There is something quintessentially quaint and picturesque about holidays in Idyllwild. And situated above 5,000 feet on a mountain, Idyllwild is an alpine respite from the sun and palm trees of adjacent communities in Southern California.
The Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are often celebrated with dustings of snow on the mountain ridges, the last of fall’s brightly colored leaves loosening their grip on treetops and swirling downward, carried by the gentle gusts of an approaching winter.
Complementing that Currier and Ives picture postcard are the small-town holiday celebrations for which Idyllwild is known. If you want to step back in time for an old-fashioned holiday, Idyllwild is the place to do so.
Thanksgiving weekend ushers in the holiday season with generosity of spirit and friendliness. On Thanksgiving Day, from noon to 2 p.m., the American Legion Post 800 serves a free Thanksgiving dinner, turkey and all the trimmings, with a fire blazing in the fireplace, and holiday warmth for all.
On Friday, Nov. 24, beginning at 9 a.m., the Idyllwild Rotary Club presents its 51st-annual Harvest Festival in the gymnasium of Idyllwild School featuring unique mountain arts and crafts, homemade bakery items, delicious Idyllwild food and holiday gift items. Tickets can be bought for a Saturday gift basket raffle. Festivities continue until 5 p.m. with the Idyllwild Shuttle providing pickup and return service. On Saturday, the festival resumes at 9 and runs until 3 p.m. to give attendees time to get to the weekend highlight — the Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony in the center of town. The gift basket raffle drawing takes place at 3 p.m. on Saturday in the gym at the conclusion of the Harvest Festival.
From 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Santa Claus will be in his workshop in the gazebo of Village Centre for visits with Idyllwild and visitor children. Local nonprofit booths line the town square throughout the day beginning at 10 a.m. Food, gift items and photo opportunities are provided by 17 participating organizations. Highlights include Lou Padula’s famous hot dogs, Soroptimist International of Idyllwild’s cookie decorating booth and the $250 Money Hat drawing, T-shirts, hats, totes and cute pets for adoption from Living Free Animal Sanctuary, Mountain Quilter’s opportunity quilt raffle, and artwork and other holiday items from the Art Alliance of Idyllwild.
Christmas carolers, Christmas music, and holiday shopping, foods and good cheer enliven the village throughout the day.
Then, at 4:40 p.m. the 57th-annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and Olde-Fashioned Christmas begins.
Master of Ceremonies Sandii Castleberry will host a program that includes Diane Burt’s Grammy-nominated Caroling Company, Doug Austin and the Olde English Theatre Players, Kathy Lewis and the Idyllwild Children’s Choir, Mayor Max and his Chief of Staff Phyllis Mueller, audience sing-alongs, arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus by fire truck and the countdown to the illumination of more than 6,000 lights on Idyllwild’s 100-foot tree. All lights but those on the tree are turned off while the audience sings “Silent Night.”
Next year, the ceremony will feel somewhat different because the town square in which the tree is located will once again be a park rather than the site of a restaurant. Marge Muir, a longtime lead organizer of the ceremony, had this to say at the prospect of the return of the town center to a park: “I think the tree is smiling.”
Donations to support the annual Tree Lighting Ceremony can be placed in the red cans marked “donations” at the ceremony and at Santa’s workshop. Note “Tree Lighting Ceremony” on checks made out to Soroptimist International of Idyllwild.
Local restaurants serve holiday fare, and galleries and shops are open for browsing. Check the Town Crier’s Arts & Entertainment Calendar for other events during the weekend.