The Hyack Festival Association is taking steps to create a more exciting Christmas event in downtown New Westminster.
The Christmas Parade of Lights will take place in downtown New Westminster on Saturday, Dec. 1 starting at 4 p.m. and a tree-lighting ceremony will take place in Hyack Square immediately after the parade.
"We have more than 50 entries confirmed so it promises to be lots of fun especially for the kids," said Bill Radbourne, president of the Hyack Festival Association. "The festive music and pageantry really gets everyone into the Christmas spirit."
Children attending the 26th annual parade are encouraged to bring their letters to Santa and give them to Canada Post elves along the parade route. The letters (which will be delivered to the North Pole following the parade) should be addressed to Santa Claus, North Pole, HOH OHO and must include a return address.
Douglas Smith, executive director of the Hyack Festival Association, said the parade will be similar to past years but the post-parade activities are being expanded.
"We are going to have, I would say, a showcase kind of tree," he said about the tree-lighting ceremony. "The tree is going to be a lot more impressive."
The tree that will be lit up in Hyack Square will be 38 feet tall and 22 feet in diameter.
"It allows us to create a more exciting celebratory event around the tree lighting," Smith said. "Because of the size of the tree, we can't use the Hyack Square stage for speeches and entertainment."
Instead of using the stage in Hyack Square, a stage will be set up on Columbia Street.
"We will continue with live entertainment up until 8 p.m.," Smith said. "We have some fantastic entertainment."
In the past year, Hyack has revamped some of its festivals and launched the new Uptown Live! and Concerts on the Quay events.
"The parade only lasts about an hour - what we are trying to do is provide entertainment for the afternoon and into the evening for a longer period of time," Smith said.
Following the parade, children's activities and photos with Santa will be offered in Hyack Square. Country singer A.J. Woodworth, winner of the 2011 British Columbia Country Music Awards Female Artist of the Year, is headlining the musical lineup.
"CIBC is delighted to lend support to the Parade of Lights," said Paulo Brazinha, CIBC's district vice president for the North Vancouver Lower Mainland. "This is our second year partnership with Hyack, and our employees will be out in full force with Christmas goodies for the kids along the parade route. We are especially happy to contribute all proceeds from the Santa Clause photo booth to our friends at the food bank."
Donations of food or cash in support of needy families will be accepted at the CIBC Santa Claus photo booth in Hyack Square.
In addition, donations of sporting goods will also be accepted at Hyack Square for Kidsport New West, which supports families who need financial assistance to register their children for organized sports programs.
In August, Hyack representatives appeared before council to discuss a proposed Christmas Parade of Lights Festival that would see the Santa Claus Parade of Lights replaced with a festival that includes a musical light show, a giant Christmas tree, entertainment, food, a photo booth where kids could have their pictures taken with Santa Claus and a marketplace featuring vendors and artists.
It's believed that the event could be expanded over time to include other locations in the downtown.
In addition to the tree-lighting celebration, Hyack had proposed a Christmas musical light show that would be timed to music and be shown on the Salvation Army building next to Hyack Square throughout December.
Members of city council supported having a more impressive Christmas tree in Hyack Square but voiced concerns about eliminating the parade this year.
This year's event retains the annual Santa Claus Parade of Lights but also incorporates some of the aspects that had been proposed as part of the new festival such as food trucks, a photo booth and entertainment.
"I think we are on the right track," Smith said. "We have got to build the event up if it stays that way. If we transition to something else, this is the start of that."
Smith stressed that the idea has never been about "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" but creating an event that is an asset to the community and brings economic activity to the downtown over the Christmas season.
"If the community wants the parade, we will continue to do that and work around it," he said. "I think this will be a good start."
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