Downtown Oak Harbor will be filled with the sights and sounds of community spirit and holiday cheer tonight.
Santa will arrive for the annual tree lighting, followed by a caroling contest, free warm drinks, rides on a horse-drawn sleigh and Christmas shopping.
The Holiday Magic event on Pioneer Way begins at about 5:45 p.m. as the Oak Harbor Middle School band kicks off the night. The Holiday Market, featuring sales at shops and arts vendors, will run all weekend.
The bulk of the activities tonight aren’t being organized by the city or a chamber of commerce or a business group. Oak Harbor resident Brian Jones and a handful of citizens started the Christmastime celebration three years ago as a way to bring the community together in holiday cheer and to raise money for local charities.
“It’s more about having great spirit, smiling a lot and having a great time,” Jones said. “It’s really amazing to see so many people working together to bring joy to the community.”
The event, which drew 1,200 people last year, is run without a budget, but with the goodwill of a wide range of volunteers and businesses.
Among the 200 carolers competing this year will be several high school groups and the St. Augustine’s church choir, the reigning champs.
Jones said each year a different local charity is picked to receive donations collected by the carolers. This year the recipient will be the Garage of Blessings, a charitable thrift store that offers free clothes, household items, appliances, food and much more to the community. It’s located inside a garage on Industrial Avenue off Goldie Road.
“This will help immensely,” Kristiina Miller of the Garage of Blessings said of the donations. “It will be rent money. It will allow us to keep the doors open.”
A Knot in Thyme, a North Whidbey holly farm and gift shop, will be giving horse-drawn carriage rides down Pioneer Way. Whidbey Coffee is providing mix for 1,500 cups of hot chocolate. Jones Accounting is donating hot apple cider to warm spirits.
Jones said Diamond Rentals is donating all the rental equipment needed for the special occasion.
Various residents are loaning large propane heaters to keep revelers cozy.
Others providing entertaining will include a ukelele band, a dance crew and many other performers. About 20 adults and 45 teenagers are volunteering to help out.
“The teenagers were really excited about volunteering,” he said. “It’s so great to see.”
Although it’s not a Chamber of Commerce event, Jones said the organization helped make the event happen. Chamber Director Jill Johnson came up with the idea of the holiday event three years ago, partly as a way to raise money for the middle school band trip, and proposed it to Jones. It took off from there. He said the chamber paid the bills for the event last year.
In addition, Jones said the Downtown Merchants Association has been a great partner. The group helped with permitting and extended its insurance coverage for the event. Many of the shops will have special treats.
Of course, the jolly old elf himself is volunteering his time. Santa Claus will arrive at 6:30 p.m., followed by the tree lighting. He will wander over to Old Town Mall where he will visit with children. Jones said Trina Coe, a professional photographer, is donating her time to take photos for $10 each; the proceeds will go to the Garage of Blessings.
Jones added that Rhonda Severns, the city’s liaison, has also been a big help.
Severns urges residents to take part in the holiday fun, rain or shine. She described how the tree lights and the Christmas lights all come on at the same time.
“It’s magical,” she said.