About 30,000 paper bags flickering with candles will line sidewalks for the 27th annual Desert Plateau Luminaria.
The light show starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday with about 1,500 homes turning on their outdoor holiday lights, and setting out the bags filled with sand and candles to light the neighborhood for a few hours.
And new this year, the Desert Plateau homeowners have partnered with the Pasco School District and Second Harvest for a Fill The Bus project. A school bus will be parked at McGee Elementary School, 4601 Horizon Drive, to gather nonperishable food for the needy.
People driving through to see the lights are encouraged to swing by before or after to drop off food items.
The Pasco luminaria dates back to 1987 when neighbors Liz Gossett and Joce Berriochoa started organizing the event after Gossett saw a neighborhood luminaria on a Christmas visit to Texas.
William Robb, this year’s event coordinator, and his wife Rhonda were frequent visitors to the luminaria.
“My wife and I loved the spirit of this area. It appeared the neighbors truly felt for one another,” Robb said. “So when my wife’s father moved in with us, we had to search for a larger home, and found the perfect home (10 years ago) right in the midst of the luminaria neighborhoods.”
And though some longtime residents might grow weary of doing the luminaria year after year, Robb said people are almost always willing to do their part to make it an awe-inspiring holiday tradition borrowed from the Southwest.
Many visitors to the luminaria park their cars at McGee school and walk through the neighborhoods, while others drive slowly up and down the streets. Carolers also roam the streets.
Steve Linhoff of Kennewick will be stepping in for Santa once again this year.
“I think I’ve been doing this for about nine years now,” Linhoff said. “I told my wife once it would be fun to have a Santa suit, and no sooner had I said that when she found one. But the best part of playing Santa at the luminaria is seeing the wonder in the eyes of all the little kids. They might wonder if I’m the real Santa, but they still get excited, and seeing that joy makes it all worthwhile. It’s amazing, all the cars that line up on the street while all this is going on. It’s just a fun night for the whole family.”
“Steve’s two young grandchildren play the elves with the understanding that the real Santa has asked Steve to play him to help him out for the night,” Robb added.
How the teddy bears came into the equation was by accident.
“My wife and I have collected stuffed animals for years and decided it was time to get rid of them all. Since we never had any children, all the stuffed toys were in excellent condition,” Robb said.
“So a few years ago, we had Steve hand those out along with the candy canes. Everyone got a candy cane, but only the little kids got the teddy bears. The kids were so excited and the parents surprised,” he said.
“A few years went by without handing out the stuffed animals, and then three years ago, a couple stopped by the night of the luminaria and told us their little girl who got one of the teddy bears cherished that animal and took it everywhere with her,” he said. “She truly thought Santa lived here in Desert Plateau.”
Hearing that, Robb wanted to continue the tradition, so with his own money and donations from friends, he buys 100 bears each year for Santa to share.
Desert Plateau is a residential area west of the Tri-Cities Airport off Argent Road. Visitors who turn right at Road 36 off Argent can’t miss the neighborhood of lights on the hill side.
“Our mission centers on celebrating the holidays together with friends, family and neighbors,” Robb said. “And collaborating with the Pasco School District and Second Harvest to gather food for the needy makes this year’s event even better.”
“It’s worth bringing the family up here,” he said. “All the lights in these neighborhoods are beautiful, Santa is a lot of fun, and if you can, bring some nonperishable food for the Fill The Bus project.”