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Holidays begin Nov. 18 in Ashland

Grand Illumination, Soundwalk, Elf Extravaganza are season highlights

A switch is thrown and more than a million lights turn downtown Ashland into a magical Christmas fairyland. It’s a tradition that will be celebrated again in 2021, signaling the beginning of the local holiday season.

Ashland Chamber of Commerce's Grand Illumination will light up Ashland Plaza and downtown with more than a million lights Nov. 18. Courtesy photo.

The Ashland Chamber of Commerce will launch its annual Festival of Light celebration Thursday, Nov. 18, when the Ashland Plaza and the rest of downtown will be lit up in the spectacular Grand Illumination.

“We want people to experience the magic of the holidays in Ashland,” said Dana Preston, membership and business development director for the chamber. “Come explore, shop local, taste the flavors, and find your holiday spirit in our season of celebration.”

The festival attracts visitors as well as locals, providing a boost for Ashland eateries, shops, hotels and B&Bs.

The lights will be turned on sometime between 4 and 6 p.m. Nov. 18. Ashland all dressed up for the holidays has attracted national attention in the past. “You can spot our lovely downtown in numerous Hallmark Channel movies throughout the season,” Preston said.

There will be no parade, and Santa is still in quarantine, but the chamber has planned several promotions, offering fun and prizes for shoppers. Plus, there will be a brand-new attraction, Soundwalk.

“The board of directors made the difficult decision not to move forward with the Festival of Light parade or a Grand Illumination public event,” Preston said.

Multiple factors led to the decision, including statewide COVID-19 guidelines, multiple entrance and exit points that are difficult to manage, and public safety concerns.

“We absolutely love the Festival of Light parade and are very excited to bring it back when we are able,” Preston said.

New for 2021 is a partnership with Rogue World Music for a winter-themed Soundwalk.

“Soundwalk is a curated audio track featuring music from cultures around the world connected to the November-January season,” Preston said.

It will guide listeners through the festive downtown Ashland cityscape along a set path of visual installations from Nov. 26 to Jan 6. Participation is free.

Ashland Parks and Recreation will add to the holiday fun by opening the outdoor ice-skating rink at 95 Winburn Way, across the street from the Lithia Park playground.

The Ashland Rotary Centennial Ice Rink will open Nov. 20. The annual First Frost event Dec. 18 will feature live music and figure skating performances.

“Because of staff shortages, we are looking at running rec skate Thursday through Sunday from 4 to 9 p.m.,” said Lonny Flora, city recreation manager. “And on Saturday and Sunday, we will also have hockey skate in the mornings, starting at 8 a.m.”

The rink will be used Monday through Wednesday for skating lessons, including youth hockey sessions.

The Love Ashland Local Campaign will reward people for shopping at home. Shoppers who spend $5 or more at an Ashland business (in person or on their websites) can submit the receipt via text and have a chance to win one of the $100 weekly gift certificate prizes awarded from Nov. 28 through Dec. 25.

The campaign begins Nov. 15. To join, text the word “SHOP” to 541-482-3486. See the chamber’s website for more details and the rules of the campaign.

Strong believers in the mantra “shop at home,” chamber members encourage locals to support hometown businesses in order to save time, gas and money. For many people, it’s the natural thing to do, to build their own community instead of somebody else’s.

Can’t figure out what to get for somebody on your Christmas list? No problem. The chamber offers gift certificates in several denominations as part of its holiday promotion. They can be purchased online at ashlandchamber.com. The office is open 10-3 Monday through Friday.

“Every year this program grows and grows,” Preston said. “Last year, between the pandemic and the fire response, we saw more than double the sales of gift certificates than in previous years.”

The chamber has been contacted already by several organizations planning to buy chamber certificates.

“They make great holiday gifts and are redeemable at more than 40 locations in Ashland,” Preston said. “They’re a great way to keep our dollars local.”

Certificates can be mailed to the purchaser or the recipient. To purchase certificates with a check or cash, call 541-482-3486, at which time a pickup day and time can be arranged.

Last year’s Rudolph Scavenger Hunt was a hit with families. This year’s it’s the Elf Extravaganza, another scavenger hunt, but this year with an elf theme. Game cards will be available on the chamber website. Families will be asked to find hidden elves all throughout town and win prizes.

The ShopAshlandOregon.com website was launched last year where local businesses could showcase their holiday goods on a community online platform, with links to the stores’ own websites.

The chamber expects wide participation again this year and is developing new back-end tools that will make the site more user-friendly for participating businesses.

In addition to local advertising, the chamber will use social media to spread the word. A paid social media campaign will also introduce the Ashland Chamber’s new Instagram handle, @ShopAshlandOregon, which will include contests throughout the month of December.

For more information and updates, go to ashlandchamber.com.

You can reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at jimflint.ashland@yahoo.com.