Up to 40,000 people are expected to attend Lodi's eighth-annual Christmas parade this year.
The theme of Thursday's Parade of Lights is "Christmas Magic," and organizers expect about a million twinkling lights to greet visitors to Lodi's downtown, carried on nearly 100 rolling displays and floats.
Rain or shine, the annual parade will follow the 14th annual lighting of the Hospice Tree in front of City Hall.
Organized by the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership, Lodi's Parade of Lights has become a signature event
in downtown Lodi, marking the start of the holiday season. Attendance figures rise for the event every year.
"It is just a spectacular sight," said Pamela Hayn, executive director of the DLBP. "Each year, people get more and more innovative with their float decorations."
By the rules, every entry in the parade, including people and marching bands, must be lit by some type of lights, she said.
Starting at exactly 6:17 p.m., the parade will follow a 1-mile route.
The unusual 6:17 p.m. starting time was established years ago by Cynthia Haynes, then Lodi's community promotions director.
"She said it would make it easier for people to remember," Hayn said. "It seems to be working. People just ask what day it will be, and they already know it will be at 6:17 p.m."
The rolling displays will come in several categories: Auto, new or antique; motorcycles and golf carts; school band, marching group; walking group, dance troupe; trucks without a float; trucks with floats; and mounted floats.
The displays will be judged on the basis of use of lights, creativity, originality and overall appearance.
This year's judges will be Mayor Susan Hitchcock, DLBP President Peter Westbrook, Poser's TV's Barbara McWilliams, Lodi News-Sentinel Publisher Marty Weybret and Lodi Fire Chief Mike Pretz.
The parade starts on Pine Street, as entries line up near Hutchins Street Square. It will head east on Pine Street, south (right) on Church Street, east (left) on Lodi Avenue, north (left) on School Street, then west (left) on Locust Street. The parade ends at the library on Locust Street between Church Street and North Pleasant Avenue. Seating along the parade route is free.
This year's grand marshal will be Bob Wheeler, general manger of General Mills. Wheeler will start off the festivities riding in a brightly lit horse-drawn carriage.
Parade highlights this year will again include the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale horses, and nearly 100 brilliantly colored floats and themed vehicles.
The parade will also feature the grand entrance of Santa Claus, riding atop a Lodi fire truck. At least 10 food vendors, including the Sanchez Mexican Restaurant and the Lockeford Sausage Co., will offer their wares along the route.
Dial-A-Ride will be available to bring non-ambulatory people to the Longs Drugs parking lot on corner of Church Street and Lodi Avenue, where they can watch the parade and festivities from the comfort of a heated bus.
Also, several downtown businesses will be staying open late Thursday night, Hayn said.
As of Monday afternoon, the weather forecast for Thursday evening called for cloudy and cool conditions, but with rain showers predicted for Friday.
Before the Parade of Lights, ceremonies start with the annual lighting of the Hospice Tree on the steps of the Lodi City Hall, 221 W. Pine St.
Returning as the master of ceremonies for the benefit tree-lighting will be former Sacramento TV news anchor Stan Atkinson.
The tree-lighting ceremony is for the benefit of the Hospice of San Joaquin, which provides support for in-home hospice care for terminally ill people in the greater San Joaquin area. The also group holds tree lightings in Lodi, Manteca and Stockton.
The annual lighting of the Hospice Trees is the single most successful fund-raising event of the year for the group, said Eleanore Lewis, fund-raising and special event coordinator.
Last year, the Lodi event raise about $33,000, and enabled the hospice group to help about 850 families, she said. The three combined events raised approximately $95,000, she said.