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First City of Lights festivities kick off Friday in Bemidji

Festivities will kick off Friday morning, Nov. 26, in the Tourist Information Center with Santa’s Workshop and the Carts of Care Food and Toy Drive. Then, in the evening, the Night We Light Parade will travel through the downtown area, leading up to the Night We Light Ceremony in Paul Bunyan Park, which will feature a fireworks display over Lake Bemidji.

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Olaf and friends were featured on the Brustad Land Surveying float during the Night We Light Un-Parade hosted by the Bemidji Jaycees on Nov. 27, 2020, in the Sanford Center parking lot. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)
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BEMIDJI -- We’re just a week away from seeing Bemidji aglow in a half-million lights for the 25th anniversary of the First City of Lights.

And this year’s display will be the largest in Bemidji’s history, according to Josh Peterson, executive director of the First City of Lights Foundation.

As in past years, lights will span along Library Park, Paul Bunyan Park, Lake Bemidji’s south shore and downtown Bemidji. But Peterson told the Pioneer earlier this month that spectators can expect to see additional brilliance when the official countdown is held and the giant switch is flipped during the Night We Light Ceremony on Friday, Nov. 26.

“It’s exciting to be back in full force,” Peterson said. “We have a vision to really make Bemidji the true Christmas city of the north by continuing to add new displays every year.”

Festivities will kick off Friday morning in the Tourist Information Center with Santa’s Workshop and the Carts of Care Food and Toy Drive.

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Then, in the evening, the Night We Light Parade will travel through the downtown area, leading up to the Night We Light Ceremony in Paul Bunyan Park, which will feature a fireworks display over Lake Bemidji.

During this time, the First City of Lights Tour of Homes will also commence, and people can vote in the Christmas Window Display Contest until Dec. 10.

First City of Lights Parade

The Night We Light Parade will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26. It will be back to its normal format again after transforming into an “un-parade” because of the pandemic last year .

The parade will start at the Beltrami County Administrative Building parking lot (on the west side of the building) and go east on Eighth Street, turning south on Beltrami Avenue to Third Street, where it will travel west and end on Irvine Avenue.

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The Night We Light Parade will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26. It will start at the Beltrami County Administrative Building parking lot and go east on Eighth Street, turning south on Beltrami Avenue to Third Street, where it will travel west and end on Irvine Avenue. (Bemidji Pioneer / Jillian Gandsey)

Night We Light Ceremony

Following the parade, spectators should make their way down to Paul Bunyan Park for the Night We Light Ceremony at 7 p.m. This is when the official countdown is held and the giant light switch is flipped to illuminate Bemidji. Special guests, musical performances and awards for the best parade entries are also presented at this time. Fireworks over Lake Bemidji will tentatively begin at 8 p.m.

Santa’s Workshop

The Bemidji Tourist Information Center transforms into Santa’s workshop for the holiday season, Peterson said. Guests can get a photo with Santa, enjoy holiday treats, write a letter to Santa and place it in his giant mailbox and take home some Christmas crafts. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27.

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Santa’s workshop will be available from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 27, at the Tourist Information Center. (Pioneer file photo)

Carts of Care Food and Toy Drive

Prior to the start of the Night We Light Parade, Carts of Care will lead on the parade route, where a team will collect food donations for the Bemidji Community Food Shelf and toys for the United Way of the Bemidji Area’s annual Holiday Gifts for Kids program.

Those who wish to make their donation prior to the parade can do so at the Tourist Information Center where free LED Christmas Lights will be handed out courtesy of Ottertail Power Company with each donation made while supplies last.

First City of Lights Tour of Homes

Beginning Nov. 26, a map of homes with the most illuminated Christmas displays will be made available at the Tourist Information Center. You can also use it through your map app on your phone. While traveling around, be sure to tune in to KZY 95.5 FM on your radio, as they provide a soundtrack for the tour every evening through Christmas.

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A home is decorated for the First City of Lights Tour of Homes at 215 Mississippi Ave. SW in Bemidji in 2020. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

Christmas Window Display Contest

During the holiday season, businesses throughout the downtown will have their window displays illuminated for all to see. After taking in all the displays, the public will vote for the best one from Monday, Nov. 22, through Dec. 10 at the Tourist Information Center.

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Night We Light parade route.jpg
The Night We Light Parade will begin at 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 26. It will start at the Beltrami County Administrative Building parking lot and go east on Eighth Street, turning south on Beltrami Avenue to Third Street, where it will travel west and end on Irvine Avenue. (Bemidji Pioneer / Jillian Gandsey)

Related Topics: CHRISTMASTHINGS TO DO
Bria Barton covers travel and tourism for Forum News Service and is based at the Bemidji Pioneer. A South Carolina native and USC grad, she can be found exploring Minnesota’s abundance of towns, food and culture. Follow her on Instagram @briabarton.
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