There's no doubt what Immokalee, as a community, wants for Christmas. At the Christmas Around the World Parade and Gala Saturday evening, the high school football team was front and center.
Wearing their red and white uniforms, and in a few cases a red and white Santa cap, team members of the Immokalee Indians circulated and turned the carnival into a pep rally, with the cheerleaders, the marching band and speakers exhorting the team to win one more game on Friday. If they do, the Indians will be the Class 5A state champions, and that title was on top of everyone's wish list.
Safety Jevon Alberique, a junior, leaped on his friend Nicholas Garza in excitement when he saw him.
"Oh yeah, we're coming back with that trophy, I hope," said Alberique. "We've come too far not to make it now."
Along with the football players, another larger than life individual dressed in red and white drew a lot of attention Saturday night. Santa Claus touched down by helicopter on the field, prompting a mad dash from the tents and attractions to the landing site, and then back, once Mr. Claus climbed aboard a utility vehicle and headed to the tent where he posed for photos with an endless line of children.
Priscilla and Yosleni Alva were excited to get their picture on Santa's lap, but little sister Kimberly wanted nothing to do with the strange bearded man, and howled in protest as soon as dad handed her over to him. Santa himself was waiting for a promised electric fan to arrive and cool him off.
Another big draw for the kids was the hundreds of free bicycle helmets, along with light kits, handed out by the Florida Department of Transportation. Austin Neale, 5, grinned with delight as he sported his new helmet. He just learned to ride without training wheels, said his mom, as volunteer Wendy Hernandez adjusted Austin's straps.
The Eden Park Dancers, a high-energy troupe from Eden Park Elementary School, packed the bleachers and garnered an enthusiastic response for their dance numbers.
The food vendors, many fundraising for their charitable causes, did a steady business. The "around the world" in the event's title, if it referred to the cuisine choices, leaned heavily toward Mexico, with some down-home and cowboy specialties thrown in.
Maria's Latin Food cooked up mountains of tacos, arepas, plantains, tamales, roasted turkey legs, along with platters of shish kebab. The Project Graduation booth sold chili dogs and chips for $3, and for a couple more, towering Indian tacos, with chili, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese and hot sauce built over a bed of chunks of Seminole frybread.
One popular treat, the Frito pie, was featured at the Friendship Baptist Church tent. The recipe? Open bag of Fritos, dump in chili and canned cheese sauce. Bon appétit.
There was a midway with carnival games and a funhouse, bounce houses and tethered trampolines. But the biggest draw for the smallest fairgoers was the snow. Mounds of manufactured snow gave off a steamy vapor, looking like photographs of the Matterhorn. The sight enticed kids to climb up, horse around and then slide down, although with the snow melting fast, it was plenty cold on the hands and posteriors once they got wet. Despite the attendants' efforts, many snowballs were quickly assembled and thrown.
Before the gala, the Christmas Around the World Parade lined the streets with spectators and conveniently terminated at the fairgrounds. Lake Trafford Elementary School won the Best All Around Float Entry, followed by the Guadalupe Center of Immokalee, and Walgreens for the best commercial float.
A brief sprinkle of rain as the parade ended chased away a few people, but the droplets ceased, the night was beautiful and the community enjoyed a beautiful event. In all, more than 6,500 turned out, said event organizer Cherryle Thomas.