Weather can't dampen spirits

Medford brings in the Christmas season despite rain
Residents braved the rain to gathers at Vogel Plaza for the Winter Lights Festival, sponsored by the Medford Parks Department, Saturday, December 01, 2012.

The soggy weather let up just long enough Saturday to allow Medford Mayor Gary Wheeler to light the 33-foot tall Christmas tree towering above Vogel Plaza.

The crowd, which was noticeably smaller than in years past, cheered when Wheeler hit the switch and the 1,600 lights wrapped around the tree fired to life at the annual Winter Lights Festival.

There was a lot of talk about the recent line of storms that have pounded the area, breaking rainfall records for December.

However, Medford Parks and Recreation Department Director Brian Sjothun said there was not considerations to cancel the yearly event that serves as the unofficial kickoff to the Rogue Valley holiday season.

"This is Oregon, man," Sjothun said. "We're not going to let rain stop us."

The festival kicked off with a brief parade through downtown, featuring the North Medford High School band and a number of local sports mascots.

The University of Oregon Duck was a highlight. The Duck showed now ill effects from the heart-crushing loss the football team suffered at the hands of Stanford two weeks ago.

Among these mascots was Rex, a tiger who will serve as the face of the Parks and Recreation in community outreach programs.

Sandi Sherman, the organization's program coordinator, said Rex will spread the word about what Parks and Recreation provides for the city.

"We have a lot of programs that we want people to know about," she said.

Like most people who gathered around the tree as clouds began forming over the city, Sherman was happy that the rain held off for a couple hours Saturday night.

"I was just hoping the very nice Mother Nature would hold back the rain until we lit the tree," Sherman said.

Saturday's Winter Light Festival could be the end of an era for Vogel Plaza, Sjothun said.

The city is looking to move the tree and the festival to the green area that's part of the Lithia Motors headquarters a few blocks to the north.

In addition, the festival could be moved up to Thanksgiving weekend to take advantage of holiday visitors, Sjothun said.

None of these plans have been set in stone, Sjothun said.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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