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Moving Dade City's Church Street Christmas up a week sparks criticism

DADE CITY — For more than 30 years, Church Street Christmas has been a December staple in Dade City.

Each year, the three days before Christmas Eve have been marked by carolers, twinkling luminaries and hundreds of strands of Christmas lights.

Until now.

Organizers have pushed up this year's dates from Dec. 21–23 to Dec. 18–20, the weekend before Christmas, in the hopes that the free event, which typically sees up to 40,000 attendees, will draw an even bigger crowd.

The plan is to host Church Street Christmas the weekend before Christmas Eve from now on.

"I think this is one of the best outreach events for the community," said organizer Steve Smith. "If you're trying to bring people to Dade City, why not get the biggest crowds you can?"

He hopes that local businesses, including Realtors, will benefit from the boost in attendance.

"It's one of the attractions that brought me to Dade City," said Smith, who moved here from Tampa 17 years ago.

But some of his neighbors aren't happy with the new dates.

"It's tradition," said Jim Ward, whose family has lived on Church Avenue since 1896. "You don't change tradition."

His sentiments were echoed by other Church Avenue residents, who say the last weekend before Christmas Eve is traditionally when they're busy putting the final touches on decorations and other preparations for the event.

Some go as far as applying a new coat of paint to their homes. Others settle for a good exterior pressure wash.

But almost everyone spends at least a few weekends trimming hedges, sweeping driveways and hanging lights so their homes are ready for the thousands of camera-carrying visitors.

"We love Church Street Christmas, but it is a lot of time, money and work to the residents," said Pat German, who has participated in the event for more than 20 years.

Smith said he hears the residents' concerns, but his goal is to get as many people in town as possible that weekend.

The new dates also benefit the core team of about 20 volunteers who put on the event.

Now, they no longer will have to spend the final hours before Christmas Eve cleaning up and breaking down stages.

"Not everybody's going to agree," Smith said. "But the general consensus among the people who put in the time is it's much better to have it Friday, Saturday and Sunday."

This isn't the first hiccup in the history of the event. Smith got involved in 2006, when Church Street Christmas was formally cancelled due to a lack of visitors and volunteers.

Smith and his neighbors wouldn't have it. After deciding the event was too precious to lose, they lined up sponsors and entertainment. Church Street Christmas went on.

The event is put on by residents, Smith said, but the city provides services like street closures and police security.

Even with the changed dates, none of the residents who spoke to the Times said they would not participate.

Helen Anne Travis can be reached at htravis@sptimes.com or (813) 435-7312.

Moving Dade City's Church Street Christmas up a week sparks criticism 10/29/09 [Last modified: Thursday, October 29, 2009 9:11pm]
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