Lighting up the season: Festival parade and Christmas Village make big return to downtown

For Dusty Blackburn, the annual Festival of Lights Parade involves more than seeing a procession up Washington Street. It’s actually about making a procession of Christmas memories with her relatives and grandchildren.

That’s why she and other family members had six of the little ones along for the mile-long event Saturday night in downtown Columbus.

Blackburn already had spent the afternoon with the oldest ones baking Christmas cookies, which they ate during the parade.

“We all decorated the wagon here before we brought them down,” she said, motioning to a child’s vehicle bearing tinsel and more.

Blackburn and clan were among an estimated crowd of several thousand, which looked to be slightly larger than the throng from the event in 2019. That’s the most recent time it was held because of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic cancellation.

Earlier in the day, the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department’s annual Christmas Village attracted about 700 people at The Commons. The theme was “Home Alone,” referencing the popular classic Christmas movies. Attractions included a selfie photo spot where youngsters could project their best “Kevin scream face,” as organizers called it, just like the character Macaulay Culkin played.

“It was really great to see so many families out having fun together,” said Shanda Sasse, The Commons manager.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, this year’s parade was limited to 75 entries instead of the normal maximum of 100 entries. The trimmed lineup meant that a waving Santa on the evening’s final float passed in front of The Commons just before the one-hour mark — significant because some parades in past years have continued for two hours or more.

Organizers with JAKKS Inc. wanted to limit the time that so many people were in close quarters along the streets. In some areas, people stood six rows deep along the sidewalks. Some huddled against strollers with snuggled toddlers.

Others held leashed dogs in their arms.

This year’s accidental theme seemed to be Frosty the Snowman, with the heartwarming character featured on nearly a half dozen floats in the first 30 minutes alone. When children along Washington Street spotted Frosty on the bright and lengthy Dorel Juvenile Group decorated flatbed semi near the beginning of the procession, they shrieked and called out his name.

Nearby, Paul and Tiffany Pulkowski enjoyed all the lights and pageantry at what they figured to be at least their 15th such parade.

“When our kids were little, they played and marched in this (event) in the middle school band,” said Tiffany Pulkowski. “Now, we just like to look at all the lights.”

John Wiswasser and his relatives of 14 people have made the parade a special outing ever since moving to Columbus five years ago. Saturday, they waited especially to see his daughter pass by in the color guard of the Sound and Spirit of Columbus, the combined band of Columbus North and East high schools.

“This,” Wiswasser said, “is just a great family time for everyone.”

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Flames shoot from a hot air balloon basket on the Re/Max float during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Members of the Sound and Spirit of Columbus high school marching band march through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Members of the Sound and Spirit of Columbus high school marching band march through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Dirk Rader of St. John’s Masonic Lodge passes out candy during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers line Washington Street to watch the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Grinch waves to spectators as he rides a sleigh through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Grinch waves to spectators as he rides a sleigh through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Kiley Caffee holds her son and Waylon as he points out floats during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Members of the combined Central and Northside middle school marching bands take part in the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Columbus Township Fire and Rescue ladder truck passes through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Dorel Juvenile Group float heads up Washington Street during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Dorel Juvenile Group float makes its way through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Dorel Juvenile Group parade participants wave from their float during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Dorel Juvenile Group float makes its way down Third Street during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Columbus Mayor Jim Lienhoop’s float passes through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers watch the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade on Third Street in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers line Washington Street for the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers gather at the corner of Fourth and Washington streets for the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers make their way past the Crump Theatre for the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers gather in front of The Commons for the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers gather at the corner of Third and Washington streets for the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic A stuffed Grinch is strapped to the back of a motorcycle before the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Kaylee Purtlebaugh and her dog Nessa walk through the float staging area before the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Brandon and Kristen Goecker sit with their daughter Gwen before taking part in the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Ben Mayes, from left, his wife Claudia and their grandson Ayden Marietta wait for the start of the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade to start in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers walk under the Crump Theatre marquee after the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Santa waves to the crowd during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers watch the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade at Third and Washington streets in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade participants wave as spectators as they pass through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Avery DeHart, left, and her mom Heather DeHart watch floats pass through the intersection of Third and Washington street during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Columbus Fire Department’s antique Stutz fire truck passes through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Columbus Fire Department’s antique Stutz fire truck passes through the intersection of Third and Washington streets during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic The Bartholomew Consolidated School Foundation float drives up Washington Street during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Children wait for candy during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers walk on Washington Street during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Parade goers watch the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade on Washington Street in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Chris Lanning, of Lanning Automotive, is dressed as Cousin Eddie from the movie National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation on a Christmas Vacation themed float during the 30th annual Festival of Lights parade in Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021.