More than 1,900 people watched Chandler kick off the holiday season last year – but only online because the pandemic forced folks to stay home.
This year, Chandler is ready to welcome citizens back in person with its traditional Tumbleweed Tree Lighting and Parade of Lights is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 4.
While last year’s event was only online, “it was better than we hoped,” said Hermilinda Llamas, the city’s special events coordinator.
“We were able to get a lot of participation from city departments. We were still able to provide something of high quality to the families, to give them some sort of holiday cheer.”
The city produced a show of about 40 minutes that aired on Facebook Live and public access TV for a virtual holiday celebration.
Now, with vaccinations available and many people getting booster shots, the city is ready to gather again.
“Making sure that we get back into the swing of the flow of what we have been doing for all those years,” Llamas said. “When you take a break it’s like everybody kind of gets those crickets and the cobwebs and everything.
“We’re just excited to be able to get back out there with the community and having them come out and enjoy what they loved so much before everything kind of took a halt.”
The centerpiece of the celebration is the same as it has been since 1957 – a 50-foot Christmas tree made of 2,000 tumbleweeds, 25 gallons of paint, 65 pounds of glitter and 1,200 lights. The tree is believed to be the only one of its kind in the nation.
The Parade of Lights in the past has brought thousands of people to downtown, beginning earlier in the day. Many will eat at local restaurants before the parade starts and stick around after the parade is over.
There will be some changes long-time residents who have been to previous tree lightings and parades will notice. Llamas said there won’t be any hands-on displays.
“Those crafts will still be there, they’re just going to be able to just take them home and do them at home with their families,” Llamas said. “We just want to make sure we’re being as cautious and healthy for the community as we can.”
There are also fewer entries in this year’s parade that begins at 6:45 p.m. Normally, the city gets between 55 and 65 entries. This year there are 41. Llamas said a number of regular groups that normally participate in the parade were not yet comfortable with being part of a large public gathering.
The route remains the same as in past years, starting at Frye Road and traveling north on Arizona Avenue until they reach Erie Street. People usually begin lining up around 4:30 and there will be entertainment.
“We have those folks who annually will make sure they’re in the same spot every year so they get what they consider their best view,” Llamas said. “Really, there’s no bad spot along the parade route.”
The tree lighting takes place at 8 p.m. Llamas said there will be plenty happening, from food options to music, to selfie stations where you can take photos with interesting characters. Santa Claus is expected to be there as well.
“There’s just a lot,” she said. “You know you can spend a good few hours down here with us and probably still not see everything. Which is great, because that means you can come back another day, another night and get to see it all over again.”
The Tumbleweed Christmas Tree will be lit every night at dusk through Jan. 2. Llamas said each year crews hold their breath waiting to see if they can find enough tumbleweeds to maintain the 64-year tradition.
As more of the Valley is developed each year, there’s less desert to create the tumbleweeds they need. She said all the rain this summer helped the tumbleweeds grow so they were able to find enough this year. She estimated it takes about 1,000 tumbleweeds to stack to a height of about 30 feet.
Llamas said having a holiday tree that is a bit different works for Chandler.
“That’s what’s so special about it,” she said. “When you talk about what do you do for your community, it really is that focal point. It’s that sense of pride, it’s that sense of uniqueness. Nobody else in the southeast Valley has it, nor the state, or anywhere else. It’s kind of neat.”
Tumbleweed Tree Lighting and Parade of Lights
When: Saturday, Dec. 4
Where: AJ Chandler Park
Schedule: Parade starts at 6:45 p.m. from Frye Road and goes north to Erie on Arizona Avenue. Tree lighting takes place at 8 p.m.