MORRIS – Ben Howle held up his Christmas light necklace and enthusiastically played with the button on it. Each time he pressed it, the colored bulbs lit up in a different pattern and speed.
The six-year-old from Union Hill had come with his family to watch the Lighted Holiday parade Friday in downtown Morris after his mom, Jodi, had seen a posting on Facebook.
They bought the necklace from one of the vendors pushing carts around downtown selling the necklaces along with glow sticks and myriad other things that light up.
Threats of eventual, and then actual, rain did not keep a crowd from showing up to the annual even kicking off Home for the Holidays in Morris. About 30 entries, including floats, characters and police and fire participants, were in this years parade. They gathered near the Grundy County Courthouse
Just before the kick off, Holly Rolando was stringing lights around the edge of her Jeep Wrangler. Attached to the front was banner, featuring Clark Griswold from "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation." The entry was from Dresden Station, promoting the clean energy from the nuclear power plant.
"We've got your back," Rolando said the message was. Along the parade route, she said people would be handing out scarves and glow sticks. "No pun intended."
Elsewhere local dance troupes gathered on larger trailers and marching bands lined up for their part in the parade. And, of course, Santa and Mrs. Claus prepared for their roles. Each had their own float.
Alia and Mark Mansfield of Morris waited in line for a ride on a horse and carriage from the stop in front of the courthouse.
They said they horse and carriage rides were something they were excited about.
"They're charming," Alia said.
The had recently moved to Morris from the Frankfort area, and were enjoying the events such as Corn Fest and Home for the Holidays that the town offers.
"It's got that old town feel ... Everyone is so friendly," Alia said.
The couple had had their first date in Morris and, after they decided to downsize, thought of Morris as a good location.
Along the parade route, which went north on Liberty Street before turning toward Chapin Park on East Chapin Street, local Girl Scout groups had lined the path with luminaries, candles inside re-purposed milk jugs.
Teagan Norczyk, 9, of Minooka was there with her family. They came a little early, but staked out a bench along the path at Liberty and Main streets.
"We love parades and we love Christmas," she said. Her family had never been to the parade before.
"We thought it would be a good way to kick off Christmas," said Teagan's mother, Nicole. They'd already stopped for hot cocoa at Morris Bakery. Elsewhere along Liberty Street, vendors offered cider and hot cocoa at tables or just gave it away for free.
The rain held off until just before the parade began at 5:30 p.m.. And even after it did, people remained in their chairs and standing along the route, although some opted to sit in their cars parked along Liberty Street and watch through open windows or popped trunks.
It worked down Liberty Street, with people and elves distributing candy canes and flashing lights and glow sticks along the route to kids and adults alike.
After the parade passed by, people made their way to Chapin Park where the festivities continued. Madrigal choirs from Coal City and Morris high schools performed carols in the park and inside the pavilion, and a tent distributed hot chocolate as people tried to stay dry and warm. They huddled under leafless trees that offered little protection, crowded into the pavilion with the choir or under the narrow roof of the bathrooms.
Beginning with five, the crowd counted down to Santa Claus throwing the switch and lighting up the trees of Chapin Park with lighted snowflakes.
Not over yet, people lined up so that kids could then give Santa their wish list.
Ken Buck, chairman of the parade committee for Morris Downtown Development Partnership that oversees the Home for the Holidays event, said it's a good event, and thanked the cooperation of of the various organizations and the City of Morris for helping put it on.