Holtville natives always return for the important stuff and the annual Christmas in the Park event on the evening of Dec. 21 was a red-letter date for the hometown crowd.
Emily Nunez, a Holtville Viking for life and class of 2001 member, made the short but sentimental journey from Imperial with her charming companion Annie clutched in a warm embrace.
“She’s a poodle-chihuahua mix, but I think the music has her a little scared,” said Nunez. “I was born and raised in Holtville but we came back to see friends’ children in the bands.”
She added, “What I like about the season? I like all the Christmas decorations. And, actually I like ‘Jingle Bells.’ I also like to bake cookies. Chocolate-chip.”
Sponsored by the Holtville Chamber of Commerce, the event in Holt Park featured performances by the Holtville High Viking Band of Pride, jazz band, and choir, and singing by Holtville Middle and Finley Elementary school students.
Before music director Lendal Macon’s beginning band took the gazebo, Anita Martinez, chamber chief executive officer, praised the bands for all their hard work.
“We’re trying to be a little more modern this year using Snapchat, living in the moment or take a screenshot,” said Martinez. “Our layout is a little different tonight--we’ve taken it out of the park (expanded to Holt Road). There’s more seating (hay bales) for parents. And we have the snow again, thanks to Sixth Street Cooling.”
Macon, a Holtville native and music teacher since 1976, prepped two bands, a beginning band of mostly Finley students and advanced band of middle school students, which also performed one piece together. Yvonne Moreno, the Holtville High Vikings band director, led a choral group and the band with long-flag and shield performers later in the evening.
“The appeal of Christmas music is that it appeals to the heart,” said Macon. “It brings back memories. And all of us have childhood memories we don’t want to give up.”
Joshua Enriquez, a middle school eighth grader and rising young bass clarinet player, admitted he really enjoys the Christmas music the band plays.
“I like, ‘Bell Carol Rock,’ how the low brass (including the b-flat bass clarinet) attacks the notes,” he said. “It excites me. We don’t rest, just keep going. It really grabs people’s attention.”
Added band mate and trumpet player Brayan Villagomez, “The rhythm’s fantastic.”
Rehearsing with other Finely flute players before the performance, Annalisa Imperial said, “Christmas music is so cheerful.”
As Finley performers warmed up for ‘Good King Wenceslas,’ Macon informed the audience of their impressive progress.
“When they started, they didn’t even know how to put their instruments together. They didn’t know one note back in September,” he said.
Segueing to ‘Jolly Old St. Nicholas,’ Macon added at the conclusion, “And I hear he’s maybe coming to town tonight.”
Tiffany Terrill, parent of two performers, Bradyn, a fifth-grade percussionist but playing pennywhistle, and Brett, a seventh grader who played snare drum, confided as she snapped photos she is very proud of her musician children.
“I really enjoy our community coming together like this and seeing the kids perform,” she said.
Showing his work is never done, Mayor David Bradshaw was busy purchasing a container of bunuelos, the Mexican fried sweet dough sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
“I love the Farmer’s Market and Christmas in the Park,” he said. “I try to buy something from every booth. And I’m really enjoying all the bands. But I still had to talk about the roads tonight. We’ve already filled the cracks and they’re (city public works) coming with a top seal. They’re on their way. I hope no one is getting jittery.”
The city is in the midst of major street resurfacing projects.
Despite a long line of parents and children, Katie Wiltshire patiently queued with daughter Lucy, 3, to visit with Santa Claus, who arrived courtesy of a Holtville Fire Department engine. Wiltshire, whose husband is a retired U.S. Marine Corps veteran, is spending the winter at the Naval Air Facility El Centro.
“We stumbled on this (Christmas in the Park) last year and we thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is wonderful,’” she said. “Lucy tells everybody Santa is her boyfriend.”