Let it shine. Or at least twinkle.
Rapid City will kick off the Christmas season with a tree-lighting ceremony and Festival of Lights Parade on Sat., Nov. 25.
The evening starts with Main Street Square's Holiday Celebration and Winter Market, with a tree-lighting at 5 p.m. in Main Street Square. This year's tree, a blue spruce, arrived downtown on Nov. 15. It is 35 feet tall, 21 feet wide at the base, weighs about 3,000 pounds and was donated by Canyon Lake Senior Center.
At 6 p.m., the 20th annual Festival of Lights Parade begins. Connie Olson, parade chair, said the two events, though coordinated by different groups, pair together perfectly.
"So it’s a great time for people to come down. It kind of really launches the Christmas season," she said. "Thanksgiving is over and now it’s Christmas."
The parade route starts on East Boulevard and Main Street, then goes west on Main Street toward Seventh Street where it turns south for one block before heading east on St. Joseph Street to return to East Boulevard.
Col. John Edwards, commander of the 28th Bomb Wing at Ellsworth Air Force Base, is this year's parade marshal. Olson said the event organizers chose Edwards to show respect and appreciation for the military, and as a nod to the key role Ellsworth plays in supporting the community.
This year, there are about 110 parade entries, which Olson surmised could be a record. It's definitely an uptick from last year, which had about 85 entrants. Olson said spectators can expect to see their favorites, along with some new additions.
She said the parade entries include church and civic groups, local businesses and families, with everything from the musically themed to horse-drawn floats to people who "have just outdone themselves with lights."
And, of course, Santa.
"There's just going to be a lot of variety," Olson said.
The event's website estimates the parade draws 30,000 people to downtown Rapid City, and Olson said last year's attendance was especially strong due to the unseasonably warm temperatures. While Olson is hoping for good weather again, she said the event hasn't ever been canceled due to cold or snow.
"It is our intent that regardless of the weather, we will have a parade," she said, while noting that extreme blizzards would be an exception.
In its 20th year, the event is a well-oiled machine. Olson credits a key partnership with the Rapid City Police Department in the long-running parade's success. Having a parade at night can present some unique safety challenges, she said, which means implementing rules that might not apply during daytime parades: people can’t jump on and off their floats during the parade, for example, Olson said. Entrants also aren't supposed to throw candy, because organizers don't want children running into the street when it's dark.
"One of our greatest concerns is making sure that we have a safe, fun parade, but the police department is just phenomenal in making sure that happens," Olson said.
For those who can't make it Saturday night, the parade will be broadcast the day after, Sunday, Nov. 26, on KEVN. It will also re-air twice more; those times are to be determined.
For Olson, who has been the parade chair for five years, the Festival of Lights Parade is definitely a passion project. Also the development director at Youth & Family Services in Rapid City, Olson said the parade — which is free — is exactly the sort of affordable event option that families should have access to.
"I love Christmas," she said. "And I work with families, and I think this is something that families can do together. I like those opportunities for things families can do together."
Other area Christmas parades include:
Nov. 24: Olde Tyme Hill City Christmas Parade/activities, Hill City. Parade at 6 p.m.
Nov. 24: Light up the Night/Parade of Lights 2017, downtown Belle Fourche, 6 p.m.
Dec. 1: Christmas in the Hills, Journey of Lights Parade and tree lighting, Hot Springs, 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Dec. 1: Parade of Lights, Sturgis, 6 p.m.
Dec. 1: Community Holiday Celebration; tree-lighting, bonfire and s'mores; Mustang Sally's, Celebrity Hotel and the Fairmont Hotel, Deadwood; 5 p.m.
Dec. 2: Custer Christmas Parade, downtown Custer, 5:30 p.m.
Dec. 2: Holidazzle Parade and Christmas Stroll, downtown Spearfish. Parade at 6 p.m.