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Despite pandemic, City and community offering Christmas cheer
Christmas parade
Turlock will host its first-ever Christmas Cruise at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 4 (Journal file photo).

The holidays may look and feel different this year, but there are still countless ways to kick off the Christmas season throughout Turlock this weekend. 

First, a decades-old tradition will be replaced with a socially-distanced spectacle this Friday as the City of Turlock hosts its first-ever Christmas Cruise at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds. From 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Dec. 4, carloads filled with community members will have the chance to drive through “A Night of Lights on Display” — an event that Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder hopes will fill the void left behind by the cancellation of Turlock’s annual downtown Christmas parade due to COVID-19. 

“The Christmas Cruise will be a COVID-safe holiday event for the community at a time when there are so few options available,” Van Guilder said. “We appreciate the businesses and organizations who are working hard on their displays to spread much needed holiday cheer this year…. We hope all who experience the Christmas Cruise will gain a sense of hope and happiness this holiday season.”

The Turlock Firefighters Local 2434 is sponsoring the event, which saw the City partner with the fairgrounds in order to provide spaces for participants to decorate in lieu of floats. Rather than organizations and businesses driving through a crowded Main Street as part of a parade, the community will instead drive through their displays on Friday from a safe distance. The firefighters will also be on site collecting unwrapped toys and canned food to donate to Turlock Together. 

According to Van Guilder, 33 participants signed up to decorate a space for the cruise.  While there were no limitations on how many entries could sign up, she said the City was hoping for at least 25 participants and is happy to have exceeded that goal.

While the annual Christmas parade on Main Street typically draws thousands of Turlockers and others from surrounding communities, the City is unable to estimate how many may drive through this new event. There will be a traffic control plan in place the night of the event to help manage the number of cars in the area, but guests can also avoid the line and board the shuttle at the nearby Turlock Transit Center.

Turlock Transit will be hosting shuttle tours to cruise through the event while following all COVID health guidelines, and more information on this option can be found at

Unlike the annual Christmas parade, no awards will be given out for entries in the Christmas Cruise. However, another new event will give glory to neighborhoods, homes and businesses that decorate their buildings with flair. The Turlock Holiday Lights Tour has mapped out some of the city’s brightest displays and will distribute awards for Best Use of Lights, Best Use of Holiday Decor and Best Overall.

Holiday Lights Tour
The Turlock Holiday Lights Tour has mapped out some of the city’s brightest displays and will distribute awards for Best Use of Lights, Best Use of Holiday Decor and Best Overall. The map is available at:

The city-wide lights tour kicked off Tuesday with 34 total participants and will give community members a chance to share in even more holiday cheer from the comfort of their vehicles, and Van Guilder recommends making a night out of the Christmas Cruise and lights tour combined. A map of lighted locations can be found at

One Turlock tradition started by a downtown business owner is still taking place this Sunday, but with a few modifications. Farm House in Turlock is hosting its 6th Annual Pictures with Santa to benefit Westside Ministries in collaboration with Stephanie Baker Photography — an event that has raised over $20,000 and hundreds of toys and coats for Westside Ministries over the past five years.

From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Dec. 6, community members can line up (six feet apart) in front of the two downtown businesses for a first-come, first-serve picture with Santa. A minimum $25 tax-deductible donation in cash or check form only to Westside Ministries gets participants a digital photo with Santa, and the businesses will also be collecting toys and coats for the nonprofit organization. Those in line will be subject to temperature checks and will also need to sign a waiver to participate.

The event first began as a fun, charitable way to celebrate the birthday of Farm House owner Candace Gonsalves’ son, Gavin, and has since grown into a day which reflects the giving spirit of the community.

“We picked Westside Ministries because it's very special to us. Not only do they do amazing things for those needing it the most all year long, but the founders of the organization have personally touched our lives,” Gonsalves said. “Westside Ministries is in great need of donations this year which makes this event even more important to me. From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, December 6th, you will find our family out front Farm House and Stephanie Baker Photography, celebrating Gavin turning six, collecting toys and coats for kids in our community, passing out birthday treats and spreading plenty of Christmas cheer.”