The streets of Downtown Lodi were filled with gleeful onlookers Thursday night to witness the 24th annual Parade of Lights presented by the Kiwanis Club of Greater Lodi.
As the Parade of Lights commenced, excitement permeated through the streets, as parents shuffled across crowded streets greeting family and friends as they made their way towards their seats.
Vendors walked up and down the streets selling everything from glow sticks and parade trinkets to cotton candy and kettle corn.
The parade, consisting of 77 entries, had something for everyone, ranging from food to fanfare.
The event brings out thousands of Lodians and members from neighboring communities, as brilliantly lit floats cruise the streets of downtown.
“We attended our first parade five years ago and we have been coming ever since,” Brenda Wudel said.
Wudel believes the Parade of Lights kicks off the holiday season for the town.
“We enjoy seeing all the kids and participants in the parade. There is a lot of really great community participation,” Lynelle Williams said. “We are happy to be out here.”
The booming medley of holiday classics filled the streets, as paradegoers looked to the floats gleefully as the feeling of Christmas captivated the community.
Decorated vehicles and volunteers passed by, waving at children who danced jovially and clapped their hands to “All I want for Christmas,” by Mariah Carey.
As the enchantment of the holidays occupied the streets, many in the crowd watched in amazement, pointing and waving at their friends and characters like Superman — Police Chief Tod Patterson.
“My favorite float was the unicorn float,” Stockton resident Mia Hernandez said.
Hernandez and her younger brother, Theo, enjoyed all the characters at the parade and the Christmas trees on all the floats. Her mother, Jacqueline, enjoyed the diversity of the floats and the representation of various cultures.
Each year local businesses and nonprofits volunteer to decorate a float that embodies the theme selected by the Kiwanis Club — the event’s organizer — and this year’s theme is “Christmas around the world.”
“My favorite float was the Mexican themed one that had the papel picado and the lanterns,” Jacqueline Hernandez said.
Papel picado translates to perforated paper in Spanish, which is a brightly colored Mexican craft paper made by cutting elaborate designs into sheets of tissue paper that are turned into a paper garland.
Melody Esparza also enjoyed seeing the Spanish and Mexican themed floats through the streets of downtown.
“It’s my second year coming out here and it’s nice to come out and see everyone embrace the Christmas spirit,” Esparza said.
Parents and their children huddled together for warmth, as the cold air crept into the night.
“We came out because the weather is nice and it’s not raining. It is a little cold, but not as cold as it has been in the past,” Stockton resident Shawn Pemberton said.
Despite the cold, the crowd size grew throughout the night, ending with the Lodi Firetruck, which transports Santa and Mrs. Claus.
Every year, the Parade of Lights staff recognizes outstanding floats that embodied the theme of the parade, which is broken up into three categories; vehicle or float, non-vehicle — marchers, dancers, and cheer — and unique.
This year’s panel of judges consisted of Pat Patrick, the president and CEO of the Lodi Chamber of Commerce, Interim Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Services Director Cathi DeGroot and Mayor Doug Kuehne.
For the vehicle or float category, first place went to F&M Bank, second place went to Vineyard Christian Middle School, and in third place Joe Serna Junior Charter School.
In the second category, non-vehicle, Lodi High marching band won first place, Tokay Royal Regiment Band took second and third place went to the Lodi Unified School District Elementary P.E. Teachers.
In the final category of unique, Raptor Force Engineering and Robotics won first place, second place went to Joey Travolta and the cast of “Carol of the Bells” — a full-length feature film created by Inclusion Films, which premiered in Lodi Wednesday night —and rounding out third place was the San Joaquin Firefighters.
“I asked some kids during the parade who they thought the winners were and that they were the winners because they got the best seats in the house, and I couldn’t agree more. Anyone that gets to come, those are the winners,” Kiwanis member Chet Somera said.
Somera said every year the Kiwanis feel motivated to host this annual celebration because of the joy it brings the community and the sense of camaraderie it creates.
The Kiwanis members are already looking towards next year’s Parade of Lights celebration, its 25th year.
“We have something really big planned for the people of Lodi next year, they are not going to know what to expect,” Somera said.