Kevin Larkin (left) and Bob Erbe team up to station a lighted shooting star Tuesday at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds as part of the upcoming annual Holiday Lights drive-thru event. —Tarmo Hannula/The Pajaronian

WATSONVILLE—Work is underway at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds in preparation for the annual Holiday Lights drive-thru light show.

Born out of the 2020 Covid lockdowns as a way for the community to celebrate the season safely, the event invites families to drive though colorful lighted displays created by organizations and families, while tuning in to local radio stations playing holiday carols.

All proceeds directly benefit the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds Foundation and the Agricultural History Project (AHP).

“This year is bigger and brighter, it grows every year,” said Foundation board member Ron Haedicke. “The Foundation and the Ag History Project bringing the community joy using our fairgrounds is one of the best ways to kick off the holiday season.”

Volunteers that Haedicke called “Wrap Stars” have been working on wrapping steel frames with lights for the last few weeks. This week, they began installing.

“I’ve never seen a happier group,” Haedickie said. “It’s like they’re working in Santa’s workshop. Everyone is excited.”

Dave Kegebein was on hand Tuesday building one lighted creation after another.

“It takes a lot of hands and the clock is ticking,” he said. “This year there will be around 60 to 65 volunteers making sure this thing gets off the ground.”

This year’s event includes about 12 community displays in addition to those built by the Foundation and AHP. Participating groups can enter the annual Community Displays Competition. In addition, Foundation member Kaleena Mornard recently headed up Youth Art in Lights, a county-wide contest for elementary school students to come up with a design for a lighted decoration to be entered in the overall scheme.

Last year’s winner was a colorful lighted gingerbread house. This year’s decoration is a shooting star designed by a 6-year-old girl from Scotts Valley. 

“Her mother said she jumped up and down when she heard the news that her design had been chosen,” Mornard said. “She said that she hadn’t seen her daughter that happy in a long time.”

Holiday Lights will be designated as Walk Thru only on Dec. 2 and 3, in conjunction with the annual Heritage Holiday Craft and Gift Fair.

“Last year was our first Walk Through event,” Haedicke said. “We had 6,000 people. We expect between 8 and 10 thousand this year. Come and do your Christmas shopping, walk through the lights, make it a nice night out.”

Holidays Lights will run Nov. 25-Dec. 25 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Dec. 2 and 3, are Walk Thru only during the Craft and Gift Fair. A ticket to the Fair includes the Walk-Thru experience. (Note: There is no Drive-Thru on Walk-Thru evenings).

For information and to preorder tickets go here.

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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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