Nov./Dec. 2013 California Bountiful magazine
Story by Christine Souza
Photo by Matt Knowles
Ferndale charms with lighted tractor parade.
Dairy farmer Dennis Leonardi, aka "Santa Claus," made part of this entry for the Ferndale parade out of recycled material from his farm.
Known for redwood trees, Victorian architecture and dairy farms, the community of Ferndale on California's North Coast glows each December with thousands of white and brightly colored twinkle lights. But the lights aren't sparkling only along the town's historic Main Street. For the past 21 years, they have also decorated tractors, paying homage to Ferndale's role as an agricultural center.
On a crisp Sunday evening (Dec. 15 this year), residents and visitors from all across the U.S. gather for the Ferndale Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade in its Victorian Village. After the sun goes down and streetlamps come alive, farmers and ranchers parade fancifully decorated tractors and tractor-drawn wagons depicting holiday scenes down Main Street, rain or shine.
"There are a lot of occasions that mark time in a year—the first swallows showing up, the first day of spring or Thanksgiving. This (parade) is something that marks time for my family and this community," said Ferndale dairy farmer Dennis Leonardi, aka "Santa Claus," who has designed tractor displays from classic nutcrackers to a surfing Santa, using up to 70,000 lights. "This is a treasured tradition that has been alive in Ferndale and is part of this community. It's a fun, creative event."
Finding inspiration for his designs, Leonardi said, happens most often while farming. "When you sit on a tractor or milk cows for a long time, you have a lot of time to be creative," he said.
For Main Street shop owner Karen Pingitore, who is also president of the Ferndale Chamber of Commerce, the parade is "an incredible effort on the part of local dairymen and farmers who design some unbelievable floats and lighted tractors. It's phenomenal that a town of 1,380 people would manage to have something so fantastic and unique."
See a lighted tractor parade in Ferndale or Calistoga
Decorated tractors light up the Humboldt County community of Ferndale and the Napa Valley community of Calistoga each year during the holiday season. There's no charge for these family-friendly tractor parades, which are held rain or shine.
21st Annual Ferndale Christmas Lighted Tractor Parade
Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m.
Local farmers and ranchers parade fancifully decorated tractors and tractor-drawn wagons depicting holiday scenes down the Victorian Village's historic Main Street.
More information: www.victorianferndale.com or 707-786-4477
18th Annual Calistoga Lighted Tractor Parade
Saturday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m.
Organizers call the parade, which pays tribute to the region's agricultural heritage, "the ultimate small-town holiday celebration." See vintage and modern tractors, antique trucks and construction equipment bedecked with lights parade down Calistoga's charming main street.
More information: www.visitcalistoga.com or 707-942-6333
Photos from the 2012 parade in Calistoga show that rain didn't dampen the enthusiasm of participants or spectators. Courtesy of Calistoga Visitors Center.