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By EILEEN SCHULTE
CLEARWATER -- Each year at about this time, Clearwater puts on a couple of tasteful holiday fetes. They are done up right, with twinkling red and green lights, jolly craftsmakers selling gifts, canned Christmas music drifting down the streets and appearances by Santa.
It all signals the beginning of the holiday season in the downtown Coachman Park area, priming everyone for other Christmas events such as the lighted boat parade.
But this year, the city is varying its routine a bit.
Instead of organizing two separate seasonal celebrations -- the holiday crafts bazaar and the family holiday festival -- it has scheduled both on the same day. The Holiday Bazaar begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, and the Family Holiday Festival follows at 4 p.m.
"Rather than divide our forces, we decided to do one bigger event," said Bob Barry, Clearwater's recreation supervisor. "Also it keeps us from having to close the street down two different times."
Barry said the activities will be the same, that there's "nothing extremely new."
"Don't fix it if it's not broken," he said.
Barry said a few thousand people usually attend the holiday events.
"We wanted to extend it past the (daylight hours) so people can enjoy the lights," Barry said. "The buildings, light poles and trees will all be decorated."
As in past years, three downtown blocks -- Cleveland Street from East Avenue to Osceola Avenue -- will be blocked off to car traffic to make way for the bazaar. It will essentially be a crafts fair, featuring seasonal presents for the hard-to-shop-for relative or friend on your list. Downtown stores will also be open in case you'd like to duck in and do some last-minute gift shopping.
At 4 p.m., the festival begins. Kids will enjoy pony rides, "make-and-take crafts," cookie decorating, visits with Santa, a moon walk and a chance to win candy and trinkets. Adults and children will love the horse drawn hay rides, holiday music, food and carnival rides.
"The hay rides are popular," said Barry. "So is the carnival. People usually stay for a couple of hours."
One change: The festival will go on until 8 p.m. instead of ending at dusk, as it did last year. The early closing disappointed some festival-goers, driving attendance numbers down, Barry said.
And here's Clearwater's holiday gift to you: Everything's free -- except food and crafts.
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