Lodians in reindeer get-ups, red suits and even Hawaiian shirts celebrated Christmas in Downtown Lodi on Thursday evening. About 2,500 people lined Church and School streets in 38-degree weather for the 18th annual Lodi Parade of Lights, which featured some 80 entries this year.
Spectators laid claim to their spots along the parade route as early as 24 hours before the scheduled start time of 6:17 p.m., tethering chairs to trees and lamp posts for front-row seating.
Bundled in parkas, blankets and wool-knit caps, crowds began to gather at about 5:30 p.m. purchasing tea and hot cocoa from Boy Scouts of America Troop 199, FC 17Under Soccer, Bear Creek Church, Elite 14U Fastpitch Softball and Cal Cougars 98 to keep warm.
Local restaurants like the Lodi Beer Company and wine-tasting rooms like Wine Social were packed with spectators. Even Pret offered indoor seating to parade-goers, along with food and entertainment — Lodi High School seniors Jake Noori and Emily Yamane at a grand piano.
The parade unofficially began with half a dozen Tokay High School students in foam reindeer antlers and big red noses jogging down School Street behind a Lodi police motorcycle, waving to the crowd.
Then, exactly 17 minutes later, the parade made its way down Church Street to Lodi Avenue and onto School Street, led by grand marshal Savana Bowers, a Lodi High School senior, and her younger sister Jenna in a silver roadster decked out in white Christmas lights.
Bowers, who was diagnosed with brain cancer a year ago, was chosen by the parade committee from several grand marshal nominees for her inspiration and positive attitude.
This year’s theme was “Christmas Carols,” celebrating an evening of music, lights and the holidays.
Both the Lodi and Tokay high school marching bands performed traditional holiday hymns, while floats pumped hit singles like The Chipmunks’ “Christmas Song” and Bobby Helms’ “Jingle Bell Rock.”
Several floats had iconic Christmas characters riding along, including Frosty the Snowman in a backhoe sponsored by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lodi, and Dr. Seuss’ Grinch on Lodi Adopt-A-Child’s flatbed trailer.
Calva Products’ float was a covered flatbed decked in lights and inflatable snowmen and woodland creatures, and even had a snow-making machine.
Lodi Montessori constructed a huge wooden Santa sleigh pulled by eight reindeer headed for the sky, where children, parents and school faculty sat and waved to the crowd.
More than a dozen members of the Ukulele Strummers of the Central Valley rode in a covered trailer, decked out in Hawaiian shirts and playing Christmas music on their instruments.
The highlight of the parade was Santa and Mrs. Claus bringing up the rear in the basket of a Lodi Fire Department ladder truck.
Galt resident Lori Satterfield attends the parade every year, and her husband Doug was one of the many who ventured Downtown to set up chairs along School Street.
“We come for the kids, because they love to see Santa,” she said. “It’s kind of just been our family tradition to come every year.”
Along with seeing Santa, their sons Ryan and Reid love to see the classic cars decorated with Christmas lights, as well as the Lodi and Tokay high school marching bands.
The Satterfields said if people want good seats, they have to set their chairs up as early as possible.
That’s what Lodi resident Carl Wood did. He set up four chairs in front of the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory at 4:30 a.m. Thursday.
He and his wife Tiffany have come to the parade for about eight years, and said their children Drew and Casey love when some of the trucks honk their horns to greet the crowds.
Wood said the family has been able to secure the same spot along the parade route each year.
“This is where we started, and (we) just kept coming back to this spot,” he said. “We just didn’t want to break tradition, I guess.”
First place in the best entry contest went to Pacific Coast Producers. The company’s float was a large locomotive lined with an assortment of Christmas lights and christened “The Polar Express.”
Lodi Electric Utility took second place with a float that was a similarly adorned — a giant bus filled with employees and their families.
Third place went to the Lodi Elementary P.E. Teachers, who once again wrapped themselves in flashing red lights, put on Santa hats and trotted along on foot.