The 18th annual Ashland Festival of Light, held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, kicks off the spirit of the holiday season with a million lights, at a time when early shoppers — 25,000 of them — flood the Plaza, some hoping to purchase all their gifts before the weekend is over.

The 18th annual Ashland Festival of Light, held on the Friday after Thanksgiving, kicks off the spirit of the holiday season with a million lights, at a time when early shoppers — 25,000 of them — flood the Plaza, some hoping to purchase all their gifts before the weekend is over.

Sponsored by the Ashland Chamber of Commerce, the Festival of Light brings Santa and Mrs. Claus cruising down Main Street in their sleigh, amid much caroling, mounting their perch on Alex's Plaza Restaurant balcony, doing a few ho-ho-ho's and, after the countdown by the vast crowd, flipping the switch for the Grand Illumination and firing up what now totals more than 1 million lights that will burn until New Year's.

Festivities start well before the parade, at 1 p.m. on the Plaza, with lots of live music.

The parade gets under way at 5 p.m. when Ashland Community Hospital lights its big tree by the city library at East Main and Gresham streets.

The lighting is at 5:45 p.m., followed by Santa's Workshop, in which kids get to recite their wish lists to the Clauses from 6:45 to 8 p.m. in the Black Swan Theater at East Main and Pioneer streets. Kids get free photos they can pick up later.

Santa's Workshop continues on Saturdays through Dec. 18 at Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Welcome Center.