Each winter season, downtown Santa Rosa makes the most of its Courthouse Square with a massive tree-lighting ceremony and party dubbed Winter Lights.
This year, the lights are still on, but Santa Rosa’s signature holiday event is a very different experience, one that has adapted to the new Covid-19 reality to keep the merriment socially distant and safe.
“The Winter Lights event, for a number of years, has been centered on lighting up the big tree in Courthouse Square and it brings everyone together to kick off the holiday season,” says Cadance Hinkle Allinson, executive director of the Santa Rosa Downtown District. “As we all know, 2020 has been a difficult year for our community, for every community really. We knew we couldn’t bring people together safely in the same way, but we wanted to still provide that fun, festive atmosphere for everyone.”
For 2020, Winter Lights is a five-week long celebration encompassing the entire downtown Santa Rosa corridor along Fourth Street and surrounding Courthouse Square.
Running now through Jan. 1, Winter Lights features holiday experiences and sights such as festive art installations. To add to the ambiance of the event, there are street buskers and a small local maker market on the Square each weekend.
“It looks different but it’s still a great way for people to come downtown,” Allinson says. “They can dine outside, they can go shopping if they’re comfortable with that, but if not, they can just walk around the area and explore.”
The Winter Lights art installations that are on display now include “Stars of Hope,” created by Santa Rosa artist Jane Ingram Allen, which can be seen at 620 Fourth Street. The lighted artwork features stars hanging in a storefront window, and the piece encourages viewers to reflect on the past year and express hope for the new one.
One block down, at 720 Fourth Street, is Santa Rosa artist Anne Baumgartner’s “Looking for the Light,” which uses light to appear totally different at daytime and at nighttime. Other spots to check out include Jeju Way, next to Russian River Brewing Company, which has been transformed into a Winter Wonderland with lights and art. There is also “Ethereal Strength”(pictured), by Santa Rosa artist Lacy Anderson, that sits between two redwoods in Courthouse Square, and there’s an artsy scavenger hunt in which families search downtown businesses to spot the holiday gremlins created by Sonoma County artist and musician Gio Benedetti.
Downtown Santa Rosa is also offering a full holiday dining and shopping directory online, listing local businesses that are offering Winter Lights–related sales and other seasonal promotions.
“This has been a tough year for our retailers and restaurants, and one of the great things we can do with Winter Lights is try to bring more people downtown so they can experience the local shops we have there,” Allinson says. “From my perspective, watching our business owners, their resolve and resilience has been amazing and I think they have that because of the community that supports them.”
Winter Lights runs through Jan. 1 in downtown Santa Rosa. For details and the downtown holiday directory, visit Downtownsantarosa.org.