A tall tower of lights dominates the main lawn at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Sunday night. —photo by Johanna Miller

When I first heard that the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds would be hosting its first-ever drive-thru Christmas lights event, I was both excited and surprised. 

Considering the limited budget and resources the Fairgrounds is currently dealing with after not being able to hold its premiere event in September, plus hosting hundreds of human and animal evacuees during the CZU Lightning Complex fires in August, it was a big undertaking.

The fact that the Fairgrounds Foundation and the Agricultural History Project chose to organize Holiday Lights for the community is meaningful, and I hope we can all appreciate and support them in return.

I drove through the display with my family on Sunday. We got to the Fairgrounds before opening, waiting in line until they began letting cars through. Volunteers offered informational pamphlets and reminded us to tune in to 99.9FM when things kicked off at 5:30pm for some holiday tunes.

Headlights were shut off as we passed under a colorfully adorned archway between the Crocetti Hall and Harvest Building, which were illuminated with projected snowflakes. Moving through the main field and floriculture building, there were things to see everywhere.

The water tower at the county fairgrounds is illuminated and surrounded by Christmas lights.
—photo by Johanna Miller

Various displays sponsored by local businesses and groups—from Lakeside Organic Gardens to the Sons of Italy—each had their own themes. Tractors from the Agricultural History Project were covered in a multitude of colors, and large Christmas trees could be seen from inside the museum.

One highlight of the drive is toward the end of the property, where you advance under a long archway of green, red and white, almost like we were traveling Warp Speed (any Star Trek fans out there?).

Admittedly, there were a few patches of dark space, especially near the end of the drive, with not as many decorations. On the final leg we passed under some low-hanging trees that I think would’ve looked magical if adorned with twinkling white lights and shiny ornaments.

A ballerina and her pet unicorn greets cars as they make the half-way turn at the end of the fairgrounds. —photo by Johanna Miller

However, I think the amount of effort put into this event for the community completely outweighs this. Perhaps if more donors and groups become involved in the event, those handful of gaps could be filled in. I think the layout has the potential to be even more impressive.

I spoke with a friend last week who had gone to see the event and they said they were glad to see the Fairgrounds come alive in a positive, celebratory way once again.

“They’ve been through so much and yet they still put their heads together to do this,” she said.

I have to agree. “Holiday Lights” is something that I hope continues for years to come—even when the pandemic is over and people can once again enjoy non-car-confined activities. It would be a great way for the Fairgrounds to come alive in a time of the year that is usually quiet.

If you’re looking for a fun experience in this Christmas season, while also supporting a local institution, I would highly recommend checking out Holiday Lights.

For information and tickets visit fairgrounds-foundation.org.

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Reporter Johanna Miller grew up in Watsonville, attending local public schools and Cabrillo College before transferring to Pacific University Oregon to study Literature. She covers arts and culture, business, nonprofits and agriculture.


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