All Aboard! The Polar Express Christmas parade is Saturday

Santa to arrivein Wilmington

A KID-SIZED trackless train will be featured in the Chamber’s “The Polar Express” themed Winter Wonderland lighted Christmas parade on Saturday, and will give free rides after the event.

TAKE A STROLL on North Water Street, where downtown business owners are decorating their windows, like the one at Le Fleur de Lis Boutiques & Antiques, for the holiday season.

Pam Monson

“Believe” is the simple message of Saturday’s Wilmington Chamber of Commerce Winter Wonderland lighted Christmas parade and tree lighting.
The theme of the parade is “The Polar Express,” named for the children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg about a boy who has his doubts about Santa Claus. He takes a train ride to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, and learns the wonder of such things never fades for those who truly believe.
The Chamber is celebrating the 21st annual parade and tree lighting with costumed characters, lighted floats, a marching band, dance performances and the arrival of Santa Claus.
The season of believing begins on the morning of Nov. 30, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Downtown businesses will be welcoming shoppers all day, and are extending their hours into the evening. Sales and specials will make it possible to find unique gifts with local flavor at affordable prices. Shoppers needn’t travel, or fight through crowds, to find a thoughtful present for that special someone.

Season of giving
The parade is just the highlight of a weekend devoted to giving thanks, and sharing with those who are less fortunate. This week and next Cyndi Ragain from Double G Excavating and her corps of volunteers are distributing contribution boxes for the Chamber’s Elf Contest, which benefits the Christian Help Association (CHA). CHA provides holiday meals to struggling families, and ensures each child in those families receives gifts for Christmas.
Each penny dropped in an elf box is a vote for the elf contestant or contestants pictured on the front. Residents are encouraged to vote for their favorite, and vote often. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Elf Contest are given to the CHA for its holiday endeavor on behalf of the community’s less fortunate.
The Chamber is also selling numbered “Polar Express” buttons for a 50/50 drawing on Dec. 20. There will be just one winner. Proceeds from the button sales will also be given to the Christian Help Association for its holiday food and toy drive. Buttons are $3, and are available at Bellettini Foods, The Corner Tap, The Flower Loft, The Barkery,Spins & Needles, Grundy Bank, Oak Knoll Insurance, The Free Press Newspapers, Tuffy’s Lounge, Kerr Management Consultants, The Moose Lodge, Berkot’s Super Foods, The Crafters Gallery, Dollar General, Odds & Ends, Paraphernalia Antiques, Le Fleur De Lis Boutiques & Antiques and Whitmore Ace Hardware.

Before the parade
There’s plenty to do Saturday before the parade — especially shopping. Saturday is Small Business Saturday, a national movement to encourage people to Shop Small and bring more holiday shopping to small local businesses. Many Shop Small participants are offering discounts and giveaways.
While supporting local businesses, families can make some new memories — holiday window shopping. A fierce decorating competition is being waged in the windows of the downtown businesses, and one is likely to win the business award in the Rotary Club’s Light the Way Wilmington holiday lights contest and holiday walk. Moms and dads might also find reminders of their childhood Christmases to share with their youngsters.
After taking in the sights, settle in at The Mar Theatre at 121 S. Main St. and watch “The Polar Express” on the big screen. The doors open at 2:30 p.m., with the movie starting at 3. Admission to the movie is $1 when you bring a non-perishable food item to help the Kuzma Care Cottage food pantry, or $2 without a food donation. The movie concludes in time for the start of the parade.
The students of the award-winning Finale Dance Studio will perform in the 200 block of North Water Street at 4:30 p.m.

All Aboard! The parade and after
The parade steps off from the middle school campus at 5 p.m. It will march north on Water Street from Ryan to Mill. The parade will be led by the Business Person of the Year, and Santa will bring up the rear! The parade features the Wilmington High School Marching ‘Cats and a trackless holiday train.
“I just love that thing... I wanted something different for Wilmington, and I kept thinking about it, and I thought, you know, I went somewhere one time and I saw a train,” said Chamber President and co-owner of Spins & Needles Steve Evans. “At the time we hadn’t come up with a Christmas theme yet. And then it dawned on me — Polar Express.”
The theme is wildly popular, Evans said, and he expects to see some creative entries in the parade.
Santa will ride in a miniature horse-pulled buckboard, and the winners of the Wilmington Public Library’s coloring contest and their escorts will join him.
Immediately after the parade, Evans will present the Business Person of the Year Award to Jim Lombardi, president of Lombardi Chevy-Buick of Wilmington, in the gazebo of Claire’s Corner Park, at the intersection of Baltimore and Water streets.
Youngsters who line up at “The Polar Express” ticket booth, located in front of the Island Park District fitness and administration center at 315 N. Water St. after the parade can get a ticket for a free ride on the trackless train. The train will board in front of the fitness center, take riders south to Baltimore Street, turn around, and return to its starting point.
The Corner Tap, at 201 N. Water St. will serve free hot chocolate to youngsters.
Believers can visit Santa Clause at the Chamber of Commerce Santa House, which will be located near 200 N. Water St. Parents are encouraged to take advantage of the lap-sitting photo op.
Top off all that Christmas fun with a walk over the pedestrian bridge to the Wilmington Lions Club’s Christmas Island. The official lighting of the lights takes place at 7 p.m., then families can wander the lit path to view all dozens of vignettes featuring gingerbread men, storybook characters and decorated Christmas trees. There will also be rides in miniature horse-pulled carriages, hot chocolate and other treats.
North Water Street will be closed between Baltimore Street and Mill Street beginning at 3 p.m. until the end of the downtown activities, about 9 p.m.