him to pass the torch to the next generation, as this year, his daughter, Carrie Garcia, husband Pete and grandchildren, Ella and Ava, decorated and hung the ornaments — something Tabor hopes will continue for generations to come.

“It’s bittersweet, but it’s great,” Tabor said of passing the torch. “It just means the next generation is coming up, taking over and carrying the tradition forward another 40 years.”

Tabor said he loves seeing the event grow year after year while still keeping a small-town feel.

“It’s amazing to see this many people,” Tabor said. “Cape Coral has really grown up — but we’re a small community — and we can do something like this as a small community and have that ‘small community feel.’ And I hope that’s what’s going to happen over the next 200,000 people.”

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO, Donna Germain, said being able to put on this event for residents is something they look forward to every year.

“We love doing this,” Germain said. “This is one of our favorite events because it gives us a chance to give back to the city and to our neighbors and our community.”

Germain, a lifelong Cape resident, said being able to play a role in bringing the Holiday Festival of Lights to Cape Coral — an event she looked forward to as a child — is more than rewarding.

“It’s awesome,” Germain said. “I was born and raised in Cape Coral, so this is a tradition that’s been part of my life since I was a kid. To be on this end of it and being able to help put this on for the community is amazing.”

Cape Coral resident Vanessa Busch said she came down to the parkway to enjoy the holiday atmosphere with her daughter and her friend.

They got their picture with Santa Claus, glowed over the tree lighting and enjoyed all the festival had to offer.

“I love it, it’s beautiful,” Busch said of the Christmas tree.

Busch said she and her family have enjoyed coming to the festival year after year, this being the fourth they’ve attended.

“It’s a really nice event — spectacular,” she said. “It gets better every year.”

Dr. Carol Rae Culliton of the Gunterberg Charitable Foundation, which sponsors the snow slide, couldn’t help but find her own spot along the railing and watch child after child come down the hill with huge smiles on their faces, which in turn, caused her to smile herself.

“We’ve been sponsoring for many years, and to do the snow slide for kids who, maybe, have never even seen a snow slide, I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Culliton. “And to see all the happy kids — it just makes us so happy. We’re just really blessed to be here to do it.”

After the tree lighting ceremony came to an end, children raced to get into line for a chance to meet Santa and tell them all they wanted for Christmas. The spirit of the holiday season could be felt in abundance and that’s something Coviello hopes continues.

“It’s just a great tradition,” Coviello said of the event. “We’re coming into the holiday season. It’s good for the children to come out, it’s a good community event, there are a lot of sponsors that have participated as part of the community. The Chamber of Commerce, city workers, police and fire, have all come out to help with the event as well. It’s a great group community event for the season.”

Coviello also wanted to send a message to the residents of the city: “Have a blessed happy holiday and a very safe new year.”

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj