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Parade of Lights brightens downtown Lodi

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Posted: Thursday, December 5, 2002 10:00 pm

Millions of lights shone and bubbles glistened as the Parade of Lights made its way through downtown Lodi for the 10th year in a row Thursday night.

The parade moved slowly down the streets as thousands of people cheered for more than 80 floats, each one lit with this year's "Joy to the World" theme.

"It's great, and it gets better every year," said Lodi resident Janet Thompson.

Thompson has watched the parade every year since it first started, and she's seen it grow into what lasted for an hour and a half this year.

"It used to be a lot of little boy scouts carrying flashlights," she said with a laugh.

The parade began promptly at 6:17 p.m., following the annual San Joaquin Hospice tree lighting at City Hall.

"Hi, everybody; how about it? Merry Christmas!" said Master of Ceremonies Stan Atkinson, a former Sacramento TV news anchor, as the tree lighting ceremony began.

Atkinson told everyone to shake hands or hug the person next to them, then jokingly asked one man, "Hey, was that your wife?"

The crowd cheered for him, and then grew more serious when the huge tree was lit. Each light on the tree represents a person, explained Hospice Executive Director Barbara Tognoli.

"People make a donation to light a light in honor of a loved one, living or not," she said.

The organization lights three such trees in the county and raised $60,000 for the organization last year, Tognoli said.

The crowd then moved toward Church and School streets in preparation for the parade. Some stood on the street corners and ate freshly-cooked Lockeford sausages, while others came prepared with folding chairs.

Acampo resident Kari Ianni and her family parked at Hutchins Street Square and walked to the corner of Church and Pine streets, where a friend had staked out a spot for them earlier in the day.

"It's not too cold out, so we don't mind walking," she said.

Her daughter, 8-year-old Lauren Ianni, was wearing felt reindeer antlers on her head and eagerly waiting for the Coca-Cola truck and the Budweiser Clydesdale horses. She wasn't the only impatient one.

"The parade is great, but I'm looking forward to the Clydesdales," said Lodi resident Betty Abel.

This was Abel's second year at the parade, and she now plans to attend it every year.

The eight Budweiser horses did not disappoint Abel, and they drew some of the loudest cheers as they pranced in perfect rhythm.

Other floats that brought cheers were the ones handing out candy, and 4-year-old River Meeker loved petting dogs from the animal shelter.

A glowing, inflatable snowman in the back of a large garbage truck drew laughter, while baton twirlers wielding burning batons made the crowds back away from the flames.

Overall, most people seemed to think the parade was even more impressive than last year, and that it continues to get bigger and better with each year.

Police saw only a few minor arguments regarding seating, but had no other problems, Lodi Police Lt. Chet Somera said.

"It's wonderful; people spent millions of dollars for all these lights," exclaimed 11-year-old Amanda Soltaro as she and her friend reached for candy thrown from a float.

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