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Ashley ~ Holiday Celebrations

We are trying to make this holiday season as magical and as wonderful as possible. We all could use a little good cheer, some bright lights, and a good mug of hot cocoa.

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Light Up Ocala” is a tradition that's been going on for over three decades, however, this will be the first year we've proceeded without the large-scale festivities. It’s traditionally held the weekend before Thanksgiving and draws crowds upwards of 50,000 people, all coming to see the over 300,000 lights downtown. It’s so gorgeous! Everything is aglow, everything is sparkling.

Due to precautionary measures this year, we couldn't invite 50,000 people to the downtown area, but we wanted to do something special. We made a video with Santa pushing the button to light up the big tree and lights all over downtown. That video has gained tremendous amounts of social media engagement because, you know, Santa came all the way to Ocala to turn on the lights! It ushered in the holidays in a different way this year. We want to make the holidays magical, we're just trying to adapt to make sure everyone stays safe. {Watch: Santa Caught on Camera in Downtown Ocala! - YouTube}

We’ve added interactive photo pop-ups throughout the downtown area. Families can sit on Santa’s sleigh that's being pulled by reindeers, pose on beach chairs surrounded by flamingos wearing Santa hats, or hang out at Santa’s Workshop with the elves. These photo pop-ups are something we’ve never done before, but we wanted to provide something interactive and fun to our residents so they could have an activity when they came downtown to see the lights. The photos are great for Christmas cards and just sharing online with people and say, ‘Hey, we're having a Florida Christmas.’ {Watch: #GlowOcala Holiday Photo Ops! - YouTube}

The lights have been on for about a week now, so people can still come downtown and enjoy the beautiful lights, take their holiday pictures, and just enjoy the season. In a year that's been really difficult, I think everyone's looking for some joy and cheerfulness, and the lights make it that much more special.

Santa on the Square traditionally is a really big deal here in Ocala. Kids come to the gazebo downtown, where Santa is set up in his big sleigh. People gather around Santa and the kids sit on his lap. That's how it has always been, however this year is a little different. It’s still going to happen this year, it’s just going to be at a little bit of a safer distance. People can stand safely near him, they can take pictures, the kids can talk to him, and Santa is making sure each child is given a little goodie bag. We are requesting that people make reservations to manage the flow of people.

We want to make sure the magic of this season is shared with everyone, so we are doing a Holiday Drive-In DJ Dance Party that is accessible for people with disabilities. A virtual online party will allow those with disabilities to interact with their peers while listening to music and dancing the afternoon away.

Staying focused on outside events, we also are doing holiday story times at the outdoor stage near the Reilly Art Center. The City has partnered with the Marion County Library to read the classic story, The Polar Express, this week. There will be actors on the stage, reading and acting out the story. And then on Friday night, people can enjoy the First Friday Art Walk, and then venture over to City Hall to see an outdoor holiday movie. We’re fortunate that the Florida weather makes these outside events possible!

We are trying to make this holiday season as magical and as wonderful as possible. It’s been a tough year. We all could use a little good cheer, some bright lights, and a good mug of hot cocoa.” - Ashley #Florida


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