Q & A: Jan Bubsey

It’s jingle bell time! Jan Bubsey talks about the planning required to put on the Winter FestivalIn the Holiday Spirit


Even When Tallahassee Swelters, Jan Bubsey Has Her Mind on Winter

In the fall of 1987, the City of Tallahassee purchased new outdoor lights and decorations for the upcoming winter holiday season. Spectators braved bitter cold temperatures on the first Friday in December that year to gather under the live oaks downtown, but there was so much enthusiasm that it was decided to turn the gathering into an annual event.

Since then, the Winter Festival has grown into a well-loved Tallahassee tradition. It now attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year and features the beautiful Lighting Ceremony, the Nighttime Holiday Parade, the Jingle Bell Run, five stages of entertainment by local musical and dance acts, and countless vendors who come from as far as Connecticut to sell their wares. The Southeastern Tourism Society has named the Winter Festival one of the top 20 events in the Southeast several times over the years.

Planning for this massive event begins in the suffocating heat of summer. While the rest of Tallahassee spent last August braving the heat and anxiously scanning the Gulf for hurricanes and tropical storms, the Tallahassee Parks and Recreation Department already was stirring up the holiday spirit at department headquarters, planning for the winter event.

Jan Bubsey is at the forefront of all the holiday scheming, and she took a break from her planning duties to talk with Tallahassee Magazine writer Stephanie Castellano about the history of the Winter Festival and the preparations that go into making it such a special celebration.

TM: What has changed about the Winter Festival since it began?

JB: The event has grown tremendously since its first year – from about 6,000 people in 1987 to over 200,000 throughout the years. We will celebrate our 22nd anniversary this Dec. 6. The festival continues to get bigger and better every year.

TM: When does planning begin?

JB: Believe it or not, it begins the Monday following the event. Things really begin to get hectic in early August and continue through the event. Right now we are in the process of finalizing our logo for this year’s theme, which is “The Winter Festival Celebrates ‘Home for the Holidays.’” The logo is used on our T-shirts and various other Winter Festival-related items. In October, the crews start checking the lights in the trees in the downtown parks and commons, making sure they’re all in working order for the night of the event. (The planning) is very time-consuming. We’re very fortunate to have all the wonderful volunteers – at least 300 strong – including students and citizens who come out every year to help make our event such a huge success. We couldn’t do it without their tireless efforts.

TM: What sort of festival themes have you done in the past?

JB: Last year our theme was “Holiday Fun in the Florida Sun,” and the logo included flamingos dressed in festive holiday beach attire. To add to all the fun, the Jingle Bell Run participants wore blinking Hawaiian leis and jingle bells tied on their running shoes.

TM: What can we expect to see at the festival this year?

JB: We’ll have all the customary components – the children’s area, vendors, exhibitors, five stages of entertainment, the Lighting Ceremony, the Jingle Bell Run and the Nighttime Holiday Parade.

TM: After the months spent planning, do you still have any holiday spirit left by the time the Winter Festival rolls around?

JB: I used to be exhausted by the end of the festival. However, ever since my 9-year old granddaughter moved back to town, the excitement that she exhibits all during the month of December keeps me in the holiday spirit. The Winter Festival is really a great event for kids of all ages.

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