It may be August, but not too soon for the City of Murrieta to begin making its holiday plans now.
The city has traditionally held a push-cart parade in early December to kick off its nearly monthlong Holiday Magic festivities. Due to shrinking community participation during the last few years, however, city officials are discussing other ways to liven up the season.
This could include bringing a tree-lighting festival to Town Square Park.
Council members Randon Lane and Alan Long have been serving on a subcommittee that has involved meeting with Community Services Department staff, members of community groups and churches.
Staff presented the results of those discussions to the entire City Council during its Aug. 6 meeting.
Suggestions include a day of activities in Town Square Park culminating in a tree-lighting ceremony, kids’ craft area, face painting, pictures with Santa Claus, performances by local choirs, food vendors and a crafters’ village, according to Lea Kolek, community services manager for the City of Murrieta.
The Murrieta Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has offered to donate a 25-foot live tree for lighting, Kolek said.
The event could also serve, Kolek said, as a kick-off for the city’s annual food and toy drive, with the suggestion being to encourage residents to fill Santa’s horse-drawn sleigh with donations after he rides into the park.
Another idea was to also incorporate a festival of trees at the park. Community groups would be invited to decorate the trees with varying themes. Mayor Pro Tem Kelly Bennett suggested donating those decorated trees to needy families, as the city has continually had a theme of helping its less fortunate.
A sticking point during the Aug. 6 discussion was the future of the push-cart parade, and whether its route should end at Town Square in an effort to increase participation and draw the community for the tree lighting.
The parade, for which residents and community groups are invited to make lighted, non-motorized entries, drew 50 entries last year, city staff said. Of those, eight were push-carts, three of which were built by city staff and five by community members. Other entries included groups that walked or rode horseback, bicycles or scooters. This was despite staff’s efforts toward getting the word out plus holding push-cart building workshops, Kolek said.
City Council heard from one group that has consistently entered a push cart in the parade: The Friends of the Murrieta Library.
“One the unique things Murrieta has is the push-cart parade,” said Carol Carson, current treasurer for The Friends of the Murrieta Library. “...I like all the ideas about combining the park activities with the parade, but I am hoping that you won’t let the parade go by the wayside.”
There has historically been contention as to the route of the parade, according to Lane.
“We haven’t had a year that we haven’t had a complaint about the route we have taken,” Lane said. “...So let’s try and combine the two and see how it goes this year.”
The procession has traditionally made its way along Washington Avenue in Historic Downtown Murrieta. Whether it should start at Kalmia Street or Ivy Street, and whether it should run the length between, has been a recurring question.
In past years, there have been craft and vendor fairs along Washington as part of the event, as well as a tree lighting.
Connie McConnell, president of the Historic Downtown Merchant Association, approached City Council about the matter.
“We would really like to see it stay on Washington and go all the way if that is at all possible,” McConnell said, adding that HDMA has always participated and that the parade is “one thing Murrieta does different.”
Other holiday options such as allowing motorized floats in the parade or arranging for an ice-skating rink at Town Square were also discussed.
Last year, the city held a snow event at Town Square complemented by food cooked by the Murrieta Firefighters Association.
It was recommended to continue other Holiday Magic activities, such as the Santa visits to neighborhoods to collect food and toy donations, the city’s holiday home decorating contest and Letters from Santa.
No decisions were made during the meeting.
Mayor Rick Gibbs said if there were to be changes they would need to happen soon to allow sufficient time for planning and advertising.
"We need to do this fairly quickly and get this back to Council,” Gibbs said, noting the Veterans Day parade, which is always well-attended, is set to occur just two weeks prior to the push-cart parade.
The city needs to come up with a "secret sauce" for its holiday festivities, the mayor said.
“We haven’t figured it out yet, so if we are going to keep a push-cart parade, we need participation from the city of Murrieta, or else there is no point in keeping it, because it is the city’s parade," Gibbs said.