Mayor’s Cascade Christmas Lights honors children, police

For six years Mayor Paul Aziz has been collecting donations for the Lebanon Soup Kitchen while entertaining the community with his annual Cascade Christmas Lights show, but this year he’s made a few changes.

In addition to adding more props and lights, Aziz is collecting for Lebanon Kid Packs this year, and he’s also starting each show with all his lights turned blue to recognize the police force.

“The concept is to honor our police officers who do not get recognized most of the time,” he said.

Aziz got the idea from Kevin Dunn in South Carolina, who recently started a national campaign called A Blue Christmas to show thanks to those who serve and protect.

“I am including Linn County and the state because they also get forgotten,” Aziz said. “I wanted to recognize them because they both work near and with us here in Lebanon.”

The Blue Tribute is the most meaningful change in this year’s show for Aziz, but having an opportunity to give to a worthy, local cause is also important, he said.

For the last six years, Cascade Christmas Lights has collected a total of $6,052 and 2,516 pounds of food in donations from the community for the Lebanon Soup Kitchen. This year, Aziz is focusing on the Lebanon Kid Packs program at the Lebanon Community School District.

“This program is really important because the kids that get these backpacks may not [otherwise] get a good meal over the weekend,” he said.

Roseanne Hartness, community liaison at the school district, started the program about five years ago to help feed children who were struggling to access food during the weekends, she said.

“This is one reason why we have the backpack program, and I’m going to cry when I say this,” Hartness said. “One of the schools that’s on the backpack program called me and said, ‘Roseanne, we just found some kids rummaging through the garbage for food to take home.’”

Hartness said she immediately added those children to the program. She noted she “just had to” start the program because too many children are going hungry.

Although there are several food programs available for families, they might not have food that’s appropriate for children to fix for themselves if the parents are not available to do it, she said.

Each child in the program has their own backpack filled with food for them to take home every weekend. Currently, there are about 126 children in the program, which covers Cascades, Green Acres, Pioneer, Lacomb, Hamilton Creek, and Seven Oak schools.

Hartness was grateful when Aziz approached her with the idea to collect donations for the program during the light show, she said.

“Whenever anybody does something for my kids, it’s Christmas to me,” she said. “It shows the town cares about our kids.”

Other changes to Cascade Christmas Lights include the addition of five lighted archways in the driveway, three present props under the tree, and four painted Olaf rocks, based on the snowman in the movied “Frozen,” hidden somewhere in the community.

If someone finds one of them, they just bring it up to the display any night between 6 and 9 p.m., and they will receive a “Frozen” prize, Aziz said.

The first rock has already been discovered and redeemed for a stuffed “Frozen” character, Sven the reindeer, he said. That rock is now hiding once again somewhere in Lebanon.

And, as usual, Aziz’s number of lights grows every year.

Two years ago he had 40,000 lights; this year he has more than 50,000. But Aziz said the number of lights isn’t what’s so interesting; it’s the use of pixels in each bulb that blows his mind.

The pixels are like little computer chips within each bulb, he explained.

A few years ago Aziz would have one strand of color per channel that he could control, and he used about 250 channels, he said. Today, each “smart” bulb has three LED colors – red, green, and blue –that can create one of any 16 million colors, giving Aziz thousands of channels to control.

“The technology is really making things exciting, and you can do a lot more each year with the new technology that is constantly coming out,” he said.

Still, it can take up to 40 hours for Aziz to program one song with the lights, plus the hours of work building up the display, which is done with the help of friends George Cawrse and Joshua Fair.

Cascade Christmas Lights hosts two different shows – Polar Express and Frozen – that are displayed on alternative nights, with each light show lasting seven songs before it starts over again.

“The best thing about this show is going out in front to watch the show with others and seeing the kids singing and dancing,” Aziz said. “We get comments all the time how this has become a family tradition each year for many families.”

Cascade Christmas Lights – located at 312 E. Sherman St. in Lebanon – starts every year on Thanksgiving night, and runs nightly through Jan. 1. Shows air between 6 to 11 p.m. every night, and can be heard in the warmth of your car by tuning the radio to 100.9 FM.