Entrants get ready to ride

Brenna Swift, The Union Democrat /

Months of planning and preparation will pay off Friday in the 29th annual Historic Downtown Sonora Christmas Parade, with dozens of flashy floats and hometown heroes marching and riding down Washington Street.

This year's parade will include 72 floats, according to Sheala Wilkinson, special programs coordinator at the City of Sonora. There are typically 65 to 85 floats in the parade, putting this year's amount comfortably in the middle.

They'll range from a float depicting Jean Shepherd's "A Christmas Story" to mobile platforms for musicians and dancers. Many participants in previous parades are returning this year.

Some of the other entries, though, will be a surprise even to Wilkinson, who has helped coordinate the parade for the past 13 years.

"For our purposes, we just ask them to decorate in a very festive Christmas-like fashion. They don't really tell me how they're decorating," Wilkinson said.

While some participants start constructing their floats far in advance, others will have taken shape only a short time before the parade.

Joe Turner, a longtime Tuolumne resident who has helped organize the Tuolumne Lumber Jubilee float for the past five years, joined family members in starting work on the Sonora entry Tuesday.

It will consist of a 16-foot trailer carrying a log from the area near Lake Almanor and Lassen Volcanic National Park. The log will be subject to a chainsaw and hand saws before parade viewers' eyes.

"It's in the beginning stages," Turner said of the Lumber Jubilee float, undaunted by the thought of finishing it. "It just takes a lot of thought, but it comes together as you're doing it."

Most of the floats in the parade are assembled by business organizations, Wilkinson said. But some draw attention to causes or community events, like a free Christmas Day dinner that has been offered for several years.

The annual dinner usually feeds 50 to 60 homeless people, said Sonora resident James Winters, who started the event along with his wife, Darelyn.

A float in the parade will advertise the dinner and a toy drive. Winters and a few others will be performing music atop the float, which they've yet to decorate.

"We haven't done anything yet, and we probably won't until Friday," Winters admitted.

Laying the groundwork for the parade is a collaborative effort across several public agencies, according to Wilkinson. Some of the work started in September, when the City of Sonora had to secure permission for the closure of Highway 49.

Staff in the city's Public Works Department have been working on the parade for months, Wilkinson said. Among many other preparations, they're responsible for decorating the Christmas tree in front of the Red Church.

The parade will start at 5:30 p.m. at the Red Church, rain or shine, and proceed down Washington Street to Restano Way, twice as long as earlier days.

Parking will not be allowed along Washington Street between 2 and 8 p.m. Friday. The rule now includes side streets that access the highway between Elkin Street and Toby Lane in Sonora.

Community members can take advantage of the county transit agency's "Holly Trolley" service, offering transportation throughout Sonora and Tuolumne County all day for $1.

Free parade shuttles also will start running at 3 p.m., making loops between Columbia, the Mother Lode Fairgrounds and The Junction shopping center until 5 p.m.

After the parade, the shuttle service will resume until 8 p.m.

Merchants along Washington Street will be open on parade night, and many offer free snacks, Wilkinson said. Santa Claus will even be taking visitors at the Heart Rock Cafe.

Several craft fairs also will be taking place throughout the long holiday weekend. Among the larger ones are the 38th annual Sonora Christmas Festival at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds and the 20th annual Hometown Crafters fair at the Sonora Opera Hall.

Contact Brenna Swift at bswift@uniondemocrat.com or 588-4529.

The Union Democrat
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