EAST PEORIA — When the floats depart at 5:45 p.m. Nov. 18 for the Festival of Lights Parade, illuminating the streets of East Peoria with all manner of lighted shapes and pop culture references, the crowds will be awed by the spectacle. The only thing that may damper the experience is a float sputtering out before finishing the parade route.
That's what happened during last year's parade, where a few more floats than normal broke down during the parade because of fuel or other issues. Festival of Lights chairman Doug McCarty and his crew have been working to solve those problems. They have added new lights to some of the floats and made some mechanical improvements to keep the parade running smoothly.
"It's probably nothing most people would notice, but just stuff that makes it a little easier on us to get them down the road," McCarty said.
Beyond the upgrades, it was announced in September that the parade is undergoing a route change. The parade will begin at the customary starting point at the intersection of East Washington Street and Dolans Lane. But then the floats will turn onto Taylor Street, in front of Central Junior High School, before finishing at the U.S. Post Office located at Taylor Street and Springfield Road.
The route change was instituted as a way to alleviate the congestion on state highways running through East Peoria during the parade. So far, McCarty reported encouraging feedback from the community.
"We've heard really a lot of positive comments about it because it does help with the traffic and it does keep a lot more streets open," McCarty said.
Otherwise, the Festival of Lights Parade will recall all of the past lighted spectacles that people in central Illinois have come to love. More than 30 floats will rumble along the parade route in various shapes, colors and glowing LEDs.
The floats include holiday talismans in the gigantic lighted Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer as well as the 95-foot-long, smoke-belching dragon. Other audience favorites that look even more spectacular as they glide by are the Clydesdale horses pulling a delivery wagon and the Starship Enterprise from "Star Trek," powered by 48,000 lights. After the parade the floats will head to Folepi's Winter Wonderland, which opens the night of Thanksgiving and runs through New Year's Eve.
The parade remains an extremely popular event with generations of people attending for tradition or to witness it for the first time. Even during the advent of more home-based entertainment such as smartphones and Netflix, McCarty explained, the parade continues to draw huge crowds on the back of social media.
"In the past four or five years with social media and Facebook, we've realized that we don't have to advertise or push as much because it markets itself," McCarty said. "People come to the parade or Winter Wonderland, share it and tag friends. Next thing you know, it takes over."
Thomas Bruch can be reached at 686-3262 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasBruch.