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October 1, 2014

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Festival features lights, Santa on water

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Mona Shield Payne / Special to the Home News

Braving 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts, Santa Claus arrives in an electric boat to greet children waiting along the shoreline during the 2008 Electric Light Boat Parade Saturday at The Lakes Town Center Plaza.

Electric Light Boat Parade

Electric boats decorated with twinkling lights and holiday themes cruise the choppy waters along the shoreline at The Lakes Town Center Plaza during the annual Electric Light Boat Parade Saturday. Launch slideshow »

More than 3,000 guests braved chilling cold and blustery winds to enjoy the eighth annual Festival of Lights on Saturday at The Lakes.

One of the bundled-up visitors was Phyllis Hoffman, an 8-year resident of The Lakes who watched the Electric Light Boat Parade with her family.

"Nothing was going to stop us from coming here," Hoffman said. "It's a family tradition."

The Festival of Lights featured an arts and crafts fair, visits with Santa and the highlight of the evening — the Electric Light Boat Parade, a procession of more than 30 lighted boats that cruise along the waters of Lake Sahara.

P.J. Conte and his family withstood the bitter winds aboard "Surfing Santa," an 18-foot vessel that featured St. Nick on a lighted surfboard riding a wave. The words "ho ho ho" also flashed in bright red along the side of the boat.

The boat took about three weeks to complete in Conte's garage, and once all the zip-ties, mesh wiring and rope lights were ready to go, "Surfing Santa" was quietly kept in storage until its debut.

"We pack the family into the boat. It gets a little cramped, but we have a good time," Conte said.

Also included in the festivities were food and drinks, live music and a car show that featured a variety of vehicles ranging from Model Ts to Ferraris.

Donna Toussaint and her husband, Greg — who both moved to The Lakes in 1995 — founded the Festival of Lights in 2001.

"It was right after Sept. 11 and everyone felt so devastated," Toussaint said. "We decided to do something for our community to lift everyone's hopes and spirits."

What began as a neighborhood event with about 400 people multiplied as the years went on.

The Festival of Lights is now one of the biggest holiday celebrations in the Las Vegas Valley, Toussaint said. Although this year's expected turnout of 6,500 was cut in half by the chilly weather, she said it wouldn't hamper planning for next year.

"Our goal is just to bring people together to enjoy each other's company and the beginning of the holidays," Toussaint said.

The annual Electric Light Boat Parade, Conte said, brings out a little competitive spirit amongst the neighbors who live along Lake Sahara.

"This year, playing music and audio from your boat was the new thing," Conte said. "It's always getting bigger and better."

Jeff O’Brien can be reached at 990-8957 or [email protected].

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