Bigger, brighter Night We Light: More events added for annual event
BEMIDJI -- This year's Night We Light celebration will be a little bit bigger and a whole lot brighter.
Festivities will kick off with Santa's Workshop events at 11 a.m. on Friday, Nov. 29 and will culminate with the First City of Lights Parade, set to kick off at 6 p.m. downtown. Events will continue at multiple locations on Saturday.
Santa’s Workshop will be held from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 29 and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30, at Paul Bunyan Park and the Tourist Information Center, 300 Bemidji Ave. N. Santa's workshop will be closed during the parade, but will reopen soon afterward.
There will be an opportunity to take photos with Santa and write him a letter, along with a chance to make some crafts and eat some treats. Buddy the Elf will also be making an appearance throughout the day each day.
Window display voting will begin Friday, there will be a ballot box at the Tourist Information Center. A panel of judges will award the grand champion for the best window display downtown. Maps for the Tour of Homes will also be available, listing all the best Christmas light displays in and around Bemidji.
New this year, there will be two Pop-Up Christmas Marketplace events on Friday and Saturday. Hill's Country Greenhouse will be set up at the Tourist Information Center from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, selling fresh-cut Christmas trees, wreaths and more. Natures Edge Garden Center and Nursery will be set up at the Sanford Center on Saturday during the Christmas on Ice event to be held from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
"We are trying to build up the experience for everyone, so they can see Santa, eat some treats, enjoy the parade, see the lights, get their Christmas tree, and make family traditions and memories all together," Bemidji Jaycees President Josh Peterson said.
The First City of Lights parade will start at 6 p.m. and will travel south along Beltrami Avenue from Eighth Street, turn west on Third Street and end at Irvine Avenue. No parking is allowed along the parade route starting at 5:30 p.m.
Carts of Care will make their way down the route as well, collecting donations for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf.
"We are excited for the parade, we are expecting a large crowd and more floats," Peterson said. "We are really excited for the excitement and energy this brings to our town every year."
Peterson said the record number of people attending the parade last year resulted in overcrowding in the streets. This year, the Jaycees are asking people to stay on the sidewalks, and are implementing some new safety precautions to ensure people are were they need to be and the floats can proceed along the route without any issues.
Volunteers from the JROTC program at the Bemidji High School will be out in orange vests helping with crowd control and helping remind people to stay off the streets.
"Last year, we had issues with some of the larger trucks not being able to make the turn from Beltrami to Third Street because the crowds were too far out in to the street," Peterson said. "So, this year the corner of Third Street will be barricaded with bike racks to keep people where they need to be."
After a logging truck snagged the lights in a tree during last year's parade, the Jaycees chose to wrap the tree trunks in lights this year as a precaution. To make up for not having any lights up in the trees downtown, they have added 40 LED snowflake lights to street light poles with funds received from the George W. Neilson Foundation.
A partnership with Sanford Health enabled the Jaycees to fund the purchase of the 25,000 new lights now wrapping the trees in Library Park. With these new light additions, there will now be over 300,000 lights in the city displays.
There will be a donation box set up at the Tourist Information Center on Friday for anyone who wishes to donate to support future light displays. Community members can also adopt a banner or a tree to help fund additional light displays.
Also new this year, an FM transmitter has been added to Paul Bunyan's Christmas tree and the lights are now synchronized to music on 97.1 FM. Everyone can tune in and listen to the music the lights are set to starting at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30, and going until midnight each day through the end of January.
"All the support we have really shows the community appreciates having this event here," Peterson said. "It's because of what everyone contributes that we are able to pull this whole thing off every year."