Parade floats and marching bands, cheerleaders and cyclists, wagon pullers and cart pushers alike will don holiday lights and hit the streets at 5:20 p.m. Saturday for Santa Maria’s 23rd Parade of Lights.

“It’s energizing to see all the people come out for the kickoff of the holiday season. You have 3,000 kids on all these entries, all yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ and waving. It’s an important event in our town, and I’m proud to serve,” said Mike Gibson, who co-chairs the event with Dave Wright and Tom Martinez.

The evening will include the return of the Festival of Lights, a street fair introduced in 2016 by Ed Carcarey of Mega 97.1 that proved to be a smashing success. From 5 to 8 p.m., 50 vendors and booths, including food trucks, a beer-and-wine tent, a kid zone featuring bounce houses and games and music performed in English and Spanish will take over the west side of Broadway between Cook and Main streets.

“Last year was such a thrilling success that we’re doing it again,” Gibson said.

The city’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony at Cook Street and Broadway has been changed from its traditional Friday timing to 5:20 p.m. Saturday to coincide with the beginning of the parade.

“Having the lighting then will give people on the north of the route more to do while they wait 20 minutes for the parade to get to them,” Gibson explained.

The Parade of Lights, with its perennial “Joy of Giving” theme, is sponsored and organized by Santa Maria’s Breakfast Rotary Club, Santa Maria Rotary, Santa Maria Rotary-South and Nipomo Rotary. In exchange for their effort in bringing and putting on the event, the clubs ask community members to deposit nonperishable food items in boxes placed along the route for donation to the local Salvation Army.

The first of this year’s 103 entries is slated to head north at 5:20 p.m. from Stowell Road and Broadway, the least-populated stretch of the route and a good spot for people who aren’t particularly interested in crowds, Gibson said.

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By 5:30 p.m., the parade should hit Santa Maria Inn just as KCOY begins its live coverage, and the first entry should move by the Town Center at 5:40 p.m.

Seven announcers will be located along the route, offering commentary in English and Spanish.

While entry No. 7 -- Trader Joe's featuring 17-year-old country music phenom Charlie McNeal brings the party to the parade -- the Pioneer Valley High School Marching Band will keep the postgame party going inside the shopping center. The band will perform Christmas carols while parade participants step inside for cookies and punch.

Parade entries will compete for $4,500 in prizes this year, including $1,000 for the sweepstakes winner, $350 for first- place and $150 for second-place winners in each of seven categories.

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