Lights Festival

This time of year evokes so many memories. That’s really what the holidays are all about. Times spent with loved ones that we will always cherish.

Some of my fondest memories were made in a little house in a tiny town in Southwest Missouri. Christmas Eve spent listening for the sound of reindeer on the roof. Christmas morning waking up at the crack of dawn to open presents.

And on Thanksgiving morning as the adults would be cooking and preparing yummy foods for our entire family, the kids would be in front of the TV watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

The floats, the giant inflatables and the marching bands were mesmerizing and a great babysitter! They kept all of us kids busy and allowed my grandma, mom and aunts to cook in peace.

Those images of the holidays in New York have always seemed magical to me. Ice skating in Central Park, the elaborate department store window displays and the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center are sights I hope to someday see in person.

This year, however, I got the closest I’ve ever been to these iconic Christmas images. On our recent trip to Chicago we were able to experience the holidays in a totally new and magical way.

One of the Chicago traditions we were able to experience first hand was the Lights Festival.

Before going to Chicago I researched different things happening during the time we would be visiting. I read about the Lights Festival Parade but had no idea what a big deal it was. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find out it ranked right up there with the holiday parades I used to love and watch on TV as a kid.

We also hit the jackpot with our hotel choice. I had primarily chosen our hotel because it was an historic building located downtown with a gorgeous view of Lake Michigan. Little did I know that it was also the starting point of the holiday parade.

The Lights Festival along the Magnificent Mile is a tradition that has a long history in Chicago. Way back in 1959, Saks Fifth Avenue strung tiny white lights imported from Italy on the elm trees in front of the store. This was so successful that other stores along Michigan Avenue started doing this as well and the lighting festival was born.

Each year the parade is led by Mickey and Minnie Mouse who serve as Grand Marshals. As they lead the parade, the trees lining the Magnificent Mile are illuminated with over 1 million lights.

Following the Grand Marshals are floats of all varieties. This year some of the featured celebrities performing included Melinda Doolittle from American Idol fame and singer Billy Gilman.

My favorite float was one from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. This featured an octopus and various other ocean dwellers. It really was amazing.

There were also numerous marching bands that performed. I was really impressed by how well they tolerated the cold and wind, never missing a beat.

But I have to say my favorites were the giant inflatables. That is something I’d never seen in person and it was spectacular the way they were being secured by dozens of people and slowly allowed to rise up for everyone to enjoy.

As much as I enjoyed the parade, I will admit that I was a wimp and only lasted about halfway through before retreating to the warmth of our room to finish watching the procession. Luckily we had a great view!

Closing out the parade is none other than Santa Clause himself and the Christmas season is now officially in full swing. One aspect of the Lights Festival we couldn’t see from our room is the fireworks spectacular over the Chicago River at North Michigan Avenue at the end of the parade. But maybe next time.

I have to say that I enjoyed this much more than I had expected. Its kinda nice to know that the little kid in me can still be mesmerized by bright shiny lights and feel the excitement that only Christmas can bring.

I’m also very thankful I was able to experience this with my sweetheart. Sometimes it’s nice to act like kids again as the hubby and I just keep collecting memories as we go.

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