For more than 75 years, the Santa Maria Elks Club brought rodeo entertainment to fans of all ages.

When COVID-19 tripped them up, Elks volunteers took a leap into a new age of community entertainment in October with Haunted Hills, a drive-through thematic rodeo grounds experience that sold out in a haunted heartbeat.

Now they’re ramping up for another round of festive, family-friendly fun with Christmas in the Country.

“After our Haunted Hills experience, and seeing the joy of all the people who came in, it was just overwhelming, so humbling to see people so grateful for such an amazing event, that now Team Santa Maria is working twice as hard to make it even better,” said Elks Rodeo Chief Operations Officer Tina Tonascia.

The drive-through festival of holiday lights will include live dance and musical performances Friday, Nov. 27 through Sunday, Jan. 3. Tickets, available at elksrec.com, are $40 per vehicle, plus processing fees. Health and safety protocols will be followed in cooperation with county and state guidelines.

The coordinated effort includes the Elks, the City of Santa Maria Recreation and Parks Department, Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, various business partners and countless community volunteers.

“Supporting the Elks and Elks Recreation supports two groups I like to support: children and our veterans. Whatever the event is, that’s what Elks volunteers are here to do. It’s a good way to pay back all the good this community has done for me,” said Elks Parking Chairman Jerry Gunn.

Haunted Hills lines demonstrated the need for ticket holders to arrive at their reserved slot on time, not earlier, and Gunn hopes Christmas in the Country visitors will also stick with their reservation slots.

“When people started showing up at their arrival time, it went a lot smoother, they didn’t have to wait as long and we didn’t have the long line waiting. The thing to remember is that we’re all volunteers out here trying to help everyone have a good time. Since COVID took so much away, this is one way to give some of that back,” Gunn said.

Long-time volunteer Joey Silva heads the ground prep team while area businesses including St. Joseph High School and Duplicated Business Systems prepare seasonal displays.

Johnna Clark, of Dellos Performing Arts Center, is leading up the legions of performing artists who will perform in the Sugarplum Forest on the Gumdrop Stage. Dellos artists as well as performers from Coastal Youth Theater are already on board, with others filling the schedule.

“Rodeo is such an important part of our community; it’s the vehicle that gives back to so many nonprofits that we really felt the need to step up and help rodeo during this challenging year,” Clark said.

In addition to the drive-through, the venue will provide a separate drive-in performing arts experience for longer form entertainment: one-hour, live performances on a small stage which audience members may view via live stream or on site while sitting in the comfort and safety of their own vehicles. Performers already scheduled include Dellos Performing Arts Center, Central Coast Follies and James Way Band.

To be considered for a performance slot on either the Gumdrop Stage or the drive-in stage, contact Clark at johnna@DellosCentralCoast.com or call 805-570-4033.

The Elks are also introducing “Stuff the Stocking” to bring awareness to pediatric cancer. All stocking proceeds will go to the Golden Circle of Champions. The program is devoted to raising awareness of childhood cancer and provides financial support to families enduring childhood cancer.

To participate or for more information please call the Rodeo Office at (805) 925-4125 or email elksrodeo@elksrec.com

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