Jerry Nelson: Festival of Lights parade warms a chilly night

Jerry Nelson
Special to the Farm Forum
One of the floats in Holiday in the Tropics Festival of Lights parade.

It’s not exactly normal to enjoy a parade in this part of the world at this time of year. But my wife and I shattered the standards of normalcy when we recently took in a local Festival of Lights parade.

Shortly before the parade began I wandered around its parking lot staging area and chatted with some of the participants. Everyone was in a festive spirit, although a person would definitely need to be festive in order to spend hours and hours creating a Christmas float, then ride on it in a mile-long parade route in freezing temperatures.

Clint and Rebecca and their two young sons were putting the finishing touches on their parade entry, which consisted of a compact John Deere tractor that was pulling a trailer that held a compact Kubota tractor. The tractors were festooned with lights, although not the kind that would facilitate nighttime fieldwork. The blinking red and green lights followed the outlines of the tractors, forming a very large dot-to-dot puzzle.

“Our kids love Christmas and eagerly volunteered to help decorate when we told them that we would be in the holiday parade,” Rebecca said.

Their two sons, aged 4 and 6, seemed to be contributing to the decoration effort mostly by chasing each other around the parking lot.

Another parade entry consisted of a gravel truck that had been turned into a rough facsimile of a pirate ship. The rig sported faux portholes on the side of the truck body, a Jolly Roger flag flying from a front corner and a huge rectangular mainsail.

I chatted with Kesmond, the young man who was the mastermind behind this creation, and asked him if the mainsail gave the truck better fuel mileage.

 “It depends on the direction of the wind,” he replied with a grin.

I asked how long it takes to deck out a gravel truck as a pirate ship.

“It took me a couple of really long days in the shop,” Kesmond replied with a satisfied smile as he regarded his creation. “But it was totally worth it!”

Not far behind the gravel truck was a high-wheel dry fertilizer applicator that had been festooned with blinking Christmas lights. You know you’re in farm country when there’s fertilizer equipment in the Christmas parade.

 Another parade entry featured a lighted blow-up Santa who was doing the hula. It made me want to get a miniature version of the hula Santa for the dashboard of my pickup. After all, one can never have too much Christmas spirit.

The parade’s theme, Holiday in the Tropics, was certainly on display in a float that featured a sandy beach, plastic palm trees and a cabana for cold refreshments – although hot chocolate was probably more appropriate given the chilly conditions.

A loudspeaker on the float played Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters crooning “Mele Kalikimaka” on an endless loop. Within moments, the song had become an earworm and began to play over and over in my brain.

I spoke with a lady named Janet, who seemed to be in charge of that particular parade entry. I asked her if she had grown tired of listening to Bing sing.

“Not at all,” Janet replied with a smile. “It’s one of my favorite Christmas songs. When I tell Alexa to play 1950s Christmas music, it’s almost always the first song that comes up.”

Despite my best efforts, for the rest of the evening all I could hear was “Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say...”

When the parade’s start time finally drew near, my wife and I found a parking spot with a good view and waited patiently in the comforting warmth of our car. 

A police cruiser led the parade, its red and blue emergency lights ablaze, its siren giving out a random and startlingly loud “whoop!” Children and their parents lined the sidewalk, waving and enjoying the show.

Jerry Nelson

The floats crept by at a snail’s pace. Candy was thrown and kids scrambled to pick it up under the watchful eyes of their parents and pedestrian parade participants. Given the frosty temperatures, no one had to worry about their chocolate melting.

Even though the parade was going really slow, it was over in less than 10 minutes. But the event’s organizers had thought of that and sent the parade past us again on its way back to the staging area. My wife and I thus got to see two parades for the price of one.

Nobody had uttered the word “pandemic” all evening. But I’m certain that everyone was relieved to feel that a sense of normalcy, like Santa, was making a return.

Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and in bookstores nationwide