By JENNIFER PASSARO
COEUR d’ALENE — Beneath a flaring pink sky, men and women checked the lights on their floats, pulled the kids’ hats over their ears, and adjusted the volume on their float speakers. They turned the music up. Way up. The Red Hot Mamas clicked the little bells on their red shoes. The wind steadied in from the north. And the sidewalks spilled over with spectators.
“Oh I absolutely wouldn’t miss this for anything,” Patricia Frederickson of Coeur d’Alene said, beaming beneath her winter hat. “This is the initiation ceremony for my grandson, Harrison. I used to bring his mom when she was a little girl. We come every year. It is so wonderful to see so many kind people — smiling and full of gratitude.”
Elk Ridge Excavation’s towering float rumbled onto Sherman Avenue, bedecked in multi-colored Christmas lights. The speakers cheered “Come on! It’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you!”
“My girlfriend did all the magic,” Derek Dunn of Coeur d’Alene and Elk Ridge Excavation owner, said. “She wrapped all the boxes.”
The dump truck pulling the excavator was piled high with enormous Christmas presents. The Grinch drove the excavator behind it, stealing presents wrapped in bright bows.
“We came up with this idea over a year ago,” Caylin Novell, Dunn’s girlfriend, said. “It’s our first time in the parade.”
The Idaho Department of Lands warmed up its eight piece band, playing “This Land Is Your Land,” while Harry Stafford, a senior at Lake City High School, held his baritone tight.
“We have a lot of fun songs,” he said, as the band shouted and squealed around him, ready to play.
With a few moments until the start of the parade, Miss Coeur d’Alene ran down the sidewalk in a white ball gown and leapt onto her float. Seven Stars Ranch owner Sonya Schumacher steadied her haucayan alpacas.
“There’s lots of preparation to get ready for this parade, especially with animals,” Schumacher said. “They’re pretty docile, but this is our first time with our miniature donkey. We try to get them ready for the loud noises.”
Oliver, the miniature donkey, blinked. He seemed intent to harken in the holiday cheer.
The sky darkened, the lights brightened, and the 29th annual Lighting Ceremony Parade was underway.
The crowd whooped as Superior Towing and Recovery’s truck lumbered past, pulling an ’88 Ford Taurus Wagon, flattened by a massive pine tree, root ball and all. True to the “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,” the wagon’s wood paneled sides bulged.
“The one in the movie is actually an ’89, but I got this one for 40 bucks,” Brittany Forte of Hayden said, grinning enthusiastically. She’s been driving tow trucks for the company for over two years.
Emily Boyd, the events coordinator for the Downtown Association, organizes the parade.
“My favorite thing to do is walk next to Santa and watch the children’s faces as they watch him,” Boyd said. “It’s pure magic.”
Perched in her wagon, Ellie Barnett, 7, of Coeur d’Alene waved at the passing floats, 35 entries in all.
“Mommy’s work is here! Health care!” Barnett said as the Heritage Health bus rolled past. “This is fun!”
The last float slipped down Sherman Avenue as the crowd hummed and pulsed. Everyone made their way to The Coeur d’Alene Resort lawn.
Marlee Sanchez, 4, of Coeur d’Alene, held her mom’s hand and leapt into the air with joy.
“I liked the lights,” she said, her eyes as clear as the winter night. “And Santa Claus was awesome.” Her grandparents giggled. Far across the lawn the carolers began to sing.
People found their footing on the lawn and lit their candles.
Brad Hagadone, president of the Hagadone Corporation, welcomed all the hearty souls in attendance.
“It’s hard to believe back in 1986 we started this ceremony with 100 lights,” he said. Now more than 1.5 million lights illuminate The Coeur d’Alene Resort.
“We really love to give back to our community,” Hagadone said as he prepared the crowd for the biggest fireworks show yet.
The night sky glittered. The crowd crooned, still full with Thanksgiving dinner and surrounded by their families and friends.
“I liked the ones that were shimmering,” Scarlet Wood, 8, of Coeur d’Alene said. “It looked like a waterfall coming out of the sky.”
“We are so thrilled with the crowd this year. It’s the biggest we’ve ever seen,” Scarlet’s mom, Dr. Kate Kuhlman-Wood, said, clapping her hands. “What a great town. Every year it just gets better and better.”
On the corner of Sixth and Sherman a group of young people gathered, singing Christmas carols.
Their joyful voices filled the cold air as parade leftovers — pastry bags and napkins fluttered down Sherman Avenue like snow. The star on the top of the Hagadone Christmas tree shone above the town. It was the brightest light of all.