Auburn gets glowing

Festival of Lights a beloved tradition
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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Black Friday may have seen thousands flock to stores, willing to fight tooth and nail for that good deal, but Auburn residents know the Christmas season doesn’t officially start until Saturday. That’s when more than 100 floats light up for the Festival of Lights Parade, bathing a city full of revelers in a megawatt glow. Parade committee chair Steve Galyardt said 15,000 to 20,000 people turn out each year to see the spectacle. “It’s the celebration of our holiday season,” Galyardt said. “Not only the opening of businesses saying, ‘Please come shop,’ but it’s family coming together.” The 90-minute parade starts at 5:30 p.m. and makes its way from Cherry Avenue and Lincoln Way to the Gold Country Fairgrounds, but craft and food vendors will line the streets and shops will host open houses starting as early as 2:30 p.m. As usual, Santa Claus can be found at the Monkey Cat restaurant, and many businesses will offer one-day sales in honor of the event. Alex Rodriguez, who helped coordinate vendors, said there are plenty of options for hot drinks and goodies along the parade route. Hot dogs, sausages and bratwurst will be for sale, along with espresso, paninis, hot chocolate and kettle corn. The Placer High School Boosters will sell pulled pork as well. The vendors will be ready to start selling about an hour before the parade. Rodriguez said food will be for sale in Central Square, High Street, Hillmont Street and across from the high school. “We’ve even got the Boosters walking around selling glowsticks,” Rodriguez added. This year’s grand marshal is not just one person – Think Auburn First has been given the title, and Kevin Hanley, chairman and co-founder, said the organization is honored to take the lead of the parade. “We have a very strong community in Auburn, and you can see that with the Festival of Lights Parade. You have high school bands, the fire department and various organizations that make a really strong local community, and Think Auburn First is really consistent with that.” Hanley said one of the main views of Think Auburn First is that money spent locally stays in the community for such necessities as paving streets and paying law enforcements officers, and in turn many local businesses support philanthropic community organizations, many of which can be seen in the parade. One of those is Hope Lutheran Church of Penryn, which also has a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school on-site. Pastor Jon Kehren said volunteers will assemble the float designed by parishioner Nancy Leeman. It boasts a miniature church and school building, and students will ride on the float while teaching staff walks alongside it. “We want to support the community,” Kehren said. “It’s a wonderful parade. We also wanted to help bring an uplifting message of Christmas by participating.” The parade is nonprofessional, meaning it is not officially judged, but Galyardt said a committee goes to the Borland Way staging area before the parade to select parade winners, who will each receive a plaque. Awards are given in several different categories, based on creativity and use of lights, and floats must express this year’s theme: “Auburn, It’s a Wonderful Life … in Lights!” Galyardt said the parade features 110 floats, all of which must light up – “That’s the magical part,” he said. Whether it’s a business, a church group or a philanthropic organization, the floats come together to create a dazzling display. “It’s what made me fall in love with Auburn,” Galyardt said, recalling how when he moved here in 2001, he took his son to watch the parade. “I sat out there and watched the parade with my son and thought, ‘This is the town I’ve been looking for. This is a magical place.” Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at ----------------------------------- Festival of Lights When: Saturday, Dec. 3. Outdoor vendors and business open houses start as early as 2:30 p.m.; parade starts at 5:30 p.m. Where: Parade runs from Cherry Avenue and Lincoln Way to the Gold Country Fairgrounds Cost: Free Information: Auburn Chamber of Commerce, (530) 885-5616,