Christmas in the Park may have moved out of downtown for this year, but Plaza de Cesar Chavez is brighter than ever, thanks to the Light the Holiday Nights installation running through Jan. 3.

“No way were we going to leave the center of the city dark this season when we need to be uplifted more than ever,” San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director Scott Knies said. “We had to brighten up the center of the city.”

Plaza de Cesar Chavez in downtown San Jose will be lit up, including a 26-foot-tall “tree” of lights, from Nov. 26, 2020 through Jan. 3, 2021. (Sal Pizarro/Bay Area News Group)

Two other downtown traditions — Downtown Ice and the Winter Wonderland carnival — were canceled this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic,  prompting the Downtown Association into action. Working with the city and the downtown property-based improvement district,  the association enlisted several sponsors and downtown property owners, including First Tech Federal Credit Union, Jay Paul Co., Google, Sobrato, Swenson and Urban Catalyst.

Plaza de Cesar Chavez’s trees have been strung with white lights and walkways are illuminated by lighted arches. The centerpiece is a 26-foot-tall “tree” made of colorful globes of lights installed on the stage at the park’s north end. Of course, visitors are expected to wear masks and keep their distance from others.

The effort also includes lighting up trees and buildings at 50 W. San Fernando St., the Circle of Palms, San Jose City Hall and the under-construction Miro development across the street. Video mapping projections will be displayed on the former Camera 12 building on Paseo de San Antonio and the St. Joseph Cathedral Basilica. And “The Story of Holiday Arts” will fill the windows at 125 S. Market Street — across from Plaza de Cesar Chavez — with costumes from San Jose production so “The Nutcracker,” “A Christmas Carol,” and “Hansel and Gretel.”

Additionally, the Downtown Farmers’ Market at San Pedro Square is being transformed into an outdoor Holiday Market on Dec. 4, 11 and 18 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Vendors will be selling jewelry, candles, lotions, holiday cards, plants and other gifts, and the Moment shops at the San Pedro garage — Aulala Design, BlackSheepMade, SJMADE Shop and The Source Zero — will be open, too.

Get more information at www.sjdowntown.com.

SHOPPING LOCAL ART: Executive Director Nancy Bavor and the staff at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles are really excited about their latest venture, a partnership with Bay Area artists Kristina Micotti, Ayca Kilicoglu and Yosef the Funky Homosapien to create a limited edition series of tote bags. Working with BIPOC (Black, Indigenous or People of Color) artists on the project is part of the museum’s ongoing support of diverse artists and communities, which now includes a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Accessibility statement. The canvas totes are available on the museum’s online store, which includes plenty of other gifts including museum merchandise, jewelry and accessories. Go to www.sjquiltmuseum.org to check it out.

Meanwhile, East Valley Artists — a San Jose group that’s been around since 1957 — has its annual juried art show and sale taking place online through Dec. 2. Many of the artists have embraced the virtual nature of this year’s show, creating their own websites with links to “attendees” can view the galleries and shop for holiday gifts. Sharp visitors may recognize one of the name of one artist from a non-artistic career– Margie Matthews, the former San Jose city councilwoman who paints landscapes of the Berryessa area. You can see her work along with everyone else’s at www.eastvalleyartists.com.

SARATOGA HELPS OUT: We all know the pandemic has stretched resources thin for food banks and other organizations helping the hungry this season, so every little bit helps. The city of Saratoga is doing its part on Dec. 4 by hosting a drive-thru food drive at City Hall, with donations going to West Valley Community Services. They’re looking for canned means like soups and stews, as well as canned vegetables and fruit, healthy snacks like granola bars, plus rice, boxed pasta, peanut butter and bread. The drive will take place from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and the first 40 cars that drop off a donation will receive a gift from the city.

THE PIES HAVE IT: One Thanksgiving tradition that continued on despite the pandemic is the Downtown Campbell Neighborhood Association‘s annual apple and pumpkin pie giveaway. With the help of Campbell businesses — Joe Escobar Diamonds, Geoffrey’s Diamonds, Scott Rees at the Sereno Group, The Vesper lounge, andYvonne Kendall at State Farm — 58 pies were purchased and given away to neighbors on Tuesday. “We offer these pies to any resident of downtown Campbell in the spirit of giving back to our neighbors who support us throughout the year,” says Barry Shillman, president of the neighborhood association.

NONPROFITS SHIFT GEARS, NOT GOALS: At-home galas are the in-thing this season, meaning you can stay in your slippers and still help out a good cause. HomeFirst Services has switched its annual fundraiser, In From the Cold, to a virtual event on Dec. 5, featuring speakers, an auction and probably a few surprises. You can register at www.homefirstscc.org/in-from-the-cold.

The Valle Monte League also had to abandon plans for an in-person Christmas Tree Elegance this year, but the Santa Clara County-based women’s service group is still committed to supporting mental health agencies in the valley with its virtual event, “Making Spirits Bright,” running through Dec. 31. Valle Monte League President Michelle Hammack hopes that regular attendees will consider donating what they would spend at the group’s annual series of holiday events to their online campaign. So far, the effort has raised $80,000 toward a $200,000 goal. You can help out at www.vallemonte.org.

And you might remember that Turning Wheels for Kids found itself in a jam last year for Giving Tuesday because its online giving platform couldn’t process $1 donations — messing up its “Give a Buck for a Bike” slogan. Board member Elaine Elkin says they’re back this year with a slogan that will work, “Give Five Bucks for a Bike,” and it’s still a bargain considering the nonprofit plans to distribute 1,500 bikes to children this year. Get those bikes moving at www.turningwheelsforkids.org.

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By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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