Mother Nature is forcing a Christmas surprise for Ahwatukee.
After more than two decades, the Festival of Lights Committee will be changing the arrangements of lights along Chandler Boulevard.
There still will be a million lights strung along Chandler Boulevard between 24th Street and Desert Foothills Parkway, but the display will look different.
FOL President Janyce Hazlett said the display isn’t changing so much as it is “evolving.”
“This year, the million white light display which shines brightly on Chandler Boulevard between Nov. 19 and Jan. 7 will be resplendent as we implement a design change,” she said.
That’s because the trees on the medians “have grown tremendously in 23 years,” Hazlett said, and are now so tall that it’s a challenge to reach the tops.
“So, to embrace this development, we’ll be enhancing the display with additional lights strung in various ways,” Hazlett added. “We think the new display will be amazing.”
Besides that, the committee also hopes to relieve some of the congestion created by work on Pecos Road as the South Mountain Freeway enters its final year of construction in anticipation of a December 2019 opening.
Hazlett made the announcement last week as the committee began ramping up its planning for the 23rd annual Kick Off Party on Nov. 24.
Returning to the festival this year will be over 30 rides and games, more than 100 vendors on Marketplace, at least 16 restaurants, an enlarged tavern, a Santa’s village with Santa visiting throughout the day, professional and amateur cornhole tournament, entertainment by five bands on two stages and the lighted motorcycle parade near the end of the festival that escorts Santa to the stage.
The committee this year also is adding a VIP area inside the tavern that will offer guaranteed, shaded seating, drink tickets, free soda, and water and other amenities.
The party, along with a wine and beer tasting festival in the spring help defray the cost of the lights display.
In addition, the FOL Committee raises enough money to give grants to Ahwatukee charitable groups that help it put on the Kick Off Party and wine-beer event.
This year, it awarded grants to Y OPAS, which provides free rides and other services to Ahwatukee seniors; Wings for Warriors, a group started by local veteran Anthony Ameen that helps get prosthetics and other treatment for veterans wounded in combat; and the Ahwatukee Kiwanis Club, which puts on the Ahwatukee Easter Parade and several events for foster children, among other charitable activities.
“Festival of Lights offers many opportunities for the community to get involved beyond attending the event,” Hazelett said. “They offer vendor booths, sponsorships and opportunity for local dance, music and other entertainment groups to perform.”
She said the Kick Off Party in particular “offers ample opportunities for volunteers to offer their help and expertise.”
Because the party is geared toward families, “many of our school children welcome the chance to accrue community service hours while having so much fun. Also, the FOL Committee is comprised of a great group of folks who wanted to become involved in the community and meet new people as well.”
The lights display also gets financial assistance from both the Foothills and Club West homeowners associations. Without their support, Hazlett said, “the lights would not burn brightly.”
The FOL Committee this year received the Nonprofit of the Year Award from the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce.
“Our fundraisers would not have been as successful over the years without the help and resources of the businesses that make up the Chamber, and we look forward to their support for many years to come,” Hazlett said.
Sponsorships and other volunteer activities can be viewed at the committee’s website, folaz.org.
In addition, Hazlett said, people are always welcome to join the committee as it begins planning the Kick Off Party in advance. People can drop by Desert Foothills United Methodist Church, 2156 E. Liberty Lane, Ahwatukee at 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 27, Oct. 9, Oct. 23, Nov.3 and Nov. 20.