A bonfire, food and more were part of at an outdoor Christmas event held Saturday, Dec. 19, in downtown Vale. (Amy Eddy/Special to the Enterprise)

VALE – Travis Schneider put Vale in the holiday mood Saturday night, giving as many as 1,000 people a chance to forget about the pains and problems of the pandemic.

There was hot chocolate, and hot dogs. Local girls dressed as elves. Singers climbed aboard a flatbed trailer to let loose with Christmas carols.

Schneider, a Vale businessman, organized the holiday gathering on an empty lot he owns in the heart of town, at the intersection of U.S. Highway 26 and Washington Street.

There were four lighted stations featuring holiday scenes, from a Festival of Trees collection to a nativity display.

Kids scrambled up and down a hay bale pyramid.

Folks gathered around two big bonfires, chowing down on 20 or so heated pots with everything from chili to soup – and all for free.

Schneider estimates they made their way through 1,500 hot dogs.

And Santa was there too, paying close attention to wish lists and handing out candy canes.

Among those attending was Tom Vialpando, Vale mayor-elect, and Travis Johnson, Malheur County undersheriff.

The informal event kicked off at 4 p.m. and went through 8 p.m., advertised through word of mouth. People driving by also saw the lights and activities stopped to join the fun, Schneider said.

At 5 p.m., everyone paused for a prayer for the community and then the lights came on. Later, carolers took their turns, including a local family “and some young kids who wanted to sing by themselves,” Schneider said.

He said the “coolest thing” was the number of local senior citizens who came out.

“One lady told us her house felt like a prison,” Schneider said. “She felt like she was free for the night.”

Schneider said the Christmas event follows a similar informal community event he organized for Halloween. He said he put on the event with others because Covid had taken away so many Halloween traditions for local kids. He estimated 2,000 people attended that.

Then, he said, he started getting calls urging him to do something similar for Christmas.

“I probably had 25 to 30 phone calls from people” urging a holiday event and promising to help with time and money. He said a group of about 10 people helped orchestrate the event.

He said he consulted an attorney to be sure he didn’t run afoul of Covid restrictions.

Schneider said people seemed to enjoy getting together and talking.

He said he plans a little less robust event for New Year’s Eve – a couple of bonfires to warm people ahead of the community’s annual fireworks show.

The fireworks are scheduled to go off at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 31, organized by community volunteer Dwight Keller and sponsored by the Vale Community Club.

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