TRAVERSE CITY — Folks eager to get into the holiday spirit can welcome Santa Claus to town, enjoy a parade and attend the tree lighting ceremony this weekend.

The Downtown Development Authority hosts its third annual event Saturday evening.

Marketing and Communications Director Colleen Paveglio said Santa and the tree lighting are decades-old traditions, but the Light Parade is a newer addition.

“It’s something we considered for several years,” Paveglio said. “The event needed a little more life and it seemed appropriate for northern Michigan.”

After tweaking the lineup, attendance soared: about 3,500 people came for St. Nick and the tree, while 9,000 turned out for the parade. Paveglio said this was a pleasant surprise, though it spurred them to discuss safety regulations and add more volunteers.

Santa used to ride an antique fire truck, but Paveglio said crowd feedback prompted a change.

“Only half the street could see him,” she said. “Santa will arrive on a float this year. The [firefighters] local 646 will be ahead of him to keep that tradition alive.”

Almost 30 nonprofits are participating this year, including Boots for Kids, Cherryland Humane Society, Leelanau Montessori Public School Academy and Paperworks Studio of Traverse City. Paveglio added that high school bands and local dance troupes plan to perform.

“We’re trying to keep it really local,” she said.

Kristi Wodek and her husband spent more than a month building a float for Crooked Tree Arts Center in Traverse City, where she is education and outreach director. Wodek said a program committee member suggested modeling their float after the Lite-Brite, a toy first marketed in the 1960s.

Wodek said the 16 foot long and 8 foot tall design is illuminated on two sides so that “if you’re on this side of the street or that side, you’ll be able to see it.”

She added that the project put her art background to the test.

“I’ve tackled a lot of projects and I don’t shy away from power tools,” she said. “But it’s been a little trickier than I anticipated. Little things came up that we didn’t think about.”

Challenges, Wodek said, included getting the trailer, modifying it to work with the design and working in a unheated garage — all while keeping the costs down. She even helped her daughter work on a float for the Lake Leelanau Rowing team.

Overall, Wodek said she is excited to see the finished float and the parade, an experience that first became a tradition when the family lived in Minneapolis.

“When this started, I was thrilled because I knew what it meant to our family, especially when our kids were younger,” she said.

The Downtown Light Parade, Santa’s Arrival and Tree Lighting start at 5:30 p.m. Nov. 23. Enjoy holiday music and the tree illumination at the corner of Cass and Front streets.

Sound Environments plays recorded holiday music, and then local singing group Solaria gives a short performance and leads the community caroling session.

People may set up chairs on Front Street from Union to Franklin streets to watch the parade, which is expected to run about 40 minutes. That portion of Front Street is expected to close to vehicle traffic by 3:30 p.m.

Santa plans to visit with children at Cherry Republic after the parade until 9 p.m. His house, located at the corner of Cass and State streets, opens Nov. 29.

Additionally, the State Theatre screens classic Christmas cartoons from 6-7:30 p.m.

Admission is free for all activities. Call 231-922-2050 to sign up to volunteer during the event.

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