Lee County features Keokuk's City of Christmas and Fort Madison's Parade of Lights.
All of Southeast Iowa will be aglow this weekend with parades and events to welcome the Christmas season, but Keokuk can claim the title of being the oldest lightshow of them all: City of Christmas will turn Rand Park into sparkling winter wonderland for the 30th year.
Keokuk: City of Christmas
This year the City of Christmas will showcase twenty new displays along with many old favorites that have been part of City of Christmas since its beginning in 1989. Visitors enter the park through a lane lined with sparkling Christmas trees and have to choose between entering Candy Land — including suckers and giant gingerbread men — or detouring around the edge of the park past Old Man Winter blowing snowflakes.
Don’t miss Santa and Mrs. Claus waving at you as you enter the North Pole and Toyland — but watch out for that kid and his snowballs.
After you've successfully toured City of Christmas, you can go back and make another trip, taking the other fork to see what's down the other lane.
City of Christmas president Joe Shuman and his crew began setting up the nearly 150 displays in October. The City features a million lights and, thanks to donations and sponsorships, more of the older displays have new LED lighting this year.
“We can’t even begin to count the total number of lights in the park anymore,” Shuman said. “There are thousands of lights on the displays, thousands more making up the various holiday trees, and you don’t even want to know how many are on the three tunnels."
Shuman said the switch to LEDs helps the displays to be brighter than ever.
“As we do each and every year, we’ve redone and refurbished some of the older displays, made changes to more of the displays by switching to LED lighting, and moved many displays to new locations," City committee member Jean Meyer said. "Look for the new displays and see if you can remember when various long-time displays made their first appearance in the park."
Visitors can tune into the “Voice of City of Christmas” with radio host Don Heston at 90.1 FM to hear holiday carols, the story of how City of Christmas began, and comments about the various displays as they travel through the City.
City of Christmas will be open each night from November 22 through December 26. Following the grand opening at 6 P.M. on Thanksgiving, normal hours are 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday; 5 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday; and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The display may close early in the event of inclement weather.
Step-on guides are available for bus tours who want to learn more about the displays and the history of City of Christmas as they travel through the park. Contact Jean Meyer at (319) 524-1127 to schedule a guide for your tour.
For more information visit the City of Christmas website at www.cityofchristmas.org to view photos and videos of previous City of Christmas displays.
Fort Madison: Parade of Lights
Since its beginning 28 years ago, the Fort Madison Parade of Lights has experienced many changes, but this Friday it will once again roll down Avenue G beginning at 6:30 p.m. with over 50 completely lighted floats drifting in the dark — Fort Madison turns off the Avenue's streetlights for this extravaganza.
The 50 wireframe Christmas floats are, for the most part, the same as in previous years. Chris Columbus' flagship Santa Maria, a gingerbread house, elves crafting Christmas presents, a butterfly flapping its wings — these familiar floats are part of the parade’s charm.
Floats include a rocking horse, a merry-go-round, a fireplace sporting real fire, an American flag blasting fireworks into the evening sky, a snowman being brought to life by humans, a giant snowglobe — can you guess what's in it? — and, of course, the legendary Lighted Parade train.
"We have converted almost all the existing floats over to LEDs the last couple years," parade chairman Thomas Older said.
Flooding in October nearly launched two floats into the streets of Fort Madison, including the Santa Maria, a lighted ship created by the Knights of Columbus.
"The Santa Maria has done set sail," parade chairman Thomas Older told the Daily Democrat last month.
The other was a float owned by the Union Presbyterian Church.
An influx of volunteers sank the rumor that the parade would be cancelled.
As in the past, there will be no parking along Avenue G all day on Friday between 11th and 13th streets and along Avenue G between 5th and 11th streets starting at 3 p.m.
Following the Parade of Lights, the floats will make their way down to Fort Madison’s Riverview Park, where they will remain on display until after the first of the year. The floats will be lit every night.
And yes, Santa will make it to this parade as well. You can stop by the Enchanted Forest at 803 Avenue G afterwards and chat, because he'll be there for about an hour before he heads off for Burlington and beyond.