published Monday, December 16th, 2013

Annual Starlight Parade in Chattanooga marks festive season

With the Tennessee Aquarium lit up in holiday colors, Santa waves from atop a firetruck near the end of the parade.
With the Tennessee Aquarium lit up in holiday colors, Santa waves from atop a firetruck near the end of the parade.
Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
  • photo
    Rob Standish holds his 3-year-old son Conner on his shoulders to get a better view of the Holiday Starlight Parade in downtown Chattanooga on Sunday.
    Photo by C. B. Schmelter.
    enlarge photo

Darth Vader, Buddy the Elf and The Grinch were in town last night. No damage was reported, but they all appeared to be in a cheerful mood as part of Chattanooga's annual Holiday Starlight Parade.

A long line of well-wishers -- many in costume -- marched north on Market Street to ring in the holiday season, starting on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and disbanding on Third Street.

Starting promptly at 6 p.m., Chattanooga police squad cars drove three abreast along the cleared route. As their lights and sirens pierced the crisp, gray night, onlookers leapt to their feet.

Some viewers stood on bleachers; others found spaces between mailboxes and parking meters.

The Lawden family, of Chattanooga, perched in the back of their white Ford F-150 truck bed, bundled in blankets, flannel shirts and thick gloves. They shared spiced cider and watched the parade go past their parking space-turned-suite.

"I'm going to need to stay warm if I want to see Santa," 7-year-old Brooklyn Lawden said.

But the wait for Santa -- the undeniable fan favorite of such a festive parade -- would be an anxious one. More than 40 floats and groups would roll by before the big man made his appearance near the end of the line.

There were the usual attractions: Local high school marching bands in holiday garb. Cheerful employees dressed as elves. Kids diving for candy, and local politicians waving from decorated convertibles.

There was even a mascot of The Grinch piloting a shiny red Chevrolet Corvette.

"Daddy, I think he stole that, too," 10-year-old Kay Jennings said to her father as the maligned Whoville critter drove by.

Some chose to celebrate the season in their own quirky ways.

An inflatable hot dog marched down the street and gave thumbs-up to spectators. Fire twirlers danced and spun live flames through the chilly night. Shelter animals up for adoption rode with children in Radio Flyer wagons.

"Does it get any cuter than puppies and babies in wagons with Christmas lights?" WRCB-Channel 3 news anchor Kimberly Barbour said as the fleet passed the station's booth near Eighth and Market streets. Barbour and crew served as the official emcees for the event.

And of course, there were the VIPs -- Santa and Mrs. Claus, complete with their crew of elves -- atop an antique fire truck to round out the final parade floats.

As area children beckoned out their wish lists and good tidings for the jolly couple, some participants within the parade were letting their youthful enthusiasm show.

Angela Punch was among the local 501st Legion troop -- a national club of Star Wars costuming enthusiasts -- dressed as a Biker Scout, with white shield armor and a blaster. It was her fourth year marching with her 501st Legion Troopers in the parade, but certainly not her last.

"Marching in the parade is just so worth it to see the faces of the happy kids and adults," she said. "They totally feed on it."

Contact staff writer Jeff LaFave at jlafave@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow him on Twitter at @PressLaFave.

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