Bright Start

Appears in the November 2022 issue.

Good news for those tiny tots with eyes all aglow: Santa Claus will be coming to town—and making quite an entrance via the Holiday Parade of Lights, which steps off at 7 p.m. Nov. 25 in downtown Naperville. 

Hosted by the Rotary Club of Naperville in partnership with the Downtown Naperville Alliance, this annual kickoff to the holiday season will showcase local bands, singers, and dance troupes as well as several brightly lit floats, including one featuring Mr. and Mrs. Claus.

“We expect thousands to attend, like last year,” says Donna Malone, one of the parade organizers. “Thanksgiving is one of those holidays where kids come back from college and look forward to connecting with their school friends, whole families return to see grandparents, and with Santa—all the young kids can’t wait to share their lists.”

Immediately after the parade, the North Pole duo will get down to business visiting with kids until 9 p.m. at Santa’s Workshop located inside the Naperville Public Library (where you also can warm up with some hot chocolate after the hourlong procession).

In addition to creating holiday ambience, the event has another goal. “Most importantly, this parade is one with purpose—all proceeds from our various sponsors go to at least 15 different area nonprofits,” says Malone, the Rotary’s fundraiser chair. “We, as Rotarians, are really proud of that—it makes all the hard work worth it.  Believe it or not, planning for this parade starts in July.”

The club raises funds for a whole host of local philanthropic organizations with a variety of missions, from creating educational programs for kids to providing food, housing, and employment resources to supporting mental-health awareness. “We hope this parade fundraises more than $60,000. The proceeds of the 2022 Parade of Lights will go to nonprofits who support diverse populations and the community in meaningful ways,” Malone says. Those organizations also will score time in the spotlight. “Because we have strong relationships with all our local nonprofits partners, they all participate,” she says. “We are proud of the fact that everyone has a stage via our parade to bring awareness to their mission.”

The parade route starts at the Centennial Beach parking lot, heads east down Jackson Street and turns left onto Webster and then north to Van Buren, ending at Naper School. Spectators can come early to stake out a good spot and enjoy the pre-parade entertainment. “It’s one of the only night parades so bring any light-up stuff to join the fun,” Malone says. “Personally, watching the community come together waving light-up wands and smiling from ear to ear makes this so special. My adult kids were raised here, and now they can share their hometown pride with their own kids.”

The Holiday Parade of Lights has evolved—and been renamed—since it debuted more than a decade ago. “This parade was originally started by Little Friends as a way to boost awareness of their mission to empower people of all ages experiencing autism, intellectual and emotional disabilities to live, learn, work, and thrive in their communities,” Malone explains. “When they outgrew their Naperville facility and moved to Warrenville, they gifted this parade to our Rotary Club of Naperville. We’ve turned it into a major fundraiser for our club—this is our second year hosting it.”

Rotary International is a service organization that was founded in Chicago in 1905 and has since grown to more than 46,000 local clubs with 1.4 million members all over the globe. “The purpose of Rotary is to provide humanitarian service and to help build goodwill and peace in the world,” Malone says. “This parade fits this mission on all levels.”
For more:

Photos by H. Rick Bamman (Chicago Tribune) Naperville sun