Families crowded the streets Friday night for the Mayor’s Spirit of the Holidays Lighted Parade where Santa hats, glitter, elf costumes and antler headbands were the fashionable norm.
The parade directly preceded the annual Tree Lighting ceremony in Triangle Park, where Mayor Loren Pepperd gave a few words before lighting up the tree and Santa passed out goodies to gathered children from a festive but modest throne.
The parade, in its 11th year, wound from the Manhattan Town Center down Poyntz Avenue to 11th Street before ending on Moro Street in Aggieville. The procession, which began at 6 p.m., took about an hour to make its entire route.
The mayor and the other city commissioners led the way, with floats from the Manhattan Public Library, Fort Riley, several area businesses and churches, and schools including Manhattan Catholic Schools and Bluemont Elementary School following behind. The K-State and Manhattan High School bands also marched.
Nativity scenes, colorful lights and cheerful holiday music were in abundance amongst the 41 floats registered for the parade. There were belly dancers, firefighters, bicyclists and even festively costumed dogs from the Manhattan Kansas Kennel Club, along with an appearance by state representative Tom Phillips.
Naturally, Santa Claus closed the parade in a horse-drawn carriage.
In the spirit of the season, there were also volunteers peppered throughout the parade pushing shopping carts to collect food donations from parade-goers for the Flint Hills Breadbasket.
One such group was the Bluemont Student Leadership Group from Bluemont Elementary School. The group is made up of 11 fifth and sixth graders who were nominated by their teachers at the beginning of the school year for their demonstrated leadership abilities.
This year, the students are Alec Bluemel, Josie Broxterman, Payton Goans, Mason Jackson, Taylor Johnson, Hunter Jones, Jana Kellogg, Iris Kingery, Christopher Lake, Elizabeth Martin and Marin Poulson.
On Friday, they wore homemade boxes over their clothing as they collected the donations.
Kellogg, a sixth grader at the school, said it was her first time appearing in the parade. “I had lots of fun handing out candy to little kids,” she said.
Kellogg, who was accompanied by two friends and her mother Krista Kellogg, wore a box covered in pink glitter, with the words, “The gift of love,” written in gold and topped off with a bow.
She said she collected about 20 to 25 food items in her cart and guessed that the other students collected similar amounts.
Her favorites in the parade were the antique cars stringed with festive lights. “They were very beautiful,” she said.
In a short statement before the tree lighting, Evan Tuttle, executive director of the Aggieville Business Association, spoke of the continued need to support the Flint Hills Breadbasket, telling the crowd that the organization is serving twice the number of people than in previous years.
He also thanked the Manhattan High School Chamber Choir for providing entertainment during the night.
Tuttle said the turnout on Friday was the best he has ever seen.
During the tree-lighting ceremony, Mayor Pepperd told the crowd that in 2011, the Flint Hills Breadbasket helped approximately 19,000 people and collected almost 600 pounds of food. “Please don’t stop giving,” he said.
Pepperd also presented four awards for the most creative floats: the Mayor’s Trophy, the Best Youth Entry, the Spirit of the Breadbasket award and the Best Use of Lights.
A 1930 GM Firetruck won the Mayor’s Trophy, while Bates Dance Studio won Best Youth Entry and USD 383 Leadership Group won the Spirit of the Breadbasket award. The UCC Preschool Academy won Best Use of Lights.
The tree in Triangle Park was officially lit just short of 15 minutes past 7 p.m., while “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” rang through the air.