LUTZ — For more than a decade, Christmas in the Park has been one of the biggest events of the year in historic downtown Lutz.
But not this year.
Christmas in the Park is off, though community leaders hope two other events offer the kind of homey holiday spirit that Lutz residents have come to expect.
The Lutz Shop and Stroll on Saturday is new. The Old Lutz School's lineup of holiday festivities has been expanded to include the children's music traditionally featured at Christmas in the Park.
"We're hoping we can get people excited about being out shopping and stopping at the schoolhouse," Lutz Guv'na Suzin Carr said.
A combination of things forced organizers to cancel Christmas in the Park this year, said Steve Polzin, president of the Lutz Civic Association, one of several groups that organizes the event.
There are fewer key community volunteers to turn to. Hillsborough County has begun charging park and community center usage fees that would add to the cost of the event. And the schedule didn't really work for the schools that normally participate.
"There are a number of factors that come into play," Polzin said. "This issue of the cost of using facilities is a very real issue."
That means no cookies and cocoa at the community center and no Christmas Card Lane, featuring lighted, barn door-sized greeting cards decorated by local families and businesses.
"It's the kind of thing that gives Lutz its hometown, small-town feel," Carr said of Christmas in the Park.
Not having the event "absolutely stinks," she said, "but I understand from a volunteer standpoint you can only spread people so thin."
Instead, community leaders came up with the Lutz Shop and Stroll and are encouraging residents to check out the displays and festivities at the Old Lutz School.
For Saturday's Shop and Stroll, seven merchants on U.S. 41, plus the Old Lutz School, are participating. Shoppers who make the rounds can take advantage of special offers and can get a chance to win a $900 basket of goodies.
Also starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, the Old Lutz School offers its traditional breakfast with Santa for children. The schoolhouse also will offer Christmas and model train displays, some of them three months in the making. The displays, as well as music from local schools, churches and community groups, will continue many evenings through the end of the month.
The Lutz and Maniscalco elementary school choirs, which usually sing at Christmas in the Park, will be at the Old Lutz School at 7 p.m. Thursday.
It wasn't clear early this week whether this year's activities would include a ceremonial tree lighting, a featured part of Christmas in the Park. Lighting the tree has been the traditional duty — indeed, the sole duty — of Lutz's official unofficial community leader, the guv'na.
Still, Carr, who was elected guv'na last summer, said she would be ready no matter where duty might call her.
"Wherever they ask the guv'na to be," she said, "I show up with the sash."
Richard Danielson can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3403.