Yule love it! Festival of Lights Christmas Village, parade meant to make the season merry, bright

Maybe it’s the Christmas carols wafting through The Commons. Or the whistle of the old-fashioned Lionel electric trains chugging into yesteryear. Or the sight of fanciful Christmas treats as sweet as bygone memories.

Forgive Columbus resident Debbie Peters if she struggles a bit to put her finger on the precise reason she loves the Festival of Lights Christmas Village.

The latest incarnation unfolds from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday — just before the 6 p.m. Festival of Lights Parade that will include native son and retired NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

“It’s just an overall great atmosphere,” said Peters, a vendor for the past couple of years at the free village for families. “It’s really fun and festive. It’s such a wonderful family event.”

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So much of a family event, in fact, that she brings along her own 9- and 11-year-old daughters along as she operates her booth for her brightly colored crocheted caps, uber-wide headbands and baby items as part of her Sunny Days Creations part-time business.

“Of course, they really love the Christmas music,” Peters said.

Saturday’s gathering will include about 20 vendors displaying and selling handmade items including jewelry, apparel, cosmetics and even furniture, Commons manager Shanda Sasse said. She serves as one of the organizers of the village with the help of the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

A musical group or two, including Three Handsome Gentlemen, will provide a holiday soundtrack. And kidscommons, Foundation For Youth and parks and recreation personnel will offer a variety of children’s games. Plus, local performer and illusionist Travis Easterling will add to the holiday magic with a free 4 p.m. show on the playground.

An estimated 2,000 people visited the village last year, Sasse said. That’s a figure that has held steady for a couple years.

Former Columbus Mayor Kristen Brown launched the event in 2013 as an added activity for families and a bridge to the parade that already boasts long-running popularity. Plus, it is followed by QMIX Christmas Musical Fireworks that makes sure the proceedings never fizzle.

One popular element introduced last year returns again. Youngsters will be encouraged to create Christmas cards for overseas military personnel. About 200 children participated last year with the help of local veterans, Sasse said.

“It worked out pretty well,” she said. “And we’re trying to add a few more interactive activities and grow it just a little more.”

The 100-entry parade will feature grand marshal and QMIX Musical Fireworks poster winner Bella Newman-Stump, a fourth-grader from Mt. Healthy Elementary School. The procession will run in the opposite direction from usual this year, beginning at Fifth and Brown Street and running south the wrong traffic way before turning westward on Third again, the wrong traffic way and then northward on Washington to Eighth, said Joyce Lucke, a member of the parade’s organizing committee.

Lining up larger vehicles such as firetrucks and other city vehicles would be tougher if the direction remained the same with newly installed curb extensions downtown, Lucke said. Reversing the direction alleviates those problems.

She’s certain the crowd this year will be larger than normal because of Stewart’s appearance as a special guest. But she’s uncertain what kind of spike to expect.

“We’ve been pondering that,” Lucke said. “I think this is slightly different than when he appeared last time in the parade in 2011, when he had won his third (NASCAR) championship. I know that we did have more inquiries about parade entries after people heard he would be in it.”

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What: 26th Annual Festival of Lights Parade, featuring 100 entries.

When: 6 p.m. Saturday. Normally runs more than an hour.

Where: Begins at Fifth and Brown and heads south; east on Third Street; north on Washington Street; west on Eighth Street.

Cost: Free.

Grand marshal: QMIX Christmas Musical Fireworks poster winner Bella Newman-Stump, a fourth-grader from Mount Healthy Elementary School.

Special guest: Columbus native and retiring NASCAR driver Tony Stewart.

Caution: Organizers are issuing a warning for viewers to remain on the sidewalks along the route and to not step into the street during the procession.

QMIX Christmas Musical Fireworks: Following the parade at Second and Washington Street.

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What: Annual Festival of Lights Christmas Village, featuring about 20 vendors with crafts, jewelry, apparel, Christmas treats and more; live music; children’s games.

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Inside The Commons, 300 Washington St. in Columbus.

Cost: Free.

Information: 812-376-2681.