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Festive activities in store for 26th First City of Lights celebration

Bemidji's 26th annual First City of Lights celebration kicks off on Friday, Nov. 25, launching the community into the holiday season with a variety of festive events and activities.

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Santa waves from the Bemidji Fire Department ladder truck during the Night We Light parade on Nov. 26, 2021, in downtown Bemidji.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer
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Bemidji's 26th annual First City of Lights celebration kicks off on Friday, Nov. 25, launching the community into the holiday season with a variety of festive events and activities.

First City of Lights Parade

The Night We Light Parade is set for 6 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 25, and will travel south along Beltrami Avenue from Eighth Street then turn west on Third Street and end at Irvine Avenue. No parking, tow zone signs will be posted for street closures starting at 5 p.m. and running until 8 p.m. along the parade route. During the parade, attendees are asked to stay on the sidewalk and maintain a safe distance from floats along the route. Registration for the parade ended on Nov. 18.

Night We Light Ceremony

Following the parade, spectators should make their way down to Paul Bunyan Park for the Night We Light Ceremony starting at 7 p.m. This is when the official countdown is held and the giant light switch is flipped to illuminate the half a million lights of the city. Special guests, musical performances, and awards for the best parade entries are also presented at this time. There will be horse-drawn wagon rides starting under the downtown archway.

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Josh Peterson, executive director of the First City of Lights Foundation, flips a giant light switch to illuminate downtown Bemidji during the Night We Light Ceremony on Nov. 26, 2021, in Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Night We Light Fireworks

Fireworks over Lake Bemidji will be on display starting immediately after the ceremony. Sectators will have the best views near the Paul Bunyan Park waterfront.

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Fireworks explode over Lake Bemidji following the Night We Light Ceremony on Nov. 26, 2021, in Paul Bunyan Park.
Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer

Santa’s Workshop

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 25 and 26, the Tourist Information Center will transform into Santa’s workshop for the holiday season. 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. Heroes Rise Coffee will also be available.

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 of Target Team members pushing carts 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.

An additional food drive will take place at Santa’s workshop. Those who donate a bag of non-perishable food items or a toy valued at $20, will receive five strings of LED commercial-grade Christmas lights. The goal is to fill Santa’s sleigh, according to Peterson.

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, individuals should cast their ballot for the best display at the Tourist Information Center.

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Lake Bemidji Bed and Breakfast, along Lake Boulevard, is decorated for the First City of Lights Tour of Homes.
Pioneer file photo.

First City of Lights Tour of Homes

Beginning Nov. 25, a map of homes with the most illuminated Christmas displays will be made available at the Tourist Information Center.

According to First City of Lights Foundation Executive Director Josh Peterson, the First City of Lights celebration couldn't be done without its sponsors, the Bemidji Parks and Recreation Department, and community organizations and countless volunteers.

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Like every year, the event is solely put on by community donations and fundraising for the grand holiday celebration is ongoing and much appreciated, especially this year.

"This celebration is truly a community event because it's all funded by the community itself,” Peterson said. “We always say the amount of lights you see is the amount that you're able to contribute and everything goes to the lights, infrastructure and just making this bigger and better every year.”

For full event details, to donate to the First City of Lights Foundation or register for activities, visit firstcityoflights.org.

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