Eight-year-old Alli Coffman said her favorite part of Saturday evening’s Christmas parade in downtown Topeka was watching flames dramatically shoot upward from two floats that carried balloon gondolas.
Her 5-year-old brother Cole said he most liked a float that featured Dr. Seuss’ Grinch in a Santa suit.
For other children, the large amount of candy they accumulated along the street was clearly the high point of the annual Miracle on Kansas Avenue parade.
Organizers seemed most pleased about Saturday’s unseasonably mild weather and the large crowd it attracted.
An estimated 25,000 people attended, said Vince Frye, executive director of Downtown Topeka Inc. Topeka’s temperature was 51 degrees when the parade began at 6 p.m., according to the National Weather Service.
Festivities began at 4:30 p.m. with a ribbon cutting for the new Jayhawk Theatre marquee, followed at 5 by the Rescue Run benefiting the Topeka Rescue Mission, and at 5:30 by the lighting of the blue spruce Community Christmas Tree in an outdoor alcove of the Westar Energy headquarters at 818 S. Kansas Ave.
The cast for the Topeka Civic Theatre production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” — which opened Friday and runs through Dec. 23 — sang Christmas carols as parade grand marshal Jim Parrish and outgoing Mayor Larry Wolgast waited to turn on the tree’s multicolored lights.
The ceremony began with Frye talking about how a recent revitalization of Topeka’s downtown area has brought it numerous new features that include pocket parks, pavilions, arches, enhanced lighting and statues of prominent Topekans.
Next, viewers counted down from five before Parrish and Wolgast — accompanied by the mayor’s 8-year-old twin granddaughters Kate and Diana Wolgast — flipped an oversized switch to turn on the lights.
Then came the parade, which went south and then back north on S. Kansas Avenue between S.W. 4th and 10th.
A color guard marched at the front, followed by a wide variety of people riding in vehicles or on floats, horses or bicycles. Others walked while handing out candy.
As retired schoolteachers Jodi and Ron Peterson watched, Jodi Peterson took note of the joyfulness shown by parade participants.
“Everybody’s always happy in a parade, aren’t they?” she said.
Contact reporter Tim Hrenchir at (785) 295-1184 or @timhrenchir on Twitter.