Wed08272014

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Sights, songs for holidays

Downtown celebrations filled with lights, harmonies, people

Yes, Santa, there is a Los Altos. The largest crowd in the 19-year history of the Festival of Lights Parade came out to see you. More than 30,000 kids and grown-ups lined Main and State streets trying to catch a quick glimpse of Santa Claus in his 50-foot high sleigh.

On the beautiful crisp and clear evening, people started to claim their spots on the sidewalk by spreading their blankets before 4:30 p.m. For the next two and a half hours before the parade began at 7 p.m., people walked around sipping hot refreshments or standing on street corners chatting with neighbors.

Older children on inline skates cruised up and down the traffic-free streets, while younger children tossed light plastic rainbow ropes into the air. Dec. 1 was a fun night for everybody.

Denise and Richard Dauler and their two children, Kolby and Christine, have missed only two Festival of Lights Parades in the last 17 years. They live in Palo Alto, but come here so the kids can see Santa. Denise said the parade is "so much bigger this year than in prior years. It's a sight to see."

The parade comprises more than 80 units - bands, floats, marching groups. High School bands from Los Altos, St. Francis, Mountain View, Fremont and Homestead helped launch the holiday season by playing and singing Christmas songs while they marched. Also in the parade supplying Christmas songs, was a community band, "the Spirit of Sunnyvale."

"More than 100 volunteers help make this parade a success," said Conrad Heintzelman, Festival of Lights president. "One of the highlights are the many costumes volunteers wear with larger-than-life animal heads. You'll never guess who's in this big bear suit."

Joanna Medin, a south Los Altos resident, said that "When we moved here several years ago, the first thing we saw before we bought a house was the Festival of Lights Parade. When I noticed all the local organizations marching in the parade, I told my husband, 'this is for us, this is where I want to live.'"

The holiday season in the village started the previous Friday at 6 p.m. in the Community Plaza with the annual lighting of the Rotary Tree. Opening Night in the Village featured the introduction of the Town Choir. Directed by Harriet Howell, the mass chorus of more than 100 singers from local churches and the community sang Christmas songs for more than an hour, climaxed with the Hallelujah Chorus when the lights came on.

After the concert, the Town Choir kept the streets alive with the sound of music by breaking up into groups to sing Christmas songs at several intersections throughout town. A bell choir performed on the Town Crier balcony.

Joan Cattermole lives in San Carlos with her family and her friends told her how wonderful the Festival of Lights Parade is each year. So she and a group of friends meet here each year at the same spot and look forward to the evening because it's a social event for their entire group.

Crystal Kennedy and Taryn Moody are Los Altos High School cheerleaders who march in the parade. "It's neat for all the families to come out and watch the parade," Kennedy said. "But when you're marching, it's fun watching all the little kids looking at you and having fun."

The Festival of Lights Parade started in 1977 as the brainchild of Marion Jackston and Hope Higbee. They convinced the Los Altos Village Association to stage the parade after Thanksgiving to get the people in the holiday spirit. Starting with a few costumed characters out of fairy tale books, tiny lights and a jolly Santa Claus, the parade turned into one of the most popular downtown events of the year. Santa Claus remain in town for the annual "Breakfast with Santa" events Dec. 14 and 21 at the Los Altos Bar and Grill to entertain the kids.

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