Little Friends Parade of Lights to brighten Naperville Friday night
After turkey and stuffing comes lights and Santa.
At least that's the progression on Thanksgiving weekend in Naperville as the annual day of gratitude gives way to the unofficial start of the holiday shopping season and to the Little Friends Parade of Lights.
The 17th annual parade is set to step off at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29, from the downtown Centennial Beach parking lot at 500 W. Jackson Ave., bringing roughly 55 units including Scout groups, businesses, nonprofit organizations and the big guy in red and Mrs. Claus through town for a festive evening.
One highlight will be a float of sorts from the concrete company Ozinga, which has a facility on the north end of downtown Naperville.
"There will be a giant cement mixer with holiday lights," said Beth Praetz, director of marketing and communication for Little Friends. "I've heard it's pretty cool."
Little Friends and the Downtown Naperville Alliance moved the event forward to its traditional timing of Thanksgiving weekend this year after a couple of years coming later in the holiday season.
"Many asked for this, and although it's tough for those who travel that weekend, we and Little Friends are happy to oblige," said Katie Wood, executive director of the Downtown Naperville Alliance.
Praetz said she hopes the festivities will bring large crowds to a downtown already lit up with twinkling trees and sparkling rooftops, which Wood calls "welcoming" lights, since early November.
Advocates for Little Friends, which serves people with autism and other disabilities or emotional challenges with schools, residential programs and other supports, will lead the parade with a float populated by families, staff members and donors.
"We're hoping we have a nice crowd to march with us," Praetz said.
Grand marshals this year will be longtime Little Friends benefactors Ray and Marilyn Jones of Friedrich-Jones Funeral Home in downtown Naperville.
"We want to recognize all they've done for Little Friends and Naperville," Praetz said.
Before the marching starts, local musical groups and dance studios will perform from 6:30 to 7 p.m. at a viewing stand near Nichols Library at 200 W. Jefferson St. And afterward, Santa and Mrs. Claus will take up residence in a space all their own, the Naperville Park District's Santa House along the Riverwalk at Jackson Avenue and Webster Street.
Children also can drop off their wish lists in the downtown alliance's painted Santa Mailbox at the corner of Main Street and Van Buren Avenue, including their note to jolly ol' St. Nick as well as their return address to get a letter back in the mail.
The parade comes as Little Friends has been granted permission to tear down all the buildings on its Wright Street campus east of downtown Naperville in an effort to sell the land and move to a different site better suited for educating students with special needs. City leaders, however, have committed to work with Little Friends to explore whether incentives or grants can make it possible for the nonprofit to accept an offer from a buyer who would keep one of the buildings, the Kroehler mansion, on the site.
"We are still proud residents of Naperville and supporters of Naperville and appreciate all they've done for us." Praetz said. "We always support our community because they support us."
This year's Parade of Lights comes a few years after the event almost was called off because of concerns street closures could negatively affect downtown businesses on a busy shopping day. But officials in 2016 devised a new route -- which the parade will follow again this year -- and the show went on after public outcry at the potential loss of the holiday tradition.
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Little Friends Parade of Lights
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 29
Where: Route starts at Centennial Beach, 500 W. Jackson Ave., heads north on Webster Street; turns west on Van Buren Street; ends at Naper Elementary School
Who: Sponsored by Little Friends nonprofit disability services agency and school
Info: littlefriendsinc.org/little-friends-parade-of-lights or (630) 355-6533