TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - One of the biggest and brightest holiday traditions in Tucson, or in all of Southern Arizona, is officially open.
With the snow falling in one front yard to “A Christmas Story” characters filling another, the 69th Annual Winterhaven Festival of Lights officially kicked off Saturday evening.
“I’ve probably done it by myself for fifteen years, then as I got married and made others they’ve come and done," said Melissa Crawford. "Mom and dad have started to tag along, and Aunts and Uncles and we just kinda keep growing.”
With a crowd, the Crawford family strolled down one street in the neighborhood as lights sparkled with every step. For Crawford’s five-year-old daughter, Izzy, there was a stop to talk to Santa Claus, who made special trip to the midtown neighborhood this year.
“The look on her face is probably my favorite part," said Crawford. "Everybody is just happy and everybody is out on their front porches with their fires. It just feels like a community, like it’s supposed to be everywhere. It just makes you feel happy.”
The Berry’s spent the last week bundled up at their home, decorating for the fifth year.
“After work we come home, put warm clothes on and get out here," said Brianna Berry. “It’s a lot of work, but the payoff is fun.”
From lights on the roof to candy canes and a big Santa Claus, they family spent Saturday afternoon making sure every stand and snowflake was in its place.
“Triple check and make sure all the lights actually turn on, when we turn them on," said Berry.
The festival is free, with more than 200,000 visitors expected to pass through. Everyone is asked to bring a donation of food or money for the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
“Every year the community shows up to have fun, celebrate the holidays, and what better way to do that than give to families in need," said Michael McDonald, CEO of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona.
Last year, nearly 50,000 pounds of food and more than $23,000 were donated to the Food Bank during the Festival of Lights. McDonald said they are hoping for 55,000 pounds this year.
The most needed items this year are cereal and canned soup, meat, tomato products, vegetables and fruit. You can donate HERE.
A great map of the homes, concessions, food drop-off locations, wagon, trolley and hayride routes and restrooms is available HERE.