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Oak Bay Avenue lights up for annual Christmas festival

The lights on Oak Bay Avenue will stay up until Jan. 7.
Santa and Mrs. Claus visit Oak Bay Avenue during the municipality's annual Christmas Festival on Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023. TIMES COLONIST

Thousands took to Oak Bay Avenue on Sunday to watch Santa and Mrs. Claus visit in a firetruck and witness the lights come on for the holiday season.

With the help of longtime Oak Bay Christmas Festival MC Bill Murphy-Dyson, the gathered crowd counted down to 5 p.m. That’s when Mayor Kevin Murdoch and Oak Bay Business Improvement Association president Martin Cownden powered up the sparkling lights along Oak Bay Avenue.

Santa and Mrs. Claus then made their entrance perched on top of an Oak Bay firetruck, the crowd on the street splitting into two.

Some children jumped up and down in anticipation of meeting Saint Nick. Dozens more were lined up for Santa’s mailbox, where they handed in letters detailing their Christmas wish lists.

Two-year old Miles Kline was too busy buzzing with excitement to share what he wrote in his letter.

But Ny Traynor, 7, and her brother Ty, 4, knew exactly what they want for Christmas this year.

Ty wants a remote-controlled car. Ny wanted a camera and an accompanying case, but only in a specific colour. “It has to be light blue,” she said shyly.

Murdoch told the Times Colonist that the municipality’s Christmas Festival started as a way of keeping spirits up after 9/11.

But over the years, it has grown into an anchor event for Oak Bay, he said. “It’s just so much fun, with hula hoops and roasted cashew nuts. It’s a really big thing.”

Cownden said the festival is made possible by the efforts of an “enormous collective” — including some 150 businesses, Oak Bay firefighters, municipal workers, and elected officials such as Coun. Hazel Braithwaite, who took on the role of Mrs. Claus many years ago.

It’s also a boon to businesses in the holiday season. “If we create positive community, the people will come to the village and spend their money,” he said.

The lights on the avenue will stay up until Jan. 7

Close to 6,000 people attended the festival on Sunday, according to event manager Heather Leary.

Leary, who has helped co-ordinate the event since its inception, said there has been an increased appreciation for events where people can gather and have fun together for free.

“It’s an expensive time of year,” she said.

It’s also become a yearly tradition for some: “We have families that [first] came as kids and now they’re bringing their own kids.”

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