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Downtown event draws hundreds to kick off holiday season
festival pic1
Hundreds gathered at Central Park in downtown Turlock on Friday to watch the annual lighting of the community Christmas tree. - photo by ALYSSON AREDAS / The Journal

Similar to the hoards of coat-clad celebrators around them, Turlock residents Marissa and Owen Cameron gathered in downtown Turlock on Friday to begin the holiday countdown during the 17th annual Festival of Lights and community Christmas tree lighting.

“We come every year,” said Marissa Cameron. “This event kicks off the holiday season for us and we always look forward to the tree lighting ceremony. The kids love seeing all of downtown lit up.”

“An event like this fosters a sense of pride among residents and the town. It makes us proud of the town we live in,” added Owen Cameron.

While attending the festival was an established tradition for the Cameron family, it was a tradition-in-the-making for Jose and Sonia Garibay, who have lived in Turlock for approximately two decades, but have never before attended the annual Festival of Lights.

“When we heard about the event, we decided to come out and be a part of the community,” said Sonia Garibay. “We usually just go Black Friday shopping, but we decided to attend this instead.”

Despite the fact that the Garibays joked that they were only able to attend the holiday event because their children were finally old enough to be left at home by themselves, that won’t be an issue for the 18th annual festival as the couple said that they already called their kids to tell them that they were going with them next year.

“This kind of event helps keep the community close and supports the local economy,” said Jose Garibay. “It creates a great family environment to come out with the kids.”

Accompanied by his niece Emery Smith and nephews Hayden Smith and Wyatt Smith, Mayor Gary Soiseth led the countdown to the ceremonial tree lighting for his first year in the mayoral seat. Prior to starting the countdown, Soiseth took his time on stage to formally introduce the town to new fire chief Robert A. “Bob” Talloni.

“This is a great event—just look at everybody who showed up,” said Soiseth. “I am very excited and honored to be mayor of this town.” 

While the tree lighting was once again the main event for this year’s festival, crowds of Turlock residents and visitors had plenty of other activities to choose from, including face painting, Santa Claus photo opportunities, cookie decorating, horse and carriage rides, main stage entertainment and a kids zone.  Guests also got an opportunity to check out the entries of the Festival of Lights inaugural Gingerbread House Contest, including the award winning gingerbread home of Kimberly Helm, at Reed Realty.