During the days leading up to Seaside’s Parade of Lights, Hillcrest Inn guest manager Ruth Swensen said walking into her hotel can “seem like a madhouse.”
In a back room of the Hillcrest House, tables are piled with strings of lights, nutcracker hats, tree decals and a variety of other holiday decorations. Hanging off the backs of chairs are elaborately made nutcracker coats that have lights woven into the fabric, flickering on and off. Around the table, three business owners debate the merits of different-sized snowflake decals for different costumes.
“I know it looks crazy, but it’s taken a lot of years for us to come this far,” Swensen said.
The stockpile of holiday doodads is a snapshot of all the work Swensen and her friends put into creating the Hillcrest Inn’s float for the Parade of Lights, one of many events that make up the festival “Yuletide in Seaside,” now in its 44th year.
From the day after Thanksgiving to Sunday, Nov. 26, the holiday festival, sponsored by Pacific Power, will feature caroling, a tree lighting, the Seaside Artisan Gift Fair and a parade down Broadway Street, said Brian Owen, executive director of the Seaside Chamber of Commerce.
“A lot of what we do is for the tourists,” Owen said. “This is the one time we really get to touch the community.”
Swensen started participating in the Parade of Lights about seven years ago. While the float entry is under the Hillcrest Inn name, the inspiration to join came from two special guests.
“I have these two girls, Hannah and Lydia, who have been staying at the Hillcrest since they were babies. Every year they have come to Seaside to see the parade,” Swensen said. “One day they told me, ‘We should be in the parade,’ and I said, ‘Why not?’ I’ve always liked to dress up, anyway.”
Since then, Swensen, with the help of other community members and hotel guests, create costumes and build floats designed around the themes these two girls choose each year. This year, the girls chose to be reindeer.
“We’ve had all sorts of themes. Frosty the Snowman, elves, fairy princesses,” Swensen said. “We started with just a little wagon. Since then, one of our guests, who also loves to see the parade, gave us a trailer, which we use now. We had a bus one year, but the girls didn’t like that because they couldn’t hand out candy to people.”
‘We all love Ruth’
With Swensen are her two friends and fellow business owners, Sai Rajsavong, of Sea Sai Salon, and Alexa Anderson, of Shear Pleasures Salon and Spa, who help turn these holiday fantasies into reality.
Rajsavong first met Swensen about seven years ago at a Halloween costume contest, and has since donated his time and the tailoring skills his mother taught him to making costumes for each year’s parade participants.
In keeping with the Parade of Lights theme, Rajsavong said he incorporates about 100 strings of lights total into the costumes.
“I just enjoy the holiday spirit and all of the lights,” Rajsavong said. “And Ruth. We all love Ruth.”
Anderson met Swensen first as a hotel guest a few years ago, when she had just come to town and was looking for a house and a job. Like Rajsavong, she enjoys leaning into the holiday spirit.
“We all have different ideas to contribute, and we don’t always agree, but overall it’s just so much fun,” Anderson said. “When you know Ruth, you know she will always get you involved with something.”
Passing on the tradition
With the costumes, the float and all of the organizing in between, planning for this parade takes a fair amount of time.
But as the years have gone on, more and more guests have become interested in the parade. Most of her guests are the type who return to Seaside year after year, decade after decade, in the same room during the same week, Swensen said, making the hotel feel more like a transient community than a business.
Several guests come specifically that week for the parade, and some even join the float’s walking contingent after they check into their rooms. Others, eschewing the spotlight, still come out to cheer on the Inn’s float, Swensen said.
“Of all the things people see and remember while they are here, it’s this parade that sticks. They pass the tradition down to their children,” Swensen said. “It’s easy to put in the time when it means so much to them.”