The holiday celebrations throughout Polk County kicked off on Small Business Saturday last week with a new tradition that we hope continues: Making Spirits Bright in Monmouth. Leaders from the Monmouth-Independence Chamber of Commerce, City Hall, Western Oregon University, business owners, and from the community at-large have been convening since spring to iron out the details of the expanded event (formerly known as the Monmouth Tree Lighting) meant to bring the community together.

And it worked.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Monmouth Saturday afternoon. Businesses are offering specials all week leading up to the main event: the lighting of the old sequoia on Western Oregon University’s campus. The evening continues with cookies, crafts, wine and music throughout campus, as well as shopping opportunities in downtown.

Monmouth’s event usually competes with Dallas’ Winterfest, but not so this year, as the Dallas Area Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center decided to stick to the first Friday. Now kids can visit with Santa in Monmouth and in Dallas a week later.

The first Saturday is traditionally the Santa Train and Parade of Lights in Independence.

The Santa Train — saved after nearly being forever canceled — will be bigger and better than ever this year with “train stations” for kids to write letters to Santa, create crafts, or learn about railroad safety.

When the founder of the Santa Train left town, volunteers stepped up at the last minute to organize the beloved event, keeping it around for families to visit with Santa and receive a small gift.

The Parade of Lights — which would have been going on its 16th year — was canceled by organizers with promises of returning next year “bigger and better.” We are disappointed that the quaint lighted parade filled with pedestrians, horses, dogs — Central FFA students bearing hot cocoa to bystanders — and Shriners won’t be making its way down the streets of downtown Independence this year. We understand that volunteering can be tiring, and often the same people are tasked with the same jobs for too long.

Last year, the committee in charge of the event was quite large. The Parade of Lights takes work, but it isn’t one of those longterm commitments that takes a lot of time out of one’s schedule. Earlier this year, there was talk of collaborating with the Making Spirits Bright committee to encourage those participating in Western’s little lighted parade to join Independence’s Saturday event, and vice versa. We expected more this year, not less — let alone nothing at all.

To cancel a beloved event — or skip a year — in the guise of “making it better” feels counterintuitive. If volunteers were lacking, we are sad that organizers didn’t get the word out about the need for people to help plan the event.

We sincerely hope that Independence will bring back the Parade of Lights next year, regardless of its size. Frankly, we thought it was pretty cool the way it was.

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