DADE CITY -
Some were first time visitors. Others have been coming for years. Thousands of visitors strolled down Dade City's historic Church Avenue to take part in an annual tradition.
This year was the city's 33rd Church Street Christmas. The free, three-night event attracts anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 visitors, and this week's warm spell brought out huge crowds for the first night.
Dade City Police usually wait until 7 p.m. to close off the streets, but they have been closing them early due to the large crowds. As the sun went down, the crowds grew, and the luminary-lined street was shoulder to shoulder people.
They came to admire the lights, the decorations, the larger than life Christmas cards, and the entertainment. Most of all, they come to get into the holiday spirit.
"It's beautiful," 14-year-old Elizabeth Bradburn said. "We love the lights." Her family has come to Church Street Christmas every year since before she was born.
"We make it a tradition," her mom, Ruth Ann, said. "We drive down from Brooksville. We just love the small town feeling and the historic homes."
Betty and Carl Knepper spend their winters in Zephyrhills also make a point to come to Dade City every Christmas for the annual stroll. "We just enjoy it," Betty Knepper said. "The decorations, the entertainment, and the people - everyone is always so friendly."
Church Street Christmas, which concludes Thursday , is one of the largest festivals of its kind in Florida, and it draws tourists from across the Tampa Bay area.
Chris and Anna Riggenbach, musicians from Clearwater, said it was worth the drive. They met up with friends from Lakeland and paused to enjoy a jazzy performance by the Valerie Gillespie Ensemble, then disappeared into the crowd.
CHURCH STREET CHRISTMAS
WHEN: 7 to 9 p.m. today and Thursday
WHERE: historic Church Avenue, Dade City