Monday, June 21, 2004

Founders Day Festivities

After closing on our home in August, we were anxious for our first Founders Day, which is celebrated in mid-September. It is a real, honest-to-goodness hometown holiay, commemorating the founding of Celebration. I'm not sure which "founding," since there have been a lot of milestones (the day the homes went up for sale, the initial groundbreaking, the day the first resident moved in, etc.), but it doesn't matter. To me, any reason is good enough to have a town-wide party.

The biggest item on my Founders Day agenda was to get in the town photo. It's an amazing feat, as the idea is to get a photo of every Celebration resident gathered all at once in Lakeside Park. Of course, not everyone shows up, but there is a respectable number. This year, there was even a carrot on a stick to help entice the reluctant people: a free raffle for everyone who participated, with prizes donated by the local businesses. The photographer goes up on a crane, everyone says "Cheese," and voila! Another year in Celebration's history is commemorated for the ages.

My husband could have cared less about the photo, but he knew that the local restaurants would have booths set up. That meant he could indulge in some sangria from the Columbia. Also, both he and I were looking forward to the unveiling of the bricks. Each year, at the base of the flagpole on Celebration Avenue, near the school, bricks are inscribed with the names of all the people who purchased new houses in the past year. We couldn't wait to see "our" brick, immortalizing our dream home. The unveiling was set for shortly before the town photo, so we figured we'd find our brick and then mosey over to Lakeside Park, a short walk away.

At the brick unveiling, we were as excited as kids at an Easter egg hunt, searching with all the other enthusiastic newcomers for our own little piece of immortality, Celebration-style. My husband searched in one area while I scoped out another, but we were having no luck. Our next door neighbors were there, too, so I told him to look for their brick as well. Someone heard me say their name and shouted, "Their brick is right here!" Sure enough, there it was. That gave me renewed hope that ours would eventually turn up.

We searched and searched, and photo time was rapidly approaching. Just when I was about to lose hope, we finally located our brick. Of course, we had to act like tourists and take a bunch of photos. In pondering the length of our search, I realized that the bricks could be used as an initiation rite for newbies, sort of like a fraternity initiation.

I can just picture it now: Tell all the new residents that there is a brick in their name, but of course there are NO new bricks. Have a few shills planted among the crowd to occasionally yell out, "I found mine!" so the newbies won't get suspicious too quickly. Finally, after they are ready to go crazy from fruitless searching, let them in on the joke. Perhaps the last person to give up the search could even win some sort of prize. I know, I know, I have a cruel sense of humor!

At any rate, we found our brick in time to head over to Lakeside Park for the raffle and photo. As you headed to the photo area, you received your free raffle ticket. Then you staked out your spot among the others who were rapidly gathering to be a part of the 2003 town picture. There was an area marked off on the grass with tape in which we were all supposed to position ourselves.

I noticed that several people had interesting strategies for standing out in the crowd. Loud clothing seemed to be the most common (myself, I was wearing my yellow Celebration shirt), but one enterprising woman was wearing a set of rabbit ears. I've seen "Stitch ears" at one of the Disney stores, so maybe I'll make my own fashion statement next year.

My personal strategy for easy location was to choose an end spot. Hubby and I jockeyed for position as the crowd continued to swell. Finally, it was photo time, and the photographer on the crane somehow managed to get us all in the picture. Of course, we didn't get to see the results right away, but the print showed up in the next issue of Celebration News (the official Town Hall newsletter), and copies were available for purchase. Since it was our first year, I had to buy one. I went all out and purchased a large copy, despite an obscene price, that is now framed and hanging in our hall.

I highly recommend displaying your Founders Day photo if you have one. We quickly learned that guests love to play "Where's Waldo?" and try to find us among the crowd. Surprisingly, many of them don't ever manage to locate us; I thought we were pretty easy to spot, since we're right on the end. Maybe that's a bit too obvious, and they're thinking it will be more of a challenge.

After the photo, everyone crowded around to see if they were holding a lucky raffle ticket. But in order to see if you were a winner, you had to pay a bit of "tribute" by sticking around for the award presentations that came first. Various people were honored for their community service, and a number of new rocking chairs were dedicated. Everyone waited politely, if a bit impatiently, and soon enough it was time for the part that everyone was waiting for: PRIZES!

The grand prize was an overnight stay and dinner at the Celebration Hotel. There were also two first prizes of golf at the Celebration Golf Club. In addition, there were dozens of other items such as gift certificates from various local restaurants and shops like Barnie's, Herman's, and Seito.

As we waited for the numbers to be called, I nudged hubby and said, "Just you watch. I bet I'll win the golf!" I firmly believe that God has a sense of humor; I have never golfed in my life, and neither has my husband, unless you count the miniature variety. So I figured it would be a good divine joke if I won the one prize that I would have no real use for.

The winner of the hotel package was announced, and then came the first golf award. The number was announced, I looked at the ticket in my hand...and, lo and behold, I had won!! I was totally in shock. As I walked up to get my award, I just kept mumbling to myself, "But I don't golf! I don't golf!" I'm not familiar with golfing prices, but apparently I had just one a relatively valuable award.

My husband and I are much more into fine dining than learning to play to new game, so I stuck around while the rest of the prizes were awarded and traded with someone who'd won a Seito gift certificate. It was worth considerably less than the golf, but it didn't matter to me. I just wanted something we could use, and the golf went to someone who would appreciate it properly. My nephew, who is a golfer, would have probably loved to play on the Celebration course, but unfortunately he wasn't coming to visit until the following summer, when the certificate would be expired.

Founders Day festivities continue throughout the day, and the big capper is a fireworks display over the lake. This year, it was sponsored by the developer of Artisan Park, and we were optimistic that they'd put on an impressive show.

After bumming around town until early evening, we headed home for a while, planning to return for the spectacular in the sky. That night, we decided to walk back to town. It's a good way to avoid traffic, and the walking paths that wind throughout most of Celebration make it easy to get downtown. There is a path in East Village that starts near the pool, heads past Lake Evalyn, and takes you right into the downtown area. It's only a few minutes by bike and about 20 minutes on foot. We had recently purchased some collapsible camp chairs, so we decided to bring those along.

When we reached the path, we found that many others had the same idea. Despite the darkness, we encountered lots of people heading in the same direction. We arrived downtown shortly before the fireworks were slated to being. The crowd had grown substantially, but for some reason most of the tourists hadn't wandered onto the grass around the lake. They were clustered in the downtown area, which was fine with me. I don't know if the "Residents Only" sign at the entrance to Lakeside Park's parking lot had intimidated them, but I seriously doubt it. I think they were doing the usual "human sheep" behavior and sticking with the rest of the crowd.

We set up our camp chairs and settled in. The fireworks show began with a loud bang, and suddenly the sky was alight with color. We had an almost perfect view, and we really enjoyed the dazzling show. It was well worth the 20 minute walk and a perfect capper to our very first Founders Day.

All too soon, the fireworks were over. We figured that the party would wind down soon, and we were worn out from a long day of fun, so we packed up our chairs and headed home. There were a lot of people on the walking path between downtown and Lake Evalyn, but they thinned out considerably as we neared East Village.

I don't know if there will be another Founders Day in 2004. Since Disney sold the downtown area, it has been nearly impossible to find firm information on which special events will remain. Hopefully this event has become a tradition that will last as long as Celebration, but even if it's gone, at least we got to celebrate once. The photo in our hallway brings back lots of fond memories of those first wonderful weeks in our new home.

Next time: Wildlife Encounters

Learn more about Celebration on my website:

No comments: