About 20 or so years ago — no one is sure of the exact year — Anne Johnson came up with the idea for Light Up the Village, the holiday season kickoff in Siesta Village. Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce members were considering the idea of holiday festivities in the Village, but they wanted to be sure their event wouldn’t conflict with others in the community.
“So I said, ‘What about that Saturday (after Thanksgiving)?’” Johnson said.
It was around the time she became production manager of the Pelican Press, she pointed out, and the newspaper’s former general manager and then Siesta advertising representative, Sally Baxter, was working with the Siesta Chamber on holiday ideas.
Light Up the Village is a product of collaboration among the chamber, the Siesta Key Village Association and the Siesta Key Association, Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café, noted.
“Everyone pitches in,” said chamber President Cheryl Gaddie said. “It’s a great community event, the perfect thing for families and guests.”
As Johnson, the retired, longtime editor of the Pelican Press put it, Light Up the Village “kicks off the holiday season — forget the department stores with Christmas trees up in September.”
The event name, she added, resulted from the plan to turn on the Village’s holiday lights as soon as Santa Claus arrived to hear Christmas wishes from all the children attending the festivities.
It is the big incentive for businesses to put on their holiday finery, Kouvatsos said. “It’s the biggest event for (Village businesses) because everyone’s in town visiting relatives. Once you stuff yourself on Thanksgiving, what do you do?”
“It’s great for businesses,” agreed Siesta architect Mark Smith, who was the SKVA president for five years, but the focus is on children, parents and grandparents.
“It’s totally family-oriented,” he said.
“It’s just a fun night for everybody, for the children and the grownups, too,” said Roz Hyman, of 5111 Ocean Blvd. Inc.
“It certainly draws hundreds and hundreds of people,” Johnson said.
Johnson, Kouvatsos and Hyman are among the 10 members of the Village events committee, which plans five major activities each year.
Kouvatsos said the first mention of Light Up the Village generally comes in June.
“We make sure Santa’s not busy that night,” she said.
However, Johnson said, the discussion doesn’t become focused until September each year.
Light Up the Village used to feature a Christmas parade, Johnson added, “(but) it just kind of dwindled away.”
Last year, the events committee members decided to revive the idea.
SKVA members have noted in recent meetings that the inaugural revival, in 2010, was not as big as they had hoped, but Gaddie, the 2011 parade coordinator, said last week plans were coming together better for this year. She had 15 participants lined up by Nov. 18, with the hope of adding another 10.
Santa Claus will be coming by pedicab, instead of by a reindeer-drawn sleigh, she said. Key firefighters will participate in their modern truck, she added, and Key resident Bob Waechter, a member of the SKA Board of Directors, has lent his antique fire truck once again. The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol, a jazz band and people on Segways also will participate, along with the Siesta Island Trolley and a group on a Sassy Hair salon float.
Anyone interested in a parade entry may email Gaddie at email@example.com.
Other more recent additions to the festivities, Kouvatsos pointed out, are games for children at Siesta Center.
“In the past, it was just a bunch of kids getting restless in line (to see Santa Claus),” she said.
This year, a taekwando demonstration and face painting also will help entertain the youngsters, committee members said.
For the second time, the Village Christmas tree will be in the gazebo at the intersection of Canal Road and Ocean Boulevard.
“It’s a beautiful centerpiece,” Kouvatsos said.
“Hopefully, we’ll have snow (as well),” Hyman said, referring to a snow-making machine SKVA President Russell Matthes purchased a couple of years ago.
Refreshments, gift bags for the children and musical entertainment will round out the activities.
“The Village improvements have made (the event) that much more pleasant, with the wider sidewalks,” Smith said.
“Everybody’s happy,” Hyman said.
“Even Roz wears elf ears,” Smith said with a laugh.
Asked about those ears, Hyman paused. “We’re not going to get into that,” she said. “I don’t do floors, I don’t do windows, and I don’t do ears.”
Village Set to light up
The following schedule has been announced for Light Up the Village, which takes place Saturday, Nov. 26:
• 5:30 to 10 p.m., the Siesta Island Trolley will provide transportation from the Siesta Key Public Beach to the Village.
• 5:40 p.m., the holiday parade will leave the public beach, traveling north on Beach Road, then onto Ocean Boulevard.
• Santa Claus will hold court in Siesta Center after the parade. Children are invited to tell him their Christmas wishes, and parents are welcome to take photos. Santa’s Village will feature a clown, face painting and games with prizes.
• 6 to 9 p.m., Ocean Boulevard businesses will offer refreshments and holiday bargains, with live music at various venues.
• 6:15 p.m., the Christmas tree lights will come on, in the gazebo at Ocean Boulevard and Canal Road.