BANGOR – With battery packs tucked in their pockets, the girls of Penobscot Valley Gymnastics glowed as they cartwheeled and tumbled along the route of the Bangor Rotary Festival of Lights Parade on Saturday evening.
To fit in with the theme, each of the 30 gymnasts had short strings of Christmas lights wrapped around one leg. Performing while lighted was a first for the group.
But the tougher part, according to 7-year-old Kassie Foss of Hermon, was the cold.
Parents had taped foam to the palms of the girls’ gloves so they could somersault along the cold roads.
Each of the 56 floats in the parade was emblazoned with lights.
The parade was the first Bangor holiday parade held after dark, according to Martha Dudman, Rotary Club president.
Adelphia was the parade’s corporate sponsor.
“We wanted this to be more than a Christmas parade because the Rotary is an international organization that embraces many cultures around the world,” Dudman said. “That’s why we made it a festival of lights.”
In keeping with that idea, the float that won the outstanding theme award was the one from Eastern Maine Technical College with its giant silver menorah and Star of David. Polka music blaring from a loudspeaker on the flatbed trailer got the crowd bopping and stomping, in part to keep warm.
Along with the floats, marching bands from Bangor High School and Madawaska High School, as well as Governor’s All Maine Marching Band, strutted their stuff to holiday music.
Watching the parade from inside the warm lobby of the Bangor House, Wanda Jellison, 36, said it was “really pretty and really different.”
Resident Irene Easton, 62, said, “It was fantastic, the best I’ve seen since the Shriners parade three years ago.”
Along the parade route, 3-year-old Helen Zhang sat up on her father’s shoulders.
Originally from Wuhan, China, her father, Don, said that Helen kept saying “Merry Christmas” as each light-bedecked float went past.
Sgt. Jim Hodges of the Bangor Police Department was in charge of traffic control. He said the crowd numbered in the thousands.
The crowd was far larger than police expected, but caused no problems, he said.
Along with Eastern Maine Technical College’s best overall float, five other entries were honored.
Ranch of Envy Upholstery from Unity was named Outstanding Adult Group for the two burros it dressed as reindeer and hitched to carriages.
Cub Pack No. 4 of Brewer was named the Outstanding Youth Entry.
Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. won Best Commercial Entry.
The outstanding nonprofit entry was Bangor Harley (Davidson) Owner’s Group.
And the outstanding performing entry was the Top Hat II Dance Studio.
The culmination of the Festival of Lights was the lighting of the Christmas tree in West Market Square.