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Night We Light festivities should draw 4,000

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This year's "Night We Light" festivities are expected to attract some 4,000 participants.

The 14th annual First City of Lights parade and celebration will be Friday, Nov. 27.

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The parade will be followed by the countdown to lighting more than 250,000 lights on the trees along the Lake Bemidji waterfront and around downtown buildings.

The annual event, now in its 14th year, has long been an especially beloved celebration as the Bemidji area ushers in a new winter season.

"The event is fabulous," said Lori Paris, the president of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce. "For eight weeks, when you're driving through the community after work, it's really beautiful. The downtown is lit and warm and inviting."

But the event is not without its hardships.

While the Night We Light festivities are not in danger or in limbo, per se, the ongoing funding of the celebration is difficult to depend on each season.

Fireworks, for instance, were cut out of last year's festivities and all future celebrations due to funding constraints.

"It would be nice to bring them back, but practicality just doesn't allow for it right now," Paris said.

The annual budget for the Night We Light celebration is about $23,000, which covers the cost of lights and labor for hanging the lights, marketing and sound.

The event is sponsored by the Chamber and Downtown Development Authority.

Both contribute toward the cost of the event, but the bulk of the fundraising comes from businesses and supporters.

Today - with the Night We Light less than a month away - organizers have about one-half of the needed funds in place.

"(About) 4,000 people come down here for Night We Light to watch the parade," Paris said. "If every one of those individuals had a $5 bill, we would not have any need."

Paris stressed that the Chamber is not looking to drop the event or cancel its support.

Rather, organizers would just like to have a significant portion of the needed funds in hand at the time the lights are ordered for the season in May, Paris explained.

Paris said she understands well that everyone is stretched financially, especially during the holiday season.

Ideally, Paris said, someone who is passionate and enthused about Night We Light would step up and want to assist in raising funds for the event.

"We have a place for them at the table," Paris said.

The Chamber initially sends letters announcing the upcoming Night We Light activities, and the DDA hosts a phone tree through which supporters are contacted.

Those who make tax-deductible donations are recognized in an annual advertisement. Additionally, donors are eligible to receive a First City of Lights musical holiday CD.

For more information on Night We Light or to donate, go online to www.bemidji.org/

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