Columbus Festival of Lights Parade returns with big crowd

Mike Wolanin | The Republic Santa waves from a parade float during the Columbus Festival of Lights parade in downtown Columbus, Ind., Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023.

Perhaps the only thing warmer than the 50-degree temperature just before the Columbus Festival of Lights Parade returned Saturday night — after a year’s absence — were the smiles of children and others along the mile-long route, mostly along Washington Street.

Some of the youngsters were decked in light-up antlers on their head, with the dear ones apparently innocently masquerading as deer ones amid the season.

A crowd that looked to be be among the largest in the past five-plus years thronged the streets. And that strong attendance saw some areas of the route packed six people deep, such as near the end of the route at Eighth and Washington streets.

“But isn’t this great?” said Jerry Simo, who mentioned that he rarely attends, but was there to see his son in the procession.

The last local holiday parade was held in 2021. The following year, the nonprofit JAKKS Inc. cancelled the event, citing a shortage of volunteers, rising vendor costs and other struggles.

On Saturday, Jessica Smith was there with her children for the first time in a few years because she mentioned that the family often has been gone on a few of the past parade weekends. And once a few years ago, the weather was so cold that they stayed in the car and watched from a parking lot along Washington Street.

But Smith said this year was different.

“We just decided we wanted to get back here and celebrate the start of the holiday season,” she said.

And the near-balmy temperature?

“It does help a lot,” she said, while still wearing a thick, knit cap. “It convinces mom and dad that it’s a nice night to get out.”

The event, limited to 60 entries instead of the past’s 90 to 100 entries, began snaking northward up Washington Street to a persistent percussion before many in the crowd could crane their neck to see the first few entries. The Sound and Spirit of Columbus Marching Band, near the front of the line, got everyone into the spirit of the holiday with a jazzy rendition of “Feliz Navidad.”

The leaders of the nonprofit Red Arch Community Events Inc., at work since September 2022 on the event that attracts an estimated 7,000 people or more, said that they built upon what previous organizers established years ago.

The name ‘Red Arch’ links the red arches on the Interstate 65 bridge at the city west’s entrance and the Large Arch sculpture on the Bartholomew County Public Library Plaza.

“It was wonderful — really wonderful,” said Amy Stoughton Berquist, chief financial officer for Red Arch Community Events Inc. “Of course, we learned a lot with this being our first year.

“But we had so many terrific volunteers, and the experience was so amazing.”

Photos from the parade can be viewed at the following link: