TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Thanksgiving is the beginning of Tampa Bay’s Festival of Lights and Santa’s Village at the Hillsborough County Fairgrounds — and this year, they have some special nights for you and the family.
There are more than 1 million lights at the fairgrounds stretching about two miles. There’s live entertainment and a holiday market on Fridays and Saturdays. There’s an inflatable snow tube, holiday-themed rides, you can visit Santa, ride camels, watch holiday movies and eat tasty treats.
There are a few special dates, including one where proceeds will go to Tampa’s wounded warrior project and another where the fairgrounds will support members of the military and first responders.
Jenny Klimantova brought her daughter along after they had Thanksgiving dinner.
“It’s my favorite time of the year,” Klimantova said.
Not everybody is happy about traditional Thanksgiving Holiday celebrations.
Along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa in front of the Christopher Columbus statue, Native Americans weren’t giving thanks, they were mourning.
“I think there’s a lot more people who understand what’s going on,” said Sheridan Murphy with the Florida Indigenous Alliance.
On the National Day of Mourning, Indigenous people say they remember their ancestors who were murdered by uninvited European colonists hundreds of years ago.
“Columbus is kind of like the virus that started all the genocide and the problems that continue to this day,” Murphy said.
For years, the group has set up and sat right up on the statue, but to their surprise Thursday, there’s now a fence keeping them out.
“My reaction to it was confusion and anger,” Murphy said.
There was no clear answer from the city Thursday as to why the fence is up. Murphy says they won’t stop campaigning to get it removed.
“I don’t know if Tampa’s trying to create a little safe space of no native prayer or if they’re trying to protect the genocide, or either way, it’s wrongheaded and that fence needs to go,” Murphy said. “You don’t have statues to Micanopy or Osceola in Tampa, you don’t have a statue to Medgar Evers or Emmett Till or Sylvester Carriere from Rosewood here in Tampa, all of which would be pertinent to Tampa. But you do have a statue to a guy that never came to Tampa and his claim to fame is starting the genocide of indigenous people.”
Back at the fairgrounds, Christmas can’t come soon enough.
“For me, it’s Christmas already, I love it,” Klimantova said.
You can get more information about Tampa Bay’s Festival of Lights and Santa’s Village here.