Tumbleweed Christmas Tree in downtown Chandler

Chandler workers Frank Martinez, left, and Gabriel Mungvia put the finishing touches on the Tumbleweed Christmas Tree in downtown Chandler.

As temperatures drop and Christmas nears, Gilbert and other East Valley communities are gearing up this week for the holiday season with parades, tree lighting ceremonies and more.

Gilbert is adding its own flair to Christmas tree-lighting ceremonies by decking out its iconic water tower instead. 

Residents will have the opportunity to gather on Dec. 2 under the Heritage District’s historic white tower to watch the landmark light up for the season. 

From 6 to 8:30 p.m., free carriage rides will be available on top of food trucks, local vendor booths and a musical performance by The Real Thing Variety Band – a local group specializing in Blues, Country, Funk, Jazz and more. 

“The holidays are a time to come together and celebrate and I am proud, here in Gilbert, we provide a variety of events and traditions to help our community do just that,” said Mayor Jenn Daniels. 

Gilbert’s Riparian Preserve will also come to life with a holiday glow, allowing visitors to stroll through its candle-lit trail at the Water Ranch Lake. 

Throughout December, attendees can witness hundreds of luminaries and numerous light displays scattered throughout the trail while listening to school choirs and other carolers. 

During each night of the event, Gilbert will partner with a local non-profit agency to collects items to distribute to those in need. 

On Dec. 6, the organization will be Gilbert Promotional Corporation/Galloping Soles; for Dec. 7, AZCEND; Dec. 13, Gilbert Fire and Rescue; Dec. 14, Maricopa Animal Rescues; Dec. 20, Open Arms Food Bank; and Dec. 21, St. Vincent de Paul.

All event times will run 5:30-9 p.m.

Mesa Merry Main Street

Mesa’s Merry Main Street is already underway and runs until Jan. 4 with a series of Christmas-themed attractions downtown. 

Several features include the city’s official Christmas tree, sponsored by the Mesa Chamber of Commerce, on Macdonald north of Main Street, as well as the Winter Wonderland Ice Rink, which sits just outside of City Plaza. 

The rink – which is more than 5,000 square feet – offers skaters a chance to “enjoy the weather while skating under the stars,” said city spokesman Steven Wright. 

“It has a very homey feeling but it’s still very popular,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people go down there and get engaged or have kids come down there for family reunions.”  

Tickets for one hour of skate time, complete with skates, cost $10 per person or $8 per person for groups of 20 or more. 

Other key attractions are the Mesa Christmas Market, Jack Frost’s Food Truck Forest, Santa’s sELFie Village, free visits with Santa and rides on the Polar Express.

Although it’s in its fifth consecutive year, said Wright, Merry Main is a resurrection of a 90s weekend tradition, it later tanked during the recession. 

“The reason why we’re able to do this now is because we go out and spend a lot of time getting sponsors to help underwrite the event,” he said.

“When the mayor [John Giles] said he wanted to bring it back he wanted it to be inexpensive,” Wright continued. “I think what makes it unique is our focus to make it affordable fun and family-friendly.”

All festivities and attractions begin at 5 p.m. and run until 10 p.m. Information: merrymainst.com.

Chandler Tumbleweed Tree

Chandler will host its annual Tumbleweed Tree Lighting and Parade of Lights on Dec. 7 at the Dr. A.J. Chandler Park.

A hallmark of the holiday season since 1957, the tree stands at over 50 feet tall and is comprised of 2,000 tumbleweeds, 25 gallons of paint and 65 pounds of glitter. 

“First and foremost, we’re the only ones with a tumbleweed Christmas tree,” said Chandler spokesperson Craig Younger. “Not a lot of people can imitate it because it’s so unique.”

“It’s a great thing for people to bring families down to when they’re visiting and have a photo in front of it – it’s quite the conversation piece,” he added. 

Visits with Santa will also be available accompanied by musical performances and savory and sweet food vendors.  

The Parade of Lights – which features a wide range of participants from businesses to nonprofits to churches and covers about a mile through downtown Chandler – will kick off the event at 6:45 p.m., with the tree lighting ceremony set to begin at approximately 8 p.m. 

Admission is free. 

Lighted boats in Tempe

Tempe offers a different kind of parade experience, with its 20th Annual Fantasy of Lights Board Parade on Dec. 14.

Each year, the city invites the community to gather on the shores of the Tempe Town Lake to watch a procession of festively decorated boats of all shapes and sizes. 

“Like all of our events, it’s very community-focused,” said Downtown Tempe Authority spokeswoman Jazmine Reyes.

“It’s the only time motorized boats are allowed on the lake,” she added. “We have one exception for this event – it’s a different kind of nighttime experience.”  

Starting at the Town Lake Marina, the U-shaped parade route travels west and turns right at the light rail bridge, where the boats will begin to make their way back east on Tempe Town Lake along the north shore. 

Downtown Tempe Authority will also be collecting unopened jars of peanut butter during the event on behalf of the Tempe Community Action Agency, which seeks to help hungry individuals and families during the holiday season. 

“Our goal is to collect 500 jars of peanut butter,” said Reyes. 

Donations will be accepted near the main entertainment stage. 

Viewers can indulge in on-site food options, check off some shopping at the Holiday Market, take a selfie with Santa Claus, or enjoy beer or wine while watching live entertainment. 

Live entertainment will begin at 4 p.m. and the parade will kick off promptly at 7 p.m.