LANCASTER – Christmas arrived in the high desert with a colorful burst of music and light Friday night, and Santa had an especially welcome gift to bestow: a vision of possibly brighter days ahead for the economically troubled Antelope Valley. A crowd estimated at upwards of 20,000 turned out to partake in the cornucopia of seasonal delights provided by the 4th Annual Holiday celebration and street fair hosted by the City of Lancaster.
The once-dowdy but now attractively renovated Lancaster Boulevard put its best face forward to greet the crowd. The eclectic collection of antiques, boutiques, bistros and other unique shops evoked thoughts of the trendy but distant shopping meccas of “Melrose” and “Rodeo.” But the feel on the street remained uniquely Antelope Valley.
“Isn’t this great?!” declared Josh Pelkin of Palmdale. “I’ve heard a lot of people say how cool the boulevard has become, but I hadn’t come over to see for myself until now. And I’ve got to admit, it’s really great! There’s something truly cool about this street now!”
His enthusiasm was echoed by Adam Chant, owner of Vintage Styles Now, a vintage and retro apparel shop that would be right at home on the aforementioned Melrose.
“You look out there tonight, and you can really see what we’re trying to create here – what this area can be,” Chant said. “We want to change the way people think about shopping here, and we’re always working toward that goal, so tonight’s a big deal for us. We were a little concerned that the cold weather might keep people away, but it hasn’t,” he added.
Indeed it hadn’t, and there was plenty for participants of all ages to see and do. No fewer than four official stages offered a wide variety of live entertainment. Performing next to the Museum of Art and History, the Lancaster Baptist Church’s full choir and live orchestra was clearly a crowd favorite. Each performance attracted massive and appreciative listeners.
With every step along the way, some new amusement came into view. At one juncture, kids were sledding down a manmade hill of ice while just across the street, a pair of live reindeer (on loan from the North Pole, presumably) attracted all sorts of attention.
A collection of classic cars reflected the colorful Christmas lights off their perfect paintjobs while a few short steps further down, the elegant and ethereal jazz guitar of William Daulton and his three bandmates added a classy acoustic touch to the ubiquitous holiday sounds.
The City of Lancaster sponsored a very popular booth where children were aglow with glee, glue and glitter as fledgling artists created their own colorful homemade ornaments. And yes, most of the glue and glitter actually made it onto the ornaments.
With temps dropping to the low 40’s and a chill wind adding to the brisk feel, revelers nonetheless found effective ways to keep warm. Local radio station KTPI helped generate heat by playing a steady stream of danceable hip hop and country hits. This triggered a spontaneous outburst of line dancing in a large open area that accommodated up to a hundred happily peripatetic revelers.
Yet another way to get warm – at least for the kids – was the array of “bouncy houses” that were present in every conceivable size and shape. Our prize for best of class was the “inflatable snow globe” that offered one of the best photo-ops of the night as kids and families took turns crawling inside the globe to play in the (faux) snow.
Appealing photo ops were everywhere – and some even mingled with the crowd. An assortment of costumed characters reminiscent of what you’d find on Hollywood Blvd. flitted among attendees. This quickly took on a sense of the surreal when the Cat in the Hat, some wild thing from Where the Wild Things Are, a Reindeer, Gingerbread Man, Tin Soldiers and the oddest-looking Grinch I’ve ever seen posed for their close-ups.
It’s worth mentioning that the Grinch’s costume was offbeat enough to fit right in at a Halloween spookfest, but the Grinch endeared himself to the crowd when he jumped in among the line dancers to show off his moves. Now, really, who wouldn’t want to dance with the Grinch? And man! That Grinch can dance!
The Blvd. was beautifully festooned with lights and decorations from Sierra Highway to 10th St. West, but some of the best sights were provided by the crowd in the form of “Ugly Holiday Sweaters” – a tradition that was well represented by a remarkably large number of bold and unrestrained partiers. Not to be outdone, many others opted for an equally ugly and wondrous assortment of holiday hats featuring antlers, holly branches and even the occasional antennae.
Alas, like the ghost of Christmas Past, the Valley’s economic challenges were not entirely hidden from view. The weather-beaten sign for longtime Blvd. stalwart “Lancaster Appliance” remains, but the storefront it marks is empty, a “for lease” sign in the window – one of several vacant opportunities awaiting someone with drive, imagination and a vision for the future.
This dichotomy of hope and despair was very much on the mind of at least one partier Friday night.
“Turn your head in one direction, and the empty storefronts are a stark reminder of the tough economic times we’ve been through,” said David Baxter, a retired teacher from Littlerock. “But look the other way and you see lots of stores and shops doing good business and happy shoppers checking everything out. It makes you believe things might finally be getting better.”
The folks who came to the party Friday night certainly want to believe that. And isn’t such optimism an important part of the holiday season? Believe!
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