"Snow" flurries, a grand tree lighting and, of course, the opportunity to share Christmas wish lists with Santa highlighted Cape Coral's annual Festival of Lights Saturday.
Title sponsored this year by CenturyLink, the street fair organized by the Chamber of Commerce of Cape Coral and the city attracted an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 celebrants to the South Cape business district, which was again transformed into a winter wonderland - Southwest Florida style.
Food vendors lined the streets, local entertainers performed on three stages and two children's areas - one with multiple bounces houses and the other featuring a "snowdrift" and saucer sleds - sandwiched the festival that each year attracts attendees of all ages looking to kick off the holidays.
Kids of all ages were able to have a little face - and beard pulling - time with Santa Claus during Saturday’s CenturyLink Holiday Festival of Lights in Cape Coral.
And kick off the holidays, those attending did.
"To have fun," said Alma Heron of Cape Coral, as her 6-year-old daughter Kimberly had a string of holiday lights carefully drawn on her cheek at the face painting booth. "She loves it; we came for the snowdrift."
Kimberly, who was handed a mirror to check out the makeup artist's efforts, was asked what she thought of the temporary work of art.
"Great," she pronounced of the gold, green and red rendition.
Evan Cheney, 4, was also hoping to see "snow."
Meanwhile, he was plenty happy to sit in the fire truck brought to the event by Firefighters Fighting Cancer, a charitable group founded and sponsored by ABC Pest Control and co-supported by Lee County Firefights and Paramedics Union Local 1826, the Lee County Fire Chief's Association, Miracle Baseball and Raso Realty.
"To celebrate," said mom Crystal when asked why the family came out as her son sat high in the driver's seat, all smiles. "He wanted to see the fire truck, bounce houses and snow."
Zade Alsalman, 4, and sister Leyla, 2 1/2, also enjoyed a turn in the fire truck.
The family are Festival of Lights veterans, according to mom Zaynab, who said they've attended every year since moving to the area.
"Ever since we've come to Cape Coral, we've loved it, and it's getting better every year," she said.
The Frankinburger family are also regulars.
"We've come every year," said mom Kristina as Nicolette, 20 months, sat in a small bike carriage, taking in the sights. It's a lot of fun; this year she can do more."
Fun was a common theme among attendees.
"Just to have fun and bring the kids out," said Sabrina Gerhart, whose daughter, Madison Minnick, 2, also took a turn aboard the fire truck. "There's a lot more than we expected."
Festival of Lights newcomer Melissa Pierie, whose granddaughter, Sarah Kelly, 8, was there as a Coconut Festival junior princess, took a similar view.
"It's wonderful, wonderful," the new Fort Myers resident said.
The festival sprawled from Southeast 15th Avenue to Candia Street along Cape Coral Parkway on both sides of the divided four-lane roadway. Live entertainment was near-continuous, the vendors plentiful and most of the shops and businesses kept their doors open to welcome guests. Meanwhile, an extensive kids play area, sponsored this year by Cape Christian Fellowship with notinmycity.org, kept things hopping with seven bounce houses and other attractions before Santa arrived. The church also hosted an open-air photo studio for free family portraits.
"Just something to give back the the city," said Lisa Sawyer when asked why the church participates.
"Giving back" - and playing it forward to help children with cancer - was also echoed by Ronald Libretto, a former firefighter who each year brings the firetruck to the event.
"Last year I lifted 596 kids," said Libretto of ABC Pest Control, the founder and sponsor of Firefighters Fighting Cancer.
"I had to see Dr. Mel (Youngs, a downtown chiropractor) a couple of days after that," he joked as he lifted another would-be first responder into the driver's seat of the vehicle and plunked a plastic fire hat on the child's head.
The main event, of course, was Santa's arrival and the official tree lighting, accompanied, as always, with a dusting of "snow" that drifted over the crowd gathered to welcome St. Nick.
"I think it signifies exactly what Cape Coral is about, community," said Mayor Marni Sawicki. who returned from a three-day seminar at Harvard for newly elected mayors in time to take part in the tree lighting. "It was great time, lots of smiling faces."
Despite a glitch with the equipment that forms the snowdrift, an annual favorite, organizers were well pleased with the event and its turnout.
"It's a little more than last year, I think," said Chamber President Mike Quaintance when asked about attendance numbers in a telephone interview after the event. "Part of it may have been due to the weather, which can be a deterrent, but we had a really beautiful day.
"We got a lot of good feedback from folks, I think it went really well," he added. "Santa was as busy as he's ever been."
"I just got off the phone with him," Quaintance said. " I think he's ready to head back the North Pole."