Parade of Lights kicks off the holiday season

As a light snow fell on Saturday evening, the 10th annual Parade of Lights rode through the streets of downtown Champaign. Community members filled the streets to view decorated floats, drink hot chocolate and wait for Santa Claus to light the Christmas tree.

Nearly 5,000 people gather downtown every year when the weather is good, said Tony Oligney-Estill, special events manager for the Champaign Park District.

The parade route changed slightly this year. It no longer goes around Westside Park since the tree has been moved to downtown Champaign, Oligney-Estill said.

“The parade has moved slightly to stay in the downtown core and keep the parade from getting too spread out,” Oligney-Estill said.

This year’s theme was “Sounds of the Season.” The University’s co-ed a capella group No Comment performed a variety of Christmas classics, along with some of their pop favorites before the parade began.

The parade brings the community together and provides a place for members to meet one another, said Billie Corit, Champaign resident. Although she’s lived in the area her entire life, this was her first time attending the parade. Corit enjoyed the carolers and “will definitely be back next year.”

“It is a great way to get people together in cold weather and officially kick off the holiday season,” Oligney-Estill said.

Before the parade began, nine horses draped with multicolored lights filled Main Street. One horse even wore a Santa’s hat. These horses represented the Parkland College Academics and Equestrian Team, said Casi Stephens, Parkland College student and group member. This was the group’s first time participating in the parade.

With 51 entries this year, the parade was the “perfect length,” said Jennifer Diaz, Champaign resident. Since moving to Champaign one year ago, Diaz attended the parade with her 2-year-old daughter, Daphne. Daphne enjoyed the marching bands and Santa.

“Anything lit up, big and noisy is good for children,” Jennifer Diaz said.

Although the entries were there to spread holiday cheer, some chose to be judged and compete for various titles. With children dressed as reindeers being led by a snowman at the reins, the Orpheum Children’s Science Museum won the prize for best costumes. The Vermilion Regional Airport had the best use of theme while the Champaign Mass Transit District was awarded the light of the parade. The judges’ favorite went to the Greater Champaign County AMBUCS, a service group dedicated to creating mobility and independence for the disabled whose float was decorated with a family of snowmen and a lit Christmas tree.

After the parade finished, people rushed to tables lined with steaming hot chocolate and waited for Santa Claus to light the tree. A countdown began and a silence overtook the crowd as the lights began to sparkle under the freshly fallen snow. No Comment returned to sing a few more carols, which filled the streets of Champaign as children waited in line to tell Santa their Christmas wishes.