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Lights, penguins, Santa! 15th annual Holidaze parade Saturday to light up downtown Willmar

File photo / Tribune There will be about 25 different floats during Saturday's Holidaze parade in Willmar; and the more lights the better.

WILLMAR — The holiday season will kick-off in Willmar Saturday evening as the city's Holidaze celebration marks its 15th anniversary.

"It should be a lot of fun," said James Miller, member of the Willmar Fests board of directors.

Started in 2002, Holidaze is now being run by Willmar Fests, who stepped up earlier this fall after Willmar Downtown Development decided it could no longer put the community favorite event on for the public.

"We wanted to keep this tradition running," Miller said.

Saturday's fun will start at 4 p.m. in downtown Willmar and will include both new and old events.

"It is a family-friendly event and we want to keep it that way," Miller said.

Children can visit Santa Claus at The Barn Theatre and have the opportunity to tour emergency vehicles from the Willmar Fire Department on Fourth Street. The petting zoo and reindeer sleigh rides will take place along Becker Avenue, while the penguins from the Hemker Park and Zoo, along with inflatables from Fiesta Time, will fill up the city auditorium.

"There is something special about the penguins and petting zoo," Miller said.

As in years past, there will be kids' crafts at the Willmar Public Library and a chili feed at Bethel Lutheran Church.

One new event Miller thinks should be a lot of fun is Turkey Bowling in front of the Foxhole Brewhouse on Fourth Street, starting at 5 p.m.

"That is literally what it is, a frozen turkey and bowling pins," Miller said, adding the turkeys are from Jennie-O Turkey Store and the pins from the Kandi Entertainment Center.

The main event — the parade — will start lining up at 6 p.m. and begin at 6:30 p.m. This year the route begins at Fifth Street South and Becker Avenue and heads north to Litchfield Avenue, runs east one block and then south on Fourth Street South, ending by Selvig Park and The Barn Theatre.

"We have around 25 entries," as of Monday morning, Miller said.

Toys for Tots will be on hand during the parade, collecting new toys for area children in need. Royalty from New London will be walking down the parade route, ready to take toy donations.

The fun doesn't stop once the parade is over. There will be free cookies and cocoa at First Presbyterian Church following the parade. Then people are invited to a showing of "Elf" starring Will Ferrell at The Barn Theatre, starting at 7:30 p.m. The free movie screening is being put on by the Movies in the Park organization.

All of the activities during Holidaze are free, though there is a freewill donation at the chili feed.

Miller hopes people come to downtown Willmar Saturday evening for an enjoyable community event, which is being sponsored by many local businesses and organizations including Jennie-O, CDS, Pioneer Heritage, Heritage Bank and the city of Willmar.

"It is a fun kick-off to the holiday season," Miller said.