EL CENTRO — El Centro resident Mario Hernandez and his family now have the perfect photos for their Christmas card this year, and all it took was waiting in line for nearly three hours.
The family arrived as early as possible to the city’s annual Tree Lighting and Street Fair on Friday to ensure their they were first in line to take photos with Santa Claus.
“There’s a lot of people here,” the El Centro resident said. “But my daughter wanted to have a picture with Santa Clause.”
Hernandez and his family, along with the more than 200 other guests behind him, did exactly that.
“We just wanted to have a good time with the family,” Hernandez said. “It’s my first year here, and it’s pretty nice. I like it.”
After their photo with Santa Claus (who is better known on most other days as Mike Boerner, an El Centro resident who has donned the signature red-and-white attire of the jolly old elf for the city the past two years), children received one of about 600 small presents provided by the city.
First Imperial Credit Union donated the gifts, which totaled about $1,000 in value, the city’s Community Services Director Adriana Nava said.
“This is Christmas joy; we’re spreading the love,” Nava said. “We’re having this event for kids and families to have fun.”
New for this year’s event was the city waiving fees for vendors, which brought out about 40 local food and arts and crafts booths to the closed-off intersection of 12th and Main streets.
“Reducing the price to zero really brought out a lot of people,” Nava said. “The goal is to bring out more people so our vendors get a good turnout. We also want people to have fun, and part of having fun is having a lot of vendors.”
Keeping guests entertained prior to Santa’s 7 p.m. arrival were live performances from the Wilson Jr. High School band and orchestra, Southwest High School orchestra and Central Union High School chorus and guitar group.
For the second year in row, pediatrician Dr. Alfredo Negrete and Judge-elect Monica Lepe-Negrete had the honor of being the event’s masters of ceremonies.
“These events are really, really nice for the community because they bring all of us together to cheer, to celebrate and to feel blessed,” Lepe-Negrete said. “It’s all a good time; it’s all positive energy, and it’s an opportunity for all of us to interact with amazing families here locally.”
Similarly, El Centro City Councilman-elect Tomas Oliva felt events such as the tree lighting were crucial for the community.
“It’s important for residents to come together as neighbors,” Oliva said. “That’s the sense of the word ‘community.’ It’s for us to be together, to live together, to say ‘hi’ to one another and to build friendships and relationships and not just be distant people. The purpose of these events is for us to get together, to catch up with old friends, to be with family and to create memories.”