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‘Christmas in the Country’ opens with steady stream of vehicles at Santa Maria rodeo grounds
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‘Christmas in the Country’ opens with steady stream of vehicles at Santa Maria rodeo grounds

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A steady stream of cars rolled through the Santa Maria Elks Unocal Event Center in half-hour increments over a three-hour period Friday night as “Christmas in the Country” opened for a six-week run.

Presented by Santa Maria Elks Recreation in lieu of this year’s canceled Elks Rodeo, the drive-through holiday celebration drew carloads of people who listened to holiday music as they viewed scenes in more than a dozen specialty areas.

Cars arriving at the Event Center entrance were greeted by carhops from Crave Donuts, who took orders and delivered fresh donuts, hot chocolate and coffee for the purchasers to enjoy as they serpentined among the scenes set up along a course more than 2 miles long.

Real camels named Riata, Eli and Mack, two water buffalos named LaVerne and Shirley joined donkeys, sheep and goats, all from Oliver Livestock, to help populate the live Nativity scene.

Elsewhere, Santa’s elves joined other characters at individual sets, ranging from serious to humorous, created by businesses, organizations and Elks Recreation volunteers.

Some scenes, interspersed with tunnels of lights, were drawn from traditional holiday tales while others were taken from popular Christmas movies, and some were dreamed up entirely by their creators.

“We have some amazing scenes,” agreed Tina Tonascia, chief operations officer for Elks Recreation, adding that businesses and organizations were “very creative” in designing their sets.

“It’s very unique,” Tonascia said. “It’s not your typical drive-through of just holiday lights. We have lots of surprises in store for people.”

Santa and Mrs. Claus were there to celebrate opening night, and Tonascia said they plan to attend all the drive-throughs.

Even so, children who brought their letters to Santa dropped them into a special mailbox for delivery straight to the North Pole, and Tonascia said Santa intends to personally respond to each one.

The drive-through is limited to 100 vehicles per night, and tickets are not sold at the gate but must be purchased in advance.

“We’re super-excited tickets are starting to fly off,” Tonascia said, advising people who want to visit the drive-through to buy tickets early. “Don’t wait thinking you can get them later.”

She said Elks Recreation is hoping “Christmas in the Country” will provide a bit of relief from the stress of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re at a time when our holiday cheer will be a bright light for them,” Tonascia said.

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The following is taken from the Santa Maria Police Department's calls-for-service log and the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office daily arrest log. Those appearing as "arrested" are only suspected of the crime indicated but are presumed innocent.

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