Thousands of people milled about downtown Colorado Springs on Saturday, despite the mercury dipping toward freezing temperatures, as the 39th annual Festival of Lights Parade kicked off the holiday season.
The chilly weather did little to deter the holiday revelers, many of whom spent the bulk of the day enjoying a host of pre-parade activities in the downtown area, including face painting, magic and puppet shows, hayrides, musical performances and more.
“We’re making a day of it,” said Sylvia Shaw as she and her family sipped hot chocolate and waited for the parade to start. “I’m from North Dakota — this isn’t cold.”
“Oh, it’s plenty cold,” said Claudia, a Florida native enjoying her first parade. “But I love it out here.”
Alden Wheeler, who relocated to Colorado from Kansas brought his wife, two children and the family Great Dane to their first festival.
“My wife learned about (the parade) online,” Wheeler said. “It seemed like a great way to get out, see people, and start celebrating Christmas.”
Two years ago, organizers were forced to cancel the traditional parade because of the COVID-19 pandemic, opting instead for a drive-thru event in The Broadmoor World Arena parking lot.
On Saturday, an occasional face covering could be seen, but most people went without, glad to be free of pandemic restrictions.
“People are just eager to get out and mingle with other folks in the community,” said Michael Mauk, lead manager at Pikes Peak Lemonade on Tejon Street. “I know we’re glad to have the pandemic mostly behind us, and I’m sure a lot of people feel the same way.”
Two weeks after a mass shooting at Club Q that killed five people and injured at least 17 more, the shadow of the attack still hangs over the city. But James Blythe, a Colorado Springs native, said he wouldn’t allow the tragedy to keep him cooped up indoors for the holidays.
“It didn’t bother me to come down here,” he said. “It was a terrible thing, the shooting, but you can’t just sit around your house. People need to live.”
A celebration of life in the wake of a tragedy is in no way disrespectful to the victims of the attack, many parade-goers said. For some, it could serve as a respite from the sadness and uncertainty that overtook much of the city in the days following the shooting.
“At times like this, people need community,” Mauk said. “They need to go out, see friends, and laugh a little. (The Festival of Lights) is a great opportunity for people to do that.”
As skaters glided around the ice rink at Acacia Park and children bustled up and down Tejon in anticipation of a glimpse of Santa and Mrs. Claus on their sleigh, this year’s festival theme, “Be Original, Be Traditional, Be Festive,” was the order of the day.
“This is the best event of the season,” said Brian Mahler, who showed up dressed as a gift-wrapped Christmas box. “I never miss it.”