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Crushed for two years by COVID, the Summerland Light Up, arguably the biggest off-season happening in the South Okanagan, roared back to life Friday afternoon and evening.
Essentially taking over the entirety of Summerland's downtown retail zone, the event has in the past regularly packed the suddenly vehicle-free streets with in excess of 10,000 people. Or so says the Summerland Chamber of Commerce.
We can’t verify that number in 2022, but the crowd Friday night was definitely in the multiple thousands, especially during the peak 6 pm to 8 pm time slot, where just walking across the street was a challenging affair.
Certainly if there was any worry that people wouldn't return post-pandemic, those worries were eliminated early. And that's good news going forward.
The event kicked off as it usually does at 5 pm when a short procession of costumed characters and Santa himself wound their way down Main Street and then Victoria Road.
At that point, all the downtown shops and all the streetside vendors and exhibitors were open for business.
Both performance stages opened as well, as did the adult beverage area that debuted just prior to COVID. Except now those beverages are served in a heated tent.
That's a big step up on 2019 when they were served outdoor in finger-numbing temperatures. Needless to say, the place was much busier this year.
One of Friday's servers was Cameron Walker, owner of Summerland's Lunessence Winery and president of the celebrated Bottleneck Drive winery region, which is in the midst of its popular "Light up the Vines" Christmas event this weekend and next.
"It's so nice to have a heated environment where people can get off Main Street," he said, "and come in for a bit of quiet time and enjoy a glass of wine or a beer. And not just a sampling, not just a thimble, but a real glass of beer or wine."
But the beverage tent wasn't the only new look for the festival. Just as conspicuous was its pullback from Memorial Park, which in the past hosted numerous kid-centric activities such as outdoor games and horseback riding. And the park's small stage was home to local choirs and other likeable attractions.
But it cost a lot of bucks to keep the park illuminated each year for the duration of the festival. And while that's a valid reason, we nevertheless missed having the option of veerng away from the downtown streets for a sight-seeing walk in the park.
By 7 pm, most of the crowd had drifted toward the primary stage on Main Street, where various dignitaries had assembled for the "light up" portion of the evening.
Jill Fai of Summerland rock duo Moving Lines delivered an impressive version of O Canada and the decorative downtown lights were officially switched on.
Sadly, PentictonNow couldn't stay for the traditional fireworks display, this year at 8:30, but we were able to spend time browsing some of our favourite downtown shops.
Near the end of our evening we ran into Kim and Ron Woroby and their dog McKayla. The Worobys drove to the event from their home in Westbank, as they've done many times before.
"It's the best festival of the year," said Kim. "It's a ritual. Every year we do this."
We asked if they remember the minus 15 temperatures of the most recent event in 2019 and they said they certainly do.
"But we're originally from Winnipeg," said Ron, cracking a smile. "We're Winterpeggers. So we're okay."