CARBONDALE – For 2-year-old Luhkas Stone, the greatest joy of Saturday’s Lights Fantastic Parade wasn’t the jolly, ho-ho-ho-ing old man in the sleigh – it was his greener counterpart.
Luhkas watched, eyes wide, as his favorite holiday character pulled up in a tiny, twinkling car.
“We watch the movie 500 times year-round,” said Luhkas’s mother, Sheila Stone, of Marion. “When he saw him, he was just like, ‘The Grinch, mama!’ all excited.”
Santa Claus and The Grinch joined more than 50 floats, marching bands and local dignitaries in the 25th annual parade on Saturday night in Carbondale.
Thousands of onlookers from throughout Southern Illinois crowded the sidewalks of The Strip and surrounding streets to watch the twinkling lights on display.
The “Welcome to Carbondale” float – with its red, white and blue sign and a line of light-outlined horses leading the way – boasted 21,300 lights. It has dazzled visitors since the parade’s early years.
Other return favorites included Carbondale New School’s gingerbread-house float; Rotary International’s “World Unity” float, which features a large, twinkling globe; and the parade of tiny cars.
Marching bands from the region’s high schools and middle schools played holiday classics. SIU’s Marching Salukis played out the parade, followed only by St. Nick in his sleigh.
Before the spectacle began, residents filled the nearby Civic Center for a free chili supper, open to the public. Later, parade-goers warmed up with hot chocolate from local vendors and filled up with large helpings of funnel cake and other treats.
For Carbondale resident Carlyn Zimmermann, who watched the event with her husband, two small children and their grandmother, seasonally warm temperatures made the parade even more enjoyable than in years past.
“We just love that Carbondale does this,” she said, her 1-year-old son Harrison sitting in a red wagon beside her. “It just makes it such a nice place to live.”