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Christmas festival is a 40-year Sonora tradition

Richard Burleigh was a stained glass artist with a vision: to have a family fun festival that would have attractions for all ages. In 1975 Burleigh’s vision came to fruition as he created the Sonora Christmas Festival. As a stained glass artist, he realized there were not many festivals that featured his craft in Sonora, thus he put his idea into motion. The festival featured crafts from stained glass to fabricated gold and plenty of activities geared toward youngsters. Now more than 40 years later, Burleigh’s vision has become a tradition in Sonora every November.

“Richard passed away in January, so this one is going to be tough on us, but we wanted to keep his legacy alive,” Burleigh’s widow Corinne Grandstaff said of her late husband. “He was proud of the festival. He enjoyed the kids’ faces when they saw the train, Santa, his elves and decorations.”

The weekend gets into high gear with the 36th annual Winter Wonderland Christmas Parade in historic downtown Sonora at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 25 and from there the parade attendees flock to the festival.

This year nearly 10,000 are expected to attend the three day festival. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 25 and Nov. 26; and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 27., with activities (except for the parade) staged at the Sonora Mother Lode Fairgrounds. Attendees will be treated to over 150 different craft booths, where shoppers can get their Christmas shopping done. Items available are expected to include pottery, metal buckles, custom signs, fabricated gold and silver jewelry, wooden walking sticks, stained glass, photographs, hand woven baskets, Christmas ornaments and more.

Live entertainment has been scheduled for all three days including local favorites Sourdough Slim, Joe Craven, Chris Stevens and Bob Cole. Stevens and Cole performed at the inaugural Sonora Christmas Festival. Other entertainment attractions include Little Fuller Band, Gottschalk Music Center Concert Big Band, Fun Strummers Ukulele Orchestra, Captain Jack Spareribs, Mirth and Glee Singers, Katrina and Scotty Comedy Jugglers, The Brothers Strong and Co. and Coyote Hill.

There will be plenty to keep the kids happy and amused as Santa Claus himself will be attending the event. Kids will be able to take free photos with Santa and his elves and will also be able to tell him what it is that they want this holiday season. A unique feature to the festival is the Knights Express Train. The large train will allow passengers of all ages to tour the fairgrounds while it is decorated.

“Everyone loves the train rides. It gives everyone a chance to look at the fairgrounds in another light,” Grandstaff said.

Festival goers will not leave on an empty stomach. A wide variety of food items will be available as vendors from all over the state of California will be set up to satisfy your hunger. Local favorite Old Skool Wood Fired Pizza Pie will be there to serve pizza and other favorites. Other vendors include Road Dog Café with tri tip, chicken, pork, sausage sandwiches, hot dogs and seafood chowder. Peppe’s Mexican Meals will be out there if you want a more of a south of the border feel. Peppe’s will be serving tacos, burritos, nachos and more. For the dessert lovers, The Chocolate Factory will be in attendance with chocolate dipped cones, cheesecake, bacon, fruit and more. Adults will be able to unwind at the Sierra Waldorf School where they will be selling beer, wine and other seasonal drinks.

As the holiday season draws near, the festival has your four legged friends covered too. The popular Doggie Stockings by Tuolumne County Humane Society return to the festival and the Sonora Cat Rescue will also be at the festival seeking homes for rescued kittens.

Festival admission for adults is $8, seniors and students are $5, kids six to 12 will cost $2 and children six and under are free with adult admission. On Sunday only, a dollar discount will be given upon entry if you bring in a can for their canned food drive to the Christmas Can Tree and other organizations. For more information on the festival, visit