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Turlock's Christmas Cruise proves more popular than anticipated
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Audrey Barnard waves at cars passing by as part of the Turlock Eagles 4-H Club's display in the Christmas Cruise. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal
The City of Turlock’s first-ever Christmas Cruise on Friday night provided plenty of holiday cheer for vehicles passing through — and some long traffic jams.

Community members, businesses and organizations were able to set up lighted displays at the Stanislaus County Fairgrounds this year in lieu of floats after the annual downtown Christmas Parade was cancelled due to COVID-19. According to Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Director Allison Van Guilder, it is estimated that over 1,000 vehicles made their way through the Christmas Cruise which featured 33 festive participants.

“As we know, due to COVID, the traditional downtown Christmas Parade was cancelled. We believe the Christmas Cruise at the fairgrounds provided a safe alternative for those seeking holiday activities,” Van Guilder said. “Based on the feedback from those who experienced the event and the organizations who participated, we believe it was a huge success.”

Those who were able to make it into the event before the gates closed at 8:30 p.m. were able to experience a winter wonderland complete with machines blowing fake snow and Santa Claus himself. The Christmas Cruise was sponsored by Turlock Firefighters Local 2434, who were able to collect five blue barrels filled with food and toys for Turlock Together during the event.

Julien Elementary School fourth grader Audrey Barnard danced down Main Street during last year’s Christmas parade, but still had a blast creating and participating in a display with the Turlock Eagles 4-H club during this year’s cruise.

“It’s a little bit different because I’m used to being the person moving instead of people moving by us, but I think it’s actually really nice because we get to just stay in one spot instead of having to keep up with the parade,” Barnard said. “I personally think last year was more fun because I didn’t have to wear a mask, but my favorite part about this year is that we got to decorate all of the stuff here so we didn’t have to worry about anything being fragile.”

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The staff at Paramount Court Senior Living had to leave their residents at home, but still created a storybook-worthy scene from Whoville at the fairgrounds on Friday. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal
Most participants arrived at the fairgrounds on Friday afternoon and spent anywhere between one and three hours preparing their displays. For the staff from Paramount Court Senior Living, creating their Whoville setting took a lot more work than the organization’s typical parade entry. During a normal year, residents would have piled into the decorated Paramount Court bus and driven through the parade with the other floats.

This year, the senior residents had to stay home.

“It just wouldn’t have been the same without some kind of Christmas parade or event,” said Janet Johns of Paramount Court. “We knew it would be a lot different and we would have to make more decorations. I think this is awesome that the City was able to do this. It’s been really nice because everyone can still come through to see us and know everyone is still here and we’re going to support each other.”

With just one entrance and thousands of community members hoping to get a glimpse of the Christmas Cruise, streets like Soderquist Road, Canal Drive, Fulkerth Road and even Golden State Boulevard were backed up with traffic throughout the event’s three-hour run. When the streets were blocked off ahead of the event’s 8:30 p.m. closing, those still in line reported missing out after having waited in line for hours via comments on the City’s Parks, Recreation and Public Facilities Facebook page.

“We left after two hours in line and didn’t see it. Thank you for putting on a great event for our community,” Noah Dunavan wrote. “Hopefully you will realize how great this community is and prepare better for next time.”

Turlock resident Kadi Ingram-Porter shared that she and her family waited on Canal Drive between Geer Road and Golden State Boulevard for over an hour, but left after moving only 100 yards during that time.

“This event was a huge success with a huge turnout! Unfortunately, it wasn’t designed to accommodate so many,” she posted. “Turlock knows how to show up! Congratulations for creating such a successful event in the middle of a pandemic!”

According to Van Guilder, the Christmas Cruise was advertised to be closed at 8:30 p.m. due to the State-mandated curfew of 10 p.m. This ensured attendees within the event route, or those who were snaking through the long line inside of the fairgrounds prior to the entrance, would be able to complete the cruise, and also allowed for participants to take down their displays in time to comply.

“We sincerely wish we could have accommodated all who wished to attend but unfortunately that was not possible given the time restrictions resulting from the curfew and the overwhelming level of interest in the event,” Van Guilder said.

She hopes that the first-ever Christmas Cruise will be the only drive-through event the City will have to host, and the City is looking forward to hosting the Christmas Parade again next year, pandemic permitting. For community members who were able to get a glimpse of the cruise and for those who participated, it was a one-of-a-kind night during a once-in-a-lifetime year.

It was a first for Kelly Burner and her family, who own Burner Custom Design and Events and were able to set up their mobile bar as a display thanks to the event’s unique set up.

“This year has been really crummy for everybody and we’ve all gone through a lot, so I think this was great that they were able to do this,” she said.

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Complete with falling snow, the Christmas Cruise helped spread holiday cheer despite the coronavirus pandemic. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal