CRYSTAL LAKE – A Grinch. A Nutcracker. A Kung Fu Panda. A light-up sock monkey bus. These are just some of the characters that helped Crystal Lake kick start its 2012 holiday season in the 16th annual Festival of Lights Parade.
Residents and visitors lined the streets of Crystal Lake’s downtown area, bundled up against the elements. Paradegoers sipped hot chocolate as they awaited the arrival of a very famous visitor from the North Pole and his holiday magic.
“Look at all these families getting together as a community,” said Diana Kenney, executive director of Downtown Crystal Lake/Main Street. “It’s the start of the holiday season, Santa’s coming to town and it’s freezing out but people are laughing and singing and wearing silly hats. It’s a truly wonderful sight.”
It was a similarly festive night in Woodstock, where nearly 2,000 people were on hand for the annual Lighting of the Square.
In Crystal Lake, 46 floats made their way from Woodstock Street to Williams Street with twinkling lights, music and holiday greetings from parade participants to the crowd. There even were some four-legged friends adorned with holiday outfits and Christmas lights representing Healthy Paws Animal Hospital. The Crystal Lake Strikers rumbled the streets with their drum line, which included the Mayor Aaron Shepley.
The Petersen family of Crystal Lake won the honor of riding in Santa’s horse-drawn sleigh for the parade. Jason and Kim Petersen, along with their daughter, Rhianna, 7, and son, Ashton, 5 waved to the crowd from their coveted sleigh seats.
“This was the third year we’ve entered for the chance to ride in the parade and we’re really excited about having won,” Kim Petersen. “We come to the parade every year. I love that it’s at night and it brings everyone out to the downtown. It’s very unique.”
Rhianna said she planned to take advantage of her time with Santa and ask him for the Hedbanz game and Fibber game. When asked which of the floats was his favorite, Ashton answered in only a way that an adorable 5-year-old can.
“I love all of the floats! What are floats?” Ashton said.
The parade commenced with Santa lighting the Downtown Christmas Tree with the help of his magic dust. He then made his way over to his house at Brink Street Market where he listened to the Christmas wishes of eager children, and stayed as long as the line lasted.
Santa’s House will remain open Thursday through Sunday through Dec. 23.