SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Mariachi marked the return of Fiesta Navideña in East San Jose on Friday. The event typically draws thousands to the Mexican Heritage Plaza (MHP).
On Friday, hundreds of festival goers braved the cold.
"That's a great example: Phoenix rising from the ashes, I think is very powerful," Edgar Ochoa, community engagement program manager with the School of Arts and Culture at MHP told ABC7 News.
It's a significant turnout, according to organizers and guests alike, especially after the largely Latino community was hit hard in the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to early reports by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, more than a third of the county's first 100 deaths were reported in just four ZIP codes on the city's East Side.
"Unfortunately last year, it was right after there was a major spike in COVID cases, especially in this area," Ochoa explained. "And so we had to cancel the event completely."
However, Friday's return offered a welcome opportunity for residents to reconnect.
"It's been too long," San Jose resident Norine Rodriguez said. "We're ready. We're ready to be here and support everyone and see everyone. Hopefully, we're gonna see a lot of friends we haven't seen in a while."
Part of the beloved tradition is the towering Christmas tree, provided by local philanthropist Al Castellano for the last 11 years.
"This is over 20-feet! It varies, sometimes. This is one of the tallest I've seen in a long time," Castellano said. "It takes eight men to put this tree up."
Another fiesta favorite is the teams of folklorico dancers. Los Lupeños Academy's Fall Session of folklórico dance classes entertained as others shopped the new vendor market.
A mix of food, retail and artisan merchants set up shop in the plaza- small businesses hoping for some economic relief.
"Some of them were referrals," Ochoa with MHP explained. "Some that we knew that specifically said, 'Hey, this person hasn't had the best of luck during the pandemic. Can you ensure that they get in?'"
For many in attendance, just getting out was reason enough.
"It's just great to see all the people out dancing and having fun, and so that's why we just try to support," John Rodriguez said.
Vivian Valentin added, "If you don't know about the culture, this is the best place to come and learn a little bit about everything."
For more information on the Mexican Heritage Plaza, click here.