Festival of Lights Parade in Palm Springs ushers in the holiday season
It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Palm Springs.
Thousands of people gathered downtown on Saturday to watch the 30th annual Palm Springs Festival of Lights Parade and kick-start the holiday season. They gathered at the edges of Palm Canyon Drive, many cheering and yelling “Merry Christmas” as the parade passed by.
About 80 groups marched in the parade, according to the Festival of Lights’ website. They included marching bands, neighborhood groups holding Christmas-themed helium balloons, illuminated floats, horses, and, of course, Santa Claus.
One of the highlights of the event included the Desert Burners Bicycle Brigade, who rode illuminated bicycles in various formations. Donna Sturgeon, one of the group’s members, said it was their fifth time riding in the parade, and members spent a couple of nights decorating their bikes.
“It's so inspiring to see the kids light up when they see that they can decorate their own bicycles,” Sturgeon said. “So we have three formations that we do and it just seems to work really well and we’re excited to do it.”
Representatives of Acrisure Arena, the Coachella Valley Firebirds and the team mascot, Fuego, also made an appearance at the parade. Shannon Miller, vice president of Acrisure Arena, said it was awesome to be there and represent the desert's newest live entertainment venue.
“As soon as (attendees) saw the Firebird hockey jerseys and Fuego, they just went crazy,” Miller said. “Especially the kids. It was fun.”
Although the parade lasts only a few hours, it takes months to prepare.
Brian McDaniel, Rancho Mirage High School’s band director, said the marching band started preparing its performance right after Halloween. His student band performed with Desert Hot Springs High School and Desert Springs Middle School to make a “super band,” he said.
The “super band” members all wore their respective uniforms, along with some festive Christmas hats and lights.
“I’m looking forward to seeing those shiny bright eyes of kids listening to our band and just having our kids have a wonderful time,” McDaniel said ahead of the parade.
Tobi Sorensen, a sophomore at Desert Hot Springs High School and member of the band, said he was looking forward to seeing the whole community watch and support them.
“Preparing for this day was a lot of fun, you know, we were in a great mood and (in) the Christmas spirit, you could say,” Sorensen said.
Juliana Martinez, Coachella Valley High School’s dance team choreographer and director, said her team had been practicing for around a month to perform a jazz dance to “Sleigh Ride.”
“We’ve been doing the Palm Springs parade now for almost over 10 years,” she said. “We always perform the opening or we always perform in the middle of the parade.”
Anika Zepeda, a sophomore at Coachella Valley High School and one of the dancers, said she’s done too many parade performances to count. She looked forward to seeing people’s faces light up when they passed by.
“Our practices were super long. We had to stay ‘til 6 some days and it was just a really long, stressful process, but it all came together in the end,” she said.
Other local schools and organizations participated in the holiday cheer on Saturday, though some traveled from quite a distance such as Napa High School in Northern California and Arcadia High School in Arizona.
Kai Benedict, a junior at Arcadia High School and a member of its color guard, said the group drove about four hours to make it to Palm Springs.
“We really spent a lot of time just working on visual stuff and just making sure that we can do it the best that we can for our parade here,” Benedict said.
Many parade attendees were visibly excited as they watched the marchers head down Palm Canyon. There were casual viewers, but also those who had staked out the best spots, coming prepared with chairs, food and drinks. Some watched from restaurants or reserved seating associated with businesses located on the street.
Victoria Macias, who attended the parade with her family, said they enjoy the crowd of people. She used to come to the parade annually, and is restarting the tradition after about four years. It was her 5-year-old daughter’s first time, she added.
“(The kids) love all the lights, all the people,” Macias said. “They love all kinds of stuff like this.”
Kristin Kaminsky said her family has been setting up a parade viewing party with recreational vehicles in a dirt lot on Palm Canyon Drive for 15 years. The Palm Springs Fire Department does a similar event next to them, she added.
She said the party's set-up is "everything the holidays." There were Christmas decorations, food and drinks, a movie projector playing Christmas films, and children running around playing.
“We do everything from Christmas lights to Santa blow-ups,” she said. “It's super special to all of my children’s school friends, and every year it tends to get bigger, we have approximately 100 people come every year.”
But 2022 will be the last year the family carries the tradition. Kaminsky said they just learned the dirt lot is being sold, but they are grateful for the memories they made there.
"(The kids) are running around the lots, they're playing together, they're innocent, they're having fun and this is what being a child is all about, so it's very special," she said.
Ani Gasparyan covers the western Coachella Valley cities of Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City. Reach her at email@example.com.