The Little Friends Parade of Lights will delight downtown Naperville visitors with what organizers call a "visually spectacular" display of floats and marching units at a different time than in years past -- Sunday evening.
Usually the parade takes place on the Friday or Saturday evening after Thanksgiving, and it doubles as a lighting ceremony for the 300,000 bulbs adorning trees and rooftops throughout the city's commercial core, said Kristi Landorf, executive director of Little Friends, which serves people with autism and other developmental disabilities.
If You GoWhat: Little Friends Parade of Lights
When: 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1; pre-parade entertainment begins at 3:45 p.m.
Where: Parade starts from Main and Water streets; heads north to Van Buren Avenue, then west to Eagle Street and ends at Naper Elementary School. Entertainment stage is at Main Street and Van Buren Avenue.
Who: Hosted by Little Friends and Downtown Naperville Alliance
Info: littlefriendsinc.org/events or (630) 355-6533
But this year, downtown lights already have been twinkling for about three weeks, illuminated Nov. 8 to precede the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon. And with people's holiday schedules as hectic as they are, Landorf said Little Friends wanted to try the parade at a different time -- 5 p.m. Sunday, with pre-parade entertainment beginning at 3:45 p.m.
"We're hoping the time and date change will draw even more people and get more folks involved in the event," Landorf said.
The parade itself is doubling in size this year, including roughly 60 units instead of the usual 25 to 30.
"It seems like it's growing exponentially," she said.
Still, for children excited to see Santa and Mrs. Claus (who ride at the end of the parade every year as its main attraction) and families looking for a festive way to conclude Thanksgiving weekend, Landorf said the parade offers a touch of small-town nostalgia.
"This is one of those last things that is left that makes people feel like they're in a small hometown community where everyone is coming out for the same purpose and that's just to celebrate," Landorf said.
First Community Financial Bank of Naperville is serving as grand marshal for the parade, which often draws Scout groups, volunteer organizations and businesses as participants. Many will create lighted floats, add strings of lights to cars or vans, or hand out glow sticks along with pieces of candy to accentuate the event's Parade of Lights theme.
Starting from Main and Water streets south of the DuPage River, the parade progresses north on Main until it hits Van Buren Avenue. There, it turns west until Eagle Street, where it heads briefly north before concluding at Naper Elementary School.
Those arriving early to claim a parade-watching spot can stop by the stage at Main Street and Van Buren Avenue beginning at 3:45 p.m. for performances by the School of Performing Arts and local high school students including Carly Randolph of Naperville Central, Josh Dennison of Naperville North, Natalie Broschka of Metea Valley, Zach Toledo of Neuqua Valley, Katie Tabisz of Waubonsie Valley, Annalisa Tarizzo of Benet and Mary Kate Carragher of St. Francis.
People coming to downtown for the parade also can check out specials in shops and restaurants or stroll the streets in search of 25 decorated gingerbread cookie sculptures displayed through a program of the Downtown Naperville Alliance. The alliance, which is organizing the parade in partnership with Little Friends, is selling its first holiday cookbook, "Downtown Naperville: Dishes & Delights." Proceeds from the $20 books will benefit Little Friends and the books are available at 11 locations listed at downtownnaperville.com.
Landorf said hosting the annual Parade of Lights is Little Friends' way of giving back to the businesses and community groups that offer so much support throughout the year.
"This event is not necessarily about fundraising," she said. "It's more about getting people to understand who we are and that this is part of the way we can give back to the community."