The highly popular “Light up Ocala” event has become a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ocala City Council on Tuesday night unanimously voted to hold a series of smaller events in place of the annual holiday-lighting event that typically draws between 20,000 to 25,000 people to a six-block area and includes everything from music to vendors to parades. The event had been scheduled for Nov. 21 and officials assured residents that the thousands of holiday lights on the oak trees surrounding the town square still will come to life.
Councilmembers made the decision to cancel the event because the city wouldn’t be able to limit the size of the crowd or the time those attending spent in the crowded environment without being able to practice social distancing. Mayor Kent Guinn, who doesn’t have a vote but could file a veto, spoke against the plan, saying residents and visitors should be able to decide whether to attend the large-scale event.
Meanwhile, the installation of the holiday lights is under way, with plans to turn them on sometime in the week of Nov. 15. Those visiting the downtown area will be able to view the displays through January.
“Downtown Ocala will still be home to the thousands of lights our residents and visitors expect each year,” said Preston Pooser, recreation and parks director. “City staff will continue to work hard to create smaller events that safely allow our community to enjoy the holiday season and pair those with opportunities to create new family memories.”
The following holiday programs are planned for December:
Story telling: In partnership with the Marion County Public Library, “The Polar Express” will be read by actors and dancers at the Jenkins Open Air Amphitheater next to the Reilly Arts Center, 500 N.E. Ninth St. Attendees should bring their own chairs.
Santa on the Square: Santa will be available for photos in the Downtown Square gazebo Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Pre-registration is required for a socially distanced photo with Santa. For reservations, contact [email protected].
Holiday movies series: Movies, which will be shown on select nights, are free to attend. Hot cocoa will be available on a first come, first served basis. Attendees should bring their own chairs. The movies include:
- “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” Dec. 4 at 7 p.m., Citizens’ Circle, 110 SE Watula Ave.
- “The Polar Express,” Dec. 11 at 7 p.m., Tuscawilla Art Park, 213 NE Fifth St.
- “Elf,” Dec. 18 at 7 p.m., Tuscawilla Oak Grove, 500 NE Ninth St.
Santa’s Calling. Parents can submit an application for Santa and his elves to call boys and girls for the holiday season. Applications are available at www.ocalafl.org/holidays.
Senior Holiday Luncheon for adults 50 years and older. Includes fun, prizes, games and lunch at the Ocala Golf Club. The cost is $5 per person and pre-registration is required. Register at www.ocalafl.org/holidays.
Santa Paws: Santa will be available for pet portraits at Citizens’ Circle, 110 S.E. Watula Ave., from 5 to 8 p.m. A $10 donation benefiting the Marion County Humane Society is required. Vendors and adoptable dogs will be available and no registration required.
In addition, throughout December, bands, groups and performers will be at the Downtown Square and Citizens’ Circle Wednesday through Sunday evenings. Also, photo opportunity locations will be available starting at the end of November through early January. From giant candy canes to Santa’s sleigh, there will be more than five locations to take festive selfies and photos all holiday season long.
For more information about upcoming holiday programming, visit www.ocalafl.org/holidays or call (352) 368-5517.