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Parade of Lights brightens holiday season in Naperville

The Little Friends Parade of Lights kicks off in Downtown Naperville on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
The NACC and Downtown Naperville Alliance float drives down Main Street in Downtown Naperville during the Little Friends Parade of Lights on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
Wesley Hanson (left) and Jack Fuss cheer during the Little Friends Parade of Lights in Naperville on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
Mr. and Mrs. Claus wrap up the Little Friends Parade of Lights in Naperville on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media
Ben Andreas (left) and Jack Wooldridge lead the Naperville Central football team with the State Championship trophy during the Little Friends Parade of Lights in Naperville on Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013. | Mike Mantucca / For Sun-Times Media

Steve Tabisz and his wife Jane of Aurora have a Christmas tradition they follow every year.

“We try to go to a town in the area, whether it is Geneva, Aurora, downtown Chicago or here in Naperville in order to watch some holiday event,” Steve Tabisz said. “We love downtown Naperville, and this is a fantastic day where we plan to see a lot of friends.”

The Naperville community officially welcomed in the holiday season Sunday night with the annual Little Friends Parade of Lights as darkness fell in the downtown area.

Thousands lined the parade route downtown, where visitors enjoyed more than 50 floats, vehicles and groups that walked the route. The parade was sponsored by McKeown Classic Homes.

Kristi Landorf, president and CEO of Little Friends, Naperville’s not-profit organization that helps those with autism, called it “a labor of love.”

“We don’t do this event as a fundraiser but as a way of giving back to the community who are always so supportive,” Landorf said.

Landorf praised the efforts of the Downtown Naperville Alliance “for its phenomenal support” for the organization and the event.

“I feel like, at least in spirit, this parade kicks off the Christmas season and it’s a great event for kids,” he said. “For our staff, it’s a hands-on event and we all get involved.”

Local high school musicians and performers from the School of Performing Arts got the crowd going before 4 p.m. by performing at the parade’s main stage, which was located at Main and Van Buren. Santa and Mrs. Claus met with kids after the parade on the same stage. The Tabisz family said they had a daughter who was performing Sunday night as part of the Performing Arts group.

“Our daughter was here probably five years ago performing, and we’re excited about coming back here and seeing her again,” said Jane Tabisz. “We love coming here and the feel of downtown Naperville.”

This year’s grand marshal was the First Community Financial Bank, whose employees came dressed in blinking Santa hats. Mary Jane Leisten, who works here in Naperville as a relationship banker, said she was shocked when as many as 30 bank employees agreed to show up for Sunday’s parade.

“We’re going to be giving out gold tickets to the crowd during the parade as a promotion for people to come in and see if they’ve won something,” Leisten said. “We are thrilled to death to be the grand marshals, and we are a great supporter of Little Friends every year.”

Many parade watchers arrived early to grab a spot along the parade route including the Dennison family of Naperville, which included John, his wife Debbi, and their 9-year-old son Ethan, who was dressed as a clown. John said the family would be making an entire evening out of the parade.

“We’re going to watch our son Josh, who attends Naperville North, perform, and then both sets of grandparents are coming, and we’re going to stay downtown and have a pizza,” he said.

Jordan Agnoli of Aurora and his son Brodie, 7, said this was the first holiday parade they had attended in Naperville and each was looking forward to something different.

“I like the candy they give out at parades,” Brodie said. “I also like seeing the big floats.”

Jordan Agnoli said the parade “was a nice way to start off the holidays” and that for him, it was a way to sort of relive his childhood.

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