Festival of Lights a long way from lanterns

Montesano’s first Festival of Lights 26 years ago had a much different look from the event this weekend. Instead of colorful decorating contests and a lighted parade, it was a simple display of luminarias.

“People used milk jugs, used bags with sand, it was all through town. A lot of houses did it, too,” said Kathie Wilson, a perennial festival volunteer.

The luminarias were simple lanterns, usually made from grocery bags with sand in the bottom and a candle sitting inside.

Margaret Downey, the event founder, told The Daily World in a 1987 article on the first celebration she was inspired by a festival in Albequerque, N.M., and got approval from the Montesano Fire Department to duplicate it. Luminarias graced the fire hall, courthouse and many downtown businesses that year.

“I hope this becomes a tradition for many years to come,” Downey said at the time. “Next year I hope we can get some floats made for the parade.”

“It just gave it such a nice, clean glitter,” Wilson said. The lanterns faded out of use, partly because of challenges keeping them lit. “Now it looks as nice now with multicolored lights.”

The festival’s parade has grown as much as the light displays. In 1986, then-mayor Mike Daniels rode a Model A Ford to lead the parade, followed by the high school’s band.

This year, the grand parade starts at 6 p.m. Saturday, leaving from the corner of Fleet Street, moving down Pioneer Avenue, hanging a left on Main Street, a right down Spruce Avenue, then taking a left on Church Street to end at Montesano High School.

Wilson said about 50 entries will be in this year’s parade, slightly down from the past few years.

“A lot of groups don’t have the volunteers they’ve had in the past to help decorate and do that type of thing. I think the ones that are going to be in the parade are going to be very enthusiastic,” she said.

This year’s theme, “Welcome to Monte-ville,” a play on Whoville from Dr. Seuss’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” opens up parade entries to a library of Seuss favorites.

Wilson said the Bayview Cement Truck is always a crowd favorite, but this year’s biggest highlight may be the state champion Bulldog football team, which will ride a float behind the school band.

“It’s kind of like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the stands burning to the state championship,” Wilson said, referring to the September fire that destroyed the high school stadium’s grandstands. “It’s been a wonderful trip for those young people. They’ve worked hard.”

Tonight, free live music will be performed at the Montesano High School Commons from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The Jingle Bell Jog 2-mile fun walk or 10K race starts at 10 a.m. Saturday. Race day registration is $25 for adults, $18 for children, available at the corner of Pioneer and Fleet streets.

Live performances continue at the Courthouse Saturday, with the Montesano School Choir performing at 1 p.m., the Sylvan Quartet at 2 p.m. and another choir at 3:30 p.m.

Sterling Savings Bank will host a scavenger hunt from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Visit the branch at 301 S. Main St. for details.

At Monte Fitness Center Studio, warm up with a cup of your own cocoa creation for a Cocoa Factory fundraiser for the Child Advocacy Center.

After the parade, a yule log will be lit in Fleet Park at 7 p.m., and bus tours will leave from the park at that time to view the decorations around the city. Donations from the tours will benefit Montesano and Elma high schools’ annual Food Bowl fundraiser competition.

The festival’s growth over the past two decades has been striking, but Wilson said it’s just what Downey would have wanted. She died in an accident years ago.

“I think she would be very proud of the Monte citizens, as always. She was a wonderful volunteer and the people have kept things going for her,” Wilson said.

For a complete list of events, visit www.montesanochamber.org.