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Venessa Ontiveros, 6, of Pleasant Hill, sits atop her dad Jose's shoulders to get a view of the Christmas Tree during the fifth annual Light up the Night tree-lighting in downtown Pleasant Hill, Calif., on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The event also featured pictures with Santa, the Studio A Dancers, horse-drawn carriage rides, and a holiday arts and crafts fair. (Doug Duran/Staff)

With the holiday season here, communities are brimming with plenty of good cheer, as people gather for Santa sightings, caroling and savoring sweet treats.

The festive season kicks off this Saturday in Martinez with a debut holiday boutique to raise money for Christmas for Everyone, the nonprofit that provides gifts and a meal for thousands each year.

The idea for the fundraiser came following news of the Christmas for Everyone warehouse being burglarized last February, severely decimating its inventory of furnishings, cookware, gifts and clothing.

"I can't imagine kids not having a Christmas," says Martinez resident and fundraiser organizer Gay Gerlack. "I'd do anything I could to achieve this."

In Pleasant Hill, the city's annual Light Up The Night event on Wednesday, Dec. 4, along Crescent Drive is a magnet for families to stroll downtown, enjoying complementary hot chocolate and cookies, free carriage rides, music and dance performances. A first Elf on the Shelf treasure hunt is also planned.

"It's a very festive, family-oriented event," says Martin Nelis, the city's public information officer.

Young people, ages 8-14, from the Lamorinda Theatre Academy Ensemble will be performing, along with the jazz band and concert choir from College Park High School and the Studio A dancers.

"(This holiday tradition) helps the performers as well as the audience get into the holiday spirit," says the ensemble's owner Rena Wilson.

"It's wonderful to give this gift of singing and dancing that we've been given," she says.

The repertoire includes such favorites as "Oh Hanukkah," "Let it Snow," and "Marshmallow World."

The holiday kickoff in Martinez starts Friday, Dec. 6, with the annual Holiday Frolic. The city staff is still seeking volunteers to help out.

Children can once again go to Reindeer Flight School earning a certificate of completion signed with Rudolph's footprint.

"They learn leaping, jumping, tiptoeing, prancing, package handling and jingle bell ringing," says recreation coordinator Barbara Patchin.

The popular stop for weekend visitors is sliding down a snowy mini-slope and the Main Street Plaza snow park. Other planned activities include an iceless skate rink at Main and Estudillo streets, Santa visits and tree lighting.

The Children's Light Parade, with participants donning reindeer antlers and riding decorated wagons, bikes and trikes, sparkles with the addition of 600 light wands, donated by the city.

Visitors can also stop by the gingerbread house, enjoy crafts along Candy Cane Lane, and sip hot cocoa with Frosty.

season's greetings
  • In Pleasant Hill: Light up the Night, 5-8 p.m. Dec. 4, Crescent Drive downtown. Free carriage rides, holiday arts and crafts fair, free hot chocolate, coffee and cookies. There is an Elf on the Shelf treasure hunt, music and caroling, free pictures with Santa and the tree lighting at 6 p.m. For details, visit http://www.ci.pleasant-hill.ca.us/index.aspx?NID=800.
  • In Martinez, Holiday Frolic from Dec. 6-8 at various locations along and adjacent to Main Street downtown. There is a snow park, skating rink, children's light parade, Santa visits, activity booths, and tree lighting. For a complete schedule of events, visit http://www.cityofmartinez.org/civicax/filebank/blobdload.aspx?BlobID=10231