Photos: Ty O’Neil
Councilmember Neoma Jardon, wearing festive Christmas light earrings, surveyed a long line of children and families waiting to meet Santa on Saturday. “We started working a year ago getting a group of business owners and volunteers and people from the arts community to all come together and say: what could we do to just bring people out and bring them together?”
The result is the inaugural week-long Reno Winter Light Festival, which kicked off with a holiday market, visit from Santa, and a tree lighting ceremony accompanied by various live performances in the Downtown area. The City of Reno, Harrah’s, Eldorado, Reno ACDA, and Reno Arts and Culture Commission co-sponsored the festival, which runs until December 14, and includes temporary art installations such as Otto the Fish, a fire and ice show, and other musical performances throughout the week.
Although the day was cold and a bit dreary, spirits were high as families sipped hot chocolate and kids took photos with Santa and picked out toys donated by the Reno Aces.
“Santa was very busy, and he didn’t have time to wrap [gifts], so the kids not only got a present early but it was unwrapped, and they got to see what it was so that’s pretty special,” said Jardon with a smile. “If you look at the smiles on these little kids’ faces…I mean, really, that’s what it’s all about.”
The spirit of giving also manifested in the form of three TMCC students sharing food with members of Reno’s homeless population as part of their community service hours for EMT training. Amanda Little came up with the idea as a service project and said the three of them usually hand out sandwiches once per semester.
“The whole mission for doing community service hours…it’s not just getting to know the place but knowing the people, because later on, if we decide to work for REMSA per se, at least we’ll have an idea of who we may run into and how we can help them,” said Preston Kamp, who along with Little was handing out sandwiches.
The trio said they did not know of the tree lighting ceremony beforehand, but were glad to spread cheer and enjoyed connecting with members of the community.
Throughout the evening, performers played holiday music, sang carols, and filled the plaza with the sounds of Christmas music.
Radio hosts Chris Payne and Connie Wray emceed the evening.
“I just love all the changes that are happening downtown, and this is a great opportunity for us to mix art and culture and the holidays together,” said Wray. “I’m just really looking forward to this next week.”
Children danced along to the live tunes, and when one boy asked the Reno Jazz Syndicate if he could join them on stage, they said absolutely. He was all smiles as he flossed to the music.
“I’ve had this gig in Vegas where there’s definitely some kids dancing around but never on the stage,” said bass player Noah Andrews. “I think it was really cool because they get to hang out and dance. We’re playing John Zorn who’s one of the most out-there musicians on the planet, and they were just [jamming],” he added as he demonstrated the dance move for flossing.
Toward the end of the evening, showers fell on the gathered merry-makers, but Ani Andrews, her husband, and two young girls did not mind.
“I’m cold and wet, but it’s definitely worth it. This is a very accessible way to see Santa. It’s not a big wait like at the mall and the look on the girls’ faces when they see Santa just brings back a lot of memories for me and my husband. It just reinforces kind of what [the holidays] all mean to us,” Andrews said. “I guess the rain just reinforces the lesson always carry your umbrella even though it’s a desert.”
“[Santa] was nice…[and] it’s fun here,” Ani’s daughter Alaura said with a shy smile.
Festival organizers hope to continue the event in the future.
Tabitha Mueller is a freelance writer and multimedia journalist based out of Reno, Nevada. She is fascinated by storytelling, place, and the intersection of narrative and data analysis and holds a bachelor’s degree in Geography and English and American Literatures from Middlebury College. When she is not tracking down a story or listening to podcasts, you can find her hiking Nevada’s gorgeous terrain, perusing local bookstores, playing Quidditch, and discovering Reno’s hidden stories.