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As many prepare for a socially distant Thanksgiving due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is one tradition Salida residents can still look forward to; the lighting of Christmas Mountain. For the past weeks, volunteers have been adorning the mountainside with lights and decorations in preparation for its unveiling. Let’s face it, we all need as much Christmas Cheer as we can get.

This tradition started in 1989, and it has gotten brighter over time. In 2011 project organizers began using LED lights which are ten times brighter than regular bulbs. There are now two timers that control the lights, a new addition this year

Ark Valley Voice spoke with the Christmas Mountain Coordinator, Chris Bainbridge on how this year’s celebration is different, but one he hopes is still filled with joy. Bainbridge took over the position of Christmas Mountain Coordinator in 2012. He grew up in Salida and now owns a local business as well as being a member of the Salida Fire Department.

Bainbridge explained “We are putting up the Christmas lights for Christmas Mountain USA. We normally start in late October, early November. It is funded by donations through the Chamber. We have a group of individuals who get together every year and we talk about what the plan is. Where we need to add new lights, change ornaments and then we order new lights, new electric cords. We’ve got two groups of volunteers; one group takes the lower part of the mountain, one group takes the upper part of the mountain.”

Though there will be no formal celebration and no parade, community members can still shop locally on the day of the lighting and throughout the holiday season to support local businesses. Community members are also encouraged to watch the lighting from their porches, yards, balconies and get creative. This is the perfect year to view the tree in a different location, maybe even with some hot chocolate in hand.

“This year obviously is a lot different with COVID-19, due to not wanting big crowds there really is no celebration,” explained Bainbridge.

Bainbridge reflected on how this year’s process has been different then in the past. “This year it’s odd being up there. We can’t do this … we can’t do that. I still feel like there needs to be some kind of celebration with it. So that’s the rough part due to COVID-19 and where the effect this year is, we know what the downtown is going to lose.”

“There’s some differences this year and it effects everybody. It’s not like it’s just one person going through this, this affects everybody worldwide,” he continued. “It’s not a localized incident. Sometimes you’ve got to put the attitude away and make the best of it for everybody. Know that we can’t change it until things get better.”

Addressing the lighting itself, Bainbridge said “It’s going to come on and we really want people to enjoy it. Hopefully bring some good vibes and some traditions that are normally there that have definitely been missed out on this year. It is weird for us to be doing that. We didn’t get a lot of volunteers this year also due to COVID-19. We got our core group. People wanted to do more individual stuff up there where we’ve had groups of ten to twenty people working together to get it up.”

He added “There truly are a lot of moving parts to get that mountain up and we appreciate the City and all the volunteers that come out every year.”

The tree on the mountain is a symbol of hope and good tidings for the community. In relation to the community, “If it brings a smile to their face, warms them up or puts some joy in their heart to get through the next couple months we can hope that things are better, it will be awesome,” said Bainbridge.

In addition to watching the tree lighting, Bainbridge added “If people just remember to shop locally. That really helps the community survive. The summer was great for people to survive because things were a little bit more open with outdoor seating. I just highly encourage everyone to buy local and support their locals because we definitely want everyone to survive through this and have a vibrant downtown.”

This is one small way to help support the community and spread cheer. “I think people really need to support their local businesses and the City. Make it a good Christmas and enjoy the spirit of being downtown and everything being decorated. It’s a tradition that’s carried on even through bad years,” Bainbridge said summing it all up.

The mountain will be lit on November 27 after the sun has fully set and volunteers plan on keeping the tree lit every night  until the Sunday after New Year’s.

Featured image: The lighting of Christmas Mountain USA in happier, pre-COVID times. AVV STaff photo.