Lights Fantastic Parade burns bright

By Gus Bode

21st annual parade draws droves into downtown

Christmas was on the streets Saturday night as the 21st Lights Fantastic Parade lit up downtown Carbondale.

“It was as good as always,” said Paul Matalonis, of Carbondale.

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Lauren Strandberg, a senior from Schaumburg studying fashion design merchandising, participates in The Lights Fantastic Parade Saturday on Illinois Avenue. The 710 Book Store sponsored the Christmas float and assigned employees Strandberg and Danielle Cacioppo, a senior from Schaumburg studying interior design, to ride on the float in the parade. “I just love dressing up as an elf for the season,” Strandberg said. Nathan Hoefert | Daily Egyptian

More than 60 participants signed up to take part in the parade, which draws about 10,000 people a year, said Meghan Cole, executive director of Carbondale Main Street.

“It’s 21 years in the making, and it’s definitely grown,” she said.

Spectators filled the sidewalks from the corner of Mill Street and Illinois Avenue to Jackson Street and down Washington Street to Walnut Street.

If the December night was too cold for them, people could find refuge in businesses and enjoy free cookies and hot chocolate. Most, though, wrapped themselves in blankets and fared the cold air.

The weather was actually quite good, especially compared to previous years, Matalonis said. One year, he was inside a truck pulling a float and could see the suffering on the faces of the crowd, he said. That wasn’t a problem this year, and he said everyone he saw was having a good time.

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He said what he likes about the parade is that it brings people together to celebrate as a community. It may also have a positive economic effect for downtown businesses, but as with summer’s Sunset Concerts, that’s really secondary, he said.

He said his favorite float was WDBX’s, especially when it projected colored lights onto the side of the Varsity Theater.

Participants’ jobs in the parade varied, from manning traditional floats, taking part in marching bands or disguising themselves as the local Jedi order.

Steve Fields, store manager of the Marion Home Depot, said it took about five hours and $50 to build their float, which promoted the store’s Kids Workshop.

He said this was their first time doing the Lights Fantastic parade, but they’ve participated in other Christmas parades. What sets Carbondale’s parade apart from others is that it takes place at night.

“It gives it that better effect,” he said.

Lance Williams, of Brehm Preparatory School, said they do a float every year, and this was his sixth year helping with one.

The float consisted of several giant gift boxes covered with numerous Christmas lights.

Philip Nickels, a student at Brehm, said the float was constructed during two weeks as a class project, and the idea came from the students.

“I think it’s going to go really well,” he said beforehand.

Rick Johnson, of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer Home Solutions, said he began making floats for the parade six years ago to promote his business. Now, Rick’s Towing and the Train Inn Bed and Breakfast have joined him.

He said he probably hasn’t gotten a single customer because of the float, but it’s fun nonetheless.

This year’s float was tropical-themed, and featured a smoke-spewing volcano.

Johnson said the whole design grew out of the desire to make the most of a smoke machine. It also featured blaring music, and he said about 40 people pile onto the float.

“We always try to be the loudest, if not the brightest,” he said.

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