UTPA hosts spectacular "Night of Lights" Friday
Contact: Scott Maier, Senior Editor 381-3639
Posted: 12/02/2000
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For the Lamas family, the Night of Lights holiday festival at The University of Texas-Pan American Friday afforded a rare opportunity to get out for a pleasant and entertaining evening.

Oneida Lamas, an Edinburg native, attended because her daughter, Maria Villanueva, 11, performed with the LBJ Elementary School Choir. She and her family stayed because of the atmosphere.

"This is great, and it's nice seeing all of the schools together," said Lamas. "I really loved the posada because of what it represents. It's getting closer to Christmas, and it's good to come out and enjoy the weather."

The La Joya Mariachi and Folkloric Dancers watch the fireworks conclude the second annual Night of Lights Dec. 1 at UTPA.

In addition to the Posada, a folk play depicting the search for shelter by Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem, there was also a visit by Santa and Mrs. Claus, a computer lab staffed by elves who helped young children e-mail Santa their Christmas lists, school choirs and musical groups, refreshments and a spectacular fireworks show.

In fact, the second annual event offered something for everyone, said organizers.

"This is a great event bringing together families and the community," said Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa. "We're looking forward for this event to grow as the years go by."

Campus police estimated nearly 5,000 people attended the event. Nearly 1,000 were at the posada, an annual tradition in many Latin American countries and among U.S. Hispanics.

Among the other performers were the First United Methodist Church Belles of Edinburg and Ballet Folklorico Internacional. The Edinburg elementary school choirs included Robert E. Lee, Freddy Gonzalez, Lyndon B. Johnson, Canterbury, San Carlos, De Escandon, Linda Treviño, De La Viña, De Zavala and Eisenhower.

A gingerbread house contest drew 10 entries. Beth Ruiz and Dana Villarreal won first in the adult division, and the Austin Middle School eighth-grade "Discovery Team" (Lori Aleman, Elaine Cadena, Jonathan Reyes, Hugo Salazar and Nallely Salinas) of Edinburg was tops in the children's category.

And, what holiday spectacular would be complete without a visit from Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus?

"He's real nice," said six-year-old Angelo Salinas. "I told him I wanted a pool set, and I've been good, so I think I'm going to get it."

With the help of UTPA engineering students, children also used the Internet to send letters to Santa, who immediately provided responses through his "Top Elf."

"From the responses I saw, I know that Santa wants lots of milk and cookies on the table when he arrives," said Lou Servantes of Career Placement Services, who helped coordinate the effort.

Engineering students estimated 100 children had written Santa in the first two hours of the event.

Then there were the fireworks. For nearly 20 minutes, the mild evening sky was illuminated with a variety of colors, drawing plenty of "oohs" and "aahs" from onlookers. La Joya High School Mariachis led the way to the fireworks area near the track and field.

Night of Lights was jointly sponsored by The City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and The University of Texas-Pan American.

UTPA Vice President for External Affairs Roland S. Arriola said the university would like to see the event grow each year.

"This is our way of reacquainting everyone to the university," Arriola said. "In 2002, we'll celebrate our 75th anniversary Valley-wide, so we're taking steps now to build up to that crescendo."