Approximately 15

Approximately 15

City’s holiday spirit shines bright at Redmond Lights festival | SLIDESHOW

The city's annual Redmond Lights festival gets bigger every year and with early estimates of a 15,000-strong crowd, Saturday's event was no exception. From the tree lighting ceremony and Luminary Walk, to musical entertainment and some of the best chili in town, to a candy cane hunt and a visit from Santa Claus himself, there was something for everyone.

The city’s annual Redmond Lights festival gets bigger every year and with early estimates of a 15,000-strong crowd, Saturday’s event was no exception.

From the tree lighting ceremony and Luminary Walk, to musical entertainment and some of the best chili in town, to a candy cane hunt and a visit from Santa Claus himself, there was something for everyone.

Lisa Rhodes, event and marketing administrator for the City of Redmond, said it is “amazing” how many people come out to enjoy the festivities.

“It just keeps growing,” she said about the event’s attendance as well as its volunteer staff.

This is Rhodes’ third year involved in planning Redmond Lights and she said she is very grateful for all the support she and her staff have received from the community. She added that despite the high turnout and the fact that people from outside of Redmond attend, the event still has a community feel to it.

City of Redmond Mayor John Marchione said he has attended about eight of the 13 Redmond Lights festivals and “this is the largest crowd (they’ve) had.”

He said during the tree lighting at City Hall, the crowd usually fills just the concrete area around the tree, but this year the campus lawn was also packed.

Marchione kicked off the event with the tree lighting, which included a second tree to commemorate the city’s upcoming Centennial in 2012 as well as a special visit from Santa Claus.

After completing his emcee duties, the mayor joined the crowd of attendants to participate in the festivities himself, including enjoying the entertainment along the Luminary Walk and sampling chili during the cook-off contest.

A lifelong Redmond resident, the mayor said one of his favorite things about Redmond Lights is reconnecting with old friends.”I like seeing people that I haven seen in a while,” he said, adding that this includes his childhood friends’ parents.

David Morton, who lives in unincorporated King County just outside of Redmond, has attended Redmond Lights almost every year and said he still remembers his first time. He said the tree lighting only had about 50 people — quite a difference from this year’s blockbuster attendance.

“Hardly anyone was out there at the time,” he said.

Morton spent more than 30 minutes in line for samples from local restaurants and said when the event started, sample sizes were quite large but the portions have gotten smaller each year to accommodate the growing crowd.

Redmond resident Neville Wylie attended the event for the first time on Saturday and he said he liked how it brought so many people out to celebrate the holiday season.

“It’s good to bring everybody together,” he said.

This was also Matt’s Rotisseries & Oyster Lounge’s first year at Redmond Lights — at least as one of the contestants in the festival’s ever-popular Chili Cook-off, which expanded this year to include local businesses. The contest was all in good fun, but the Redmond Town Center restaurant’s employees admitted they’re a competitive bunch.

Although food is their business, Mackenzie Huston said this didn’t really give Matt’s an edge as they were up against city agencies, like the police and fire departments that serve the public.

“We are losing,” she said with a laugh while serving samples. “Who doesn’t love the fire department and the police?”

The other contestants in the cook-off were Redmond City Council and local business Taste of Amazing.

Despite the contest’s expansion, the Redmond Fire Department came out on top for the third year in a row.

“It feels good,” said cook and firefighter Paul Atkinson about the fire department’s winning streak.He added that their chili recipe has remained the same all three years.

While everyone enjoys the competition, he said “it’s all about the fun,” adding that there wasn’t a bad chili among the competitors.

Rhodes said the chili cook-off is one of the events that receives the most comments and is among her top three favorites personally. The other two are the tree lighting ceremony and the hot air balloon glow.

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