A festive feeling filled the air as Los Altos residents gathered for the traditional kickoff of the holiday season – the 34th annual Festival of Lights Parade Nov. 27.
Scheduled the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the parade draws an estimated 17,000 people each year. Festivities span the entire day, as some families begin gathering in the early afternoon to claim the prime spots along the parade route.
People were in high spirits as they waited for the parade to begin, with children and parents decked out in glowing necklaces and groups laughing and playing in the streets before settling down to watch the parade.
“I used to come as a little girl, and I have been coming for the last six years since I moved back to Los Altos,” said Carol Starbuck, a Los Altos resident. “The marching bands are my favorites. I also love the kids and their sparkling little faces.”
Starbuck was not disappointed, as the parade counted six marching bands among the 60 entrants and 24 floats in this year’s event.
Toy soldiers, marching in precision, the snow queen waving to spectators and mayors Val Carpenter of Los Altos and Ginger Summit of Los Altos Hills along with their families in open-topped cars led the spectacle.
Minutes before the start, toy soldiers Kevin Thompson, Jerre Bowen and Bruce Charlton practiced to perfect the timing and stately appearance of their march. Thompson, a toy soldier rookie, has attended the parade for years but never participated before.
“I enjoy the parade because it keeps the small-town feel alive and sets the holiday season,” Thompson said.
“It’s a great small-town, American tradition. Everyone wears lights,” he said, pointing to the LED on his coat.
Fairy-tale characters, including Winnie the Pooh, Little Red Riding Hood, Peter Pan and Captain Hook, smiled and waved to spectators as they strolled down State and Main streets. A new addition, the elephant cart in the Los Altos School District-sponsored Christmas train, brightened the twinkle on the treasured float.
Santa Claus greeted the crowd and waved as he closed the parade and signaled the beginning of the holiday season.
Alexandra Garfield, 17, dressed as Snow White, has participated for four years with Assisteens, the teen group of the Assistance League of Los Altos.
“I love getting to see the little kids,” she said. “They always love the princesses.”
Dana Plasterer, 15, also an Assisteen, marched in the parade for the first time. She said she was amazed at how much work goes into getting everyone ready.
“We had to get here at 2:30 p.m. to get our hair and makeup done, but it is a lot of fun,” she said as she twirled her yellow parasol, something she has always wanted to do.
Local businesses joined in the holiday spirit, with Lite for Life giving away hot chocolate, coffee, cider and cookies.
“We wanted to get back into the community spirit. This is a thanks to all the people who have been so loyal through the construction and years of business,” said Mary Jo McVay, the company’s CEO.
The dedication and hard work of the volunteer Festival of Lights Parade Association make the event possible each year.
“The parade is important because it builds community,” said Nancy Schneider, a longtime member of the Festival of Lights Parade Association. “It is so nice to see grandparents, children and their children all out together.”
To see more photos of the parade, head over to the Town Tube.