Each year the Festival of Lights shines some holiday spirit on Ahwatukee. This year, the event plans to do it bigger and better with the lights, vendors, inflatables and, now, an ice skating rink.
"We want to do something new and exciting every year," said Kristine Kemper, president of the Festival of Lights board. "This became a joint venture between us and the parks and recreation. One thing they've not allowed us to use in the past is the tennis courts, because they want to keep that protected, but this skate rink company puts down a layer to protect the court, and they use a synthetic ice. We just thought it would be something new, something fun, something more toward a winter theme. It's something different than bouncies."
Each year, the festival attracts between 15,000 to 20,000 people to Chandler Boulevard between Desert Foothills Parkway and 24th Street. The festival has been a tradition since 1996. The lights will be on display from 6 to 11 p.m. Thanksgiving to New Years.
Preparations began months ago, with more than 600,000 LED lights along Chandler Boulevard.
"The lights are put up by Christmas Light Decorators of Mesa," Kemper said. "They have been contracted by the Festival of Lights for the past four years, and have done a great job. Doug and his crew have gone out of their way to make sure our display is the best it can be. We have had to scale back the display by eliminating the clusters high in the trees, because of finances, and Doug still made the lights look fabulous."
The actual celebration will begin with the big Kick-Off Party Saturday, Nov. 26.
From 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. visitors can find community performances from dancers of all ages and a local band called Lil Debbie Band, a Marketplace Street Fair of more than 100 vendors, a Harley Davidson Parade of over 100 riders, pet adoptions from three different organizations, and carnival activities for all ages.
Santa will be in the park from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., and will arrive back during the Harley parade.
In addition to the kick-off party, the Festival of Lights also hosts a golf tournament and wine-tasting event in the summer.
"In addition to raising money for the annual light display, I enjoy that we support causes ranging from the Melonhead Foundation, which provides financial assistance to families that have children with cancer; YOPAS, which provides elderly care; and Kiwanis, which provides youth summer activities, to name a few," Kemper said. "I have also enjoyed being a part of the Festival of Lights because it brings us together and feels like a community. We have great community support in the form of sponsorships by businesses, and donations made by the residents of Ahwatukee throughout the year."
Kemper has been with the Festival of Lights from the beginning. She says that when she met her husband, Jim, she warned him that to marry her he had to marry the festival. He agreed and, eventually, became the president of the event in 2005. Kemper took over in 2008.
Admission to the Kick-Off Party is free, but wristbands for rides and inflatables are $20 for all-day access. Individual tickets will also be available for 50 cents.
For more information, visit folaz.org.
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