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 has burned itself into the memories of a whole generation of Ashland residents and visitors from as far away as the coast, Roseburg and Redding, Calif.

Those memories include 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.

Donning the Santa suit again this year will be Internet marketing guru Ed Taylor, who sports genuine, face-framing white whiskers, joined by his wife, Lori, as Mrs. Claus.

"It's magical, absolutely amazing," says Taylor, who is doing the role for the seventh time. "You bring all this joy and see the families all smiling, so happy, a great feeling. And from the balcony, so heart-warming, all these people coming together in a spirit of loving and caring."

The parade gets under way at 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 26, 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.

Carolers bedecked in period costumes will serenade up and down the street through Thanksgiving weekend.

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

1 p.m. — Introduction by Camelot Theatre Company Artistic Director Livia Genise 1:15 p.m. — Ashland Brass Quintet 1:45 p.m. — Dixie Connection 2:15 p.m. — Rogue Valley Harmonizers 2:45 p.m. — Havurah Choir 3:15 p.m. — Rogue Valley Peace Choir 3:45 p.m. — Ka P'io Ke Anuenue/Hula O Kahawai 4:15 p.m. — Camelot Theatre 4:45 p.m. — "Gift of Magi," read by Genise

Ashland's ice-skating rink opened well before the festival and will be open seven days a week all winter.

"The magic of the season really comes alive at the festival," says Flanagan. "You feel like a kid again and you have that moment of awe, feeling the spirit of the holidays as it makes us all one."

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.