Temperatures were low, but spirits were high at the ninth annual Parade of Lights, where an estimated 40,000 spectators turned out to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus, floats and parade horses, all smothered in a galaxy of lights.
All 94 entries were decked out to the theme of "White Christmas," though the color palette was much more complex -- from blinking blue to raging red, and every color in-between.
Some families set up rows of chairs extra early to ensure they would get a front row seat to this year's procession, which organizers are calling the largest they've seen since the Parade of Lights began in 1995.
"We wanted to make sure we were here this year because we heard it was going to be big," said Lodi resident Randy Riggs from behind a blinking Rudolph the reindeer nose.
And he wasn't disappointed -- the procession lasted nearly two hours and included everything from dancing dogs to people in inflatable cow costumes.
In order to get a prime vantage point, Riggs, who came with his wife and three granddaughters, dropped off his chairs at 1 p.m.
Aubrey, 8, sat on Riggs' lap as she thought of her favorite entry. She finally chose a float from Dancing Dynamics, which featured light-strewn ballerinas popping out of boxes to dance pirouettes. Seven-year-old Chelsea, on the other hand, had a new favorite each time a float passed her way.
But all three said, emphatically, that Santa was the biggest attraction for them. And judging from the screams of excitement that tore throughout the entire crowd when Santa came standing in the bucket of a giant Lodi Fire Department truck, the girls were not alone.
Other spectators, like Lodi resident Kathy Stanley, had just as much fun without children.
From atop a Lodi Fire Department engine, Santa and Mrs. Claus wave to the crowd as they bring up the rear of Lodi's ninth annual Parade of Lights on Thursday. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)
Stanley, who wore a brightly flashing pacifier on a necklace, said she's attended the last eight parades, but admits this year's is the biggest and most beautiful by far.
"It used to go down School Street for just a couple blocks," she said. "It's really grown and the floats are much more beautiful."
Even the Grinch, who rode through on horseback to the delight of the audience, couldn't steal the holiday spirit from the throngs of people who lined School Street, where the judges sat to assess the merit of each entry that passed their stand.
Last year's parade theme, "Magical Christmas," saw rain showers and only attracted about 30,000 spectators, said Pamela Hayn, executive director of Downtown Lodi Business Partnership.
Because of the weather, crowds were smaller and the much-anticipated Budweiser Clydesdale horses could not walk in the procession last year, since each horse is outfitted with expensive leather equipment that cannot get wet.
Lodi's Rose Silva, left, and her daughter, Pat Peterson, donned their lighted hats Thursday for the Parade of Lights in Downtown Lodi. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)
But this year's weather was just perfect for the hairy horses, who majestically clopped down Church Street to the amazement of small children who had a front row seat.
And the cooler temperatures were a boon to vendors who hawked warm food and beverages, as well as winter apparel.
Angela Gamez and her mother, Ann, sold winter gloves that they had decorated themselves with jingle bells, faux fur and appliqués.
"We just tried it this year and it's really worked," Angela Gamez said, flipping through the wares she kept in a basket around her arm.
"This is the second time we've refilled the basket, too," her mother added with a smile.
Lockeford Sausages were a hit with the crowd, who couldn't resist the warm waft of meat smells that drifted through the chilled air during the procession.
Virginia Fugazi from Bon Cuisine a la Carte said her stand had nearly sold out of everything -- from hot-dogs and polish sausages to hot cups of coffee and bottled water.
A float depicting the Lodi Arch makes its way along the route during Thursday's Parade of Lights in Downtown Lodi. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)
Hayn, who spent most of the parade in the judges stand with former mayor Larry Hansen and Councilwoman Joanne Mounce, said that despite the near-freezing temperatures, she couldn't have asked for a more smoothly run event.
"We had some really beautiful floats this year," Hayn said, adding that the crowd was larger and temperatures lower than she had expected.
And the judges favorites?
Though Hayn wouldn't disclose any secrets, she said the group was particularly pleased with a cow-themed float from Kaehler Dairy farm, a Lodi Memorial float that bore a decorated replica of the Lodi arch and the ballerina display put on by Dancing Dynamics, which took home the "Best in Show" award last year.
The judges ranked each entry based on use of theme, creativity, originality and overall appearance. They will announce the winners early next week and will present awards at the next City Council meeting on Dec. 15.
Contact reporter Sara Cardine at firstname.lastname@example.org.