Thirty-five years ago, when the city of East Peoria held a summertime centennial celebration, so many volunteers turned out that the city and its merchants to continue the spirit of volunteerism into the winter, and the festival of lights was born.
The festival’s original budget was a meager $5,000.
“We wore tie-dyed green underwear in the parade, and the floats were all built in the firehouses,” said Parade of Lights coordinator John Broshears. “The merchants had seen something like this, and thought it would be a good idea.”
In 1984, Broshears was on the fire department and helped build the floats. Now he helps take care of them, and said big plans are in play for the parade and the display which involve rewiring the entire park and replacing all the old cars that tow the floats through town.
“Those cars were destroyed when we got them. We got rid of eight cars last year, and we’ll be getting rid of the rest this year,” he said. “We’re also doing a major upgrade of the whole park and the displays will only run when the park’s open, then they’ll shut down by timer, which will save a considerable amount of money and time.”
Over time, floats have been added to the parade. Most recently, a 54-foot-long Santa and sleigh, fit with presents and reindeer. However, the parade maintains its original lineup. For those who were very young when they first watched the parade, seeing the same floats that bedazzled them as children certainly brings about a strong nostalgia.
Not seen since 2004, the famous Budweiser Clydesdale draft horse team will return this year, weather permitting, and follow the traditional parade marshal, Folepi.
For those who may not know, Folepi is an acronym for “Festival of Lights East Peoria Illinois.”
“For the first time in 14 years, we’re going to have the Clydesdales. We’re pretty thrilled to have them back,” Doug McCarty, City of East Peoria Director of Tourism and Special Events said, with a word of caution about the weather. “Every year the parade is depending on weather, and the past few years we’ve had colder, windy, rainy weather. Hopefully this year’s will be better.”
If weather permits, on Nov. 16, at 5:45 p.m., the annual Parade of Lights will glide along its usual path, which begins at the intersection of East Washington Street and Dolans Lane, continues along East Washington Street until turning left at the intersection with Camp Street, where it continues on East Washington Street.
One last turn, to the right onto Taylor Street brings the parade to its end at Central Junior High School.
Later, they’ll be taken up Springfield Road to 3 Par Lane to be laid out for the Winter Wonderland display. It opens Nov. 22, ends Dec. 31, and the price is still $10 per vehicle. The time has changed for the New Year’s Eve Get Lit fun run. It starts at 9 p.m., instead of 11:50 p.m., to make the event more family friendly.
The Find Folepi Ornament Hunt begins Nov. 20. Clues to the whereabouts of the 3-inch, round Folepi ornament will be issued weekly. Whoever finds it will win a package of prizes from local businesses.
Individuals may also win a Folepi ornament if their home is chosen as a winner in the Christmas Splendor Contest. The most festive homes and neighborhoods take the prizes, and the East Peoria Beautification Commission, which runs the contest, suggests entrants should go overboard and be excessive with decorations.
There’s also a category, Festive Inflatables, which requires at least five inflatables.
Holiday season gets underway
- The FOLEPI River Trail Classic is Nov. 30. The two-mile non-competitive walk begins at 8:30 a.m., and the four-mile competitive run starts at 9 a.m. The run is scenic, and mostly downhill on the point-to-point East River Trail, starting at Frevent Road. The walk is $20, the run, $40.
- Folepi’s Gifts Galore Shop and Stroll in the Historic Four Corners District is also Nov. 30 from 1-4 p.m. Visit the unique businesses in the area of Washington and McKinley streets. The East Peoria Community High School Chorale will sing carols, The Unique Twist will make free balloon art and there will be free carriage rides with Santa.
- All aboard the Spirit of Peoria for “A Civil War Christmas” by Bary Cloyd and Brian “Fox” Ellis of Prairie Folklore Theatre. Matinees and dinners are Nov. 30 and Dec. 6, 11, 13, 14.
- Eastlight Theatre at East Peoria Community High School will once again present, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” Performances are Dec. 6, 7 and 11-14 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 8 and 15.
- Historic Holiday Traditions, Dec. 7, 1-3 p.m. and 4-6 p.m. Reflect on holiday celebrations of the 1800s at the oldest home in East Peoria, the Doering Homeplace. Built 139 years ago, the home at 326 Pekin Ave. will be decorated as it would have been in the 1800s. The evening session is set to candlelight.
- Have some pancakes with Old St. Nicholas Dec. 7 from 9 -11 a.m. at Eastside Centre. This St. Jude Runs event costs $5 for kids 3-12, and $8 for those 13 and older. Babies up to age 2 are free, and Santa will pose for photos, “bring your own camera.” All proceeds go to St. Jude Runs.
For information on event registration, costs and additional events, visit www.cityofeastpeoria.com/149/Festival-of-Lights, or visit the Facebook page, “East Peoria Festival of Lights”.