VENTURA, Calif. — This year could easily have been a bit less merry and bright, but Vincenzo Giammanco wouldn’t have it.

Giammanco is founder of CBF Productions and, just like the guy in red, has been busy putting together a new way for families to celebrate the season in a safe, socially distanced setting.

What You Need To Know

  • "Holidays in Your Car" runs through January 2 at Ventura County Fairgrounds

  • The display is 1.5 miles long and features roughly a million lights

  • Visitors stay in their vehicles for a safe, socially distanced experience

  • There will also be live, outdoor stage shows in December including Ventura County Ballet's The Nutcracker

Holidays in Your Car is 1.5 miles of merry. Giammanco describes it as a kind of "lazy river" experience, with cars winding slowly through the fairgrounds and coming across different displays, as holiday music plays through their stereos. There are classic fairy tales, elves, reindeer, and an entire section of animated construction vehicles all made out of light.

“We’ve been working on this since April of this year,” said Giammanco. “Everything here is handcrafted, handmade.”

His one exception is the very first part of the expereince.

“We wanted to establish that this something a little bit different, not your traditional holiday light show,” he said. “So we — boom — start with lasers.”

It’s evident that this room — one of two enclosed spaces that vehicles travel through — is his own Christmas wish come true.

“When I was kid, you know, instead of toys, I asked for fog machines and lasers," said Giammanco. “So I guess it comes full circle.”

Things didn’t always look so bright. Giammanco explained that the pandemic absolutely decimated the live event industry, which is where his company falls. But he managed to make a sharp turn pretty early, and this has been their busiest year yet. They’ve grown from 12 large-scale festivals a year to this year producing 167 live events — including Ventura’s popular Concerts in Your Car series, also located at the Ventura County Fairgrounds. They’ve even had to increase the size of the staff from eight employees to now close to 100.

Giammanco knows how lucky they are.

“We’re one of the only ones working right now,” he said. “And we’re seven days a week, you know, all the time, and everybody just has a smile on their face because we’re working and we’re able to continue to do something that, you know, makes people happy.”

After a dark year, everything here seems to be beaming, from the animations to the massive trees of canned food to be donated to Food Share, to Santa and the Mrs. all aglow in their illuminated masks, powered by Christmas magic (and probably some LED lights).

This is just the beginning, Giammanco explained. He’d like to build up on this in future years and eventually morph it into a walking experience or maybe even something people can experience on bicycles. They're also planning some live shows on the stage they built this summer for the drive-in concerts.

The Ventura County Ballet will be performing The Nutcracker here on December 12. And on December 19, they will present a live stage show called Santa Saves Christmas.

But the best part, according to Giammanco, is hearing the reaction ringing from the cars. All around the grounds, you can hear kids and adults cheering, especially when they reach the falling "snow."

Giammanco took a chance in creating this new experience and thinks he's on to something.

"You don’t really know until it’s all set up, and then you get to nights like this when you actually get to see the response," he said. “People screaming and these little kids, you know, it’s just awesome.”

Holidays in Your Car runs through January 2. A second location at Del Mar Fairgrounds opens next week. In the meantime, tickets for the Ventura experience are available here.