I have to admit, upon moving to Hermiston, I was very excited to learn there was a Festival of Lights event featuring Christmas lights, Christmas displays, decorations, music, Santa and the whole works.

I blame this on my husband, whose favorite holiday is Christmas and who has an internal clock running in his head counting down throughout the year the days left until Christmas. For the record, as of this publication, there are 83 days left, if my counting is correct.

So I was really disappointed to learn Tuesday morning this annual Festival of Lights celebration has been cancelled for this year. I was looking forward to going with my husband and daughter, checking out the displays, perhaps taking a carriage ride and generally getting into the holiday spirit.

The celebration, which kicks off with a parade shortly after Thanksgiving, and event at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds on weekends through December, has been under the charge of the Festival of Lights Committee for the past few years, and that small group, along with a contingent of volunteers, is responsible for every detail of the festival, including putting up the lights and displays, making sure they are in working order, collecting donations — everything, all so area families have a free event they can enjoy to help make the holiday’s special.

This year, however, the fairgrounds will be noticeably dark.

Festival of Lights committee member Karen Hutchinson-Talaski said the committee members are very disappointed they had to cancel the event this year. A late start, some unexpected delays in receiving non-profit status and a small volunteer pool from which to draw were the primary reasons for this year’s cancellation.

That there is a committee dedicated to keeping the Christmas and overall holiday-season spirit alive in Hermiston is fantastic, and the four committee members should be commended for their efforts. Those four members, along with a small pool of volunteers, have been responsible for ensuring members of the community have a Festival of Lights to enjoy.

Apparently, I?am not the only person who is sad there will be no Festival of Lights this year. When the Hermiston Herald asked people on Facebook how they felt about this year’s cancellation, 3,048 people viewed the post, and the question garnered 54 responses, most expressing dismay at the prospect and conveying the importance of the event to them.

Some Facebook users said they have enjoyed the event for years, as have family members or visitors from out of the area visiting at the holidays, and some have made visiting the event a holiday tradition.

One Facebook posting said: “That is very disappointing. People in Hermiston look forward to that event every year. And now what do we look forward to. Ridiculous.”

“I?can NOT believe in a community the size of ours we cannot find enough people to volunteer for such a great event — or if need be donations to pay people to install it and take it down. This is so important to so many people. Losing this type of an event is devastating to a community,” one person posted.

The good news is, Hutchinson-Talaski said the committee intends for the Festival of Lights to return in 2014. Planning, she said will begin in January, and in September, lighting fixtures and lights have to start being hung.

For the 2014 Festival of Lights to be a success, more people need to volunteer. Hutchinson-Talaski said the committee usually gets about 25 volunteers to help each season, but between 50 and 100 are really needed.

While this year’s Festival of Lights may not be saved, future festivals can.

One Facebook user hit the nail on the head when summarizing what needs to be done:?“Guess we’ll all have to come together as a Community to get the Volunteers needed and join resources for next year. Just a thought, I?know if we tried WE Could do it!!!”

That’s exactly right. This is an important community event, and it would be a real shame if it had to be mothballed all together because there are not enough volunteers. To keep that from happening means the community needs to rally behind the event and individuals need to volunteer what time they can to help.

The community has relied upon the Festival of Lights committee to bring us what is obviously a well-loved event. Now the committee needs everyone’s help in making sure it continues. We just can’t take the Festival of Lights and other events like it for granted anymore. We need to be part of the effort. Call 541-571-5065 for more information on how to volunteer, and let’s all make it happen.

— Jessica Keller is the editor of the Hermiston Herald. She can be reached at jkeller@hermistonherald.com

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