A record crowd of 25,000 enjoyed a lighted parade, musical groups, posada, fireworks and of course caught a glimpse of the man of the hour - Santa Claus - at the fourth annual Night of Lights festival at The University of Texas-Pan American, Saturday, Dec. 7.
The event - which has grown each year - added a lighted parade and children's carnival to this year's festivities. Floats, dancing horses and musical groups marched down University Drive, much to the delight of the thousands of people who lined the street. In all there were 68 parade entries with Santa Claus bringing up the rear, riding in an illuminated Edinburg City fire truck. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa served as Grand Marshall.
"The parade was a nice touch. The kids really enjoyed it and of course Santa was a big hit. They couldn't wait to see Santa," said Rachel Gonzalez who drove her family in from Donna for the event.
The South Texas Heritage Music Festival - a float from Hidalgo adorned with palm trees and a life size parrot - won first place for "Best Float" in the parade.
Reed Mock Elementary took top honors in the specialty group category and Edinburg's All American Band did the same in the music category. Event organizers said entries came from Brownsville to Rio Grande City.
"Night of Lights" is a holiday treat for the entire South Texas area served by the University," said Roland S. Arriola vice-president of External Affairs.
Families were treated to a fireworks display orchestrated to a medley of music - swing, rock, disco and today's hits - spanning 75 years in honor of the University's anniversary, immediately following the parade.
The carnival featured a ferris wheel, train ride and bouncing tent.
"The kids really enjoyed the rides. We spend a lot of time there and they were free that was really nice," said a thankful Bella Ramirez who brought her three daughters and three nieces and nephews to the festival.
In keeping with tradition, UTPA sponsored a Christmas tree decorating contest with winning trees displayed on the quad for the public to enjoy. The Physician's Assistant Department took first place, the Sign Language Club got second and the College of Education took third place honors.
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce hosted a gingerbread house contest giving out a first place $200 cash prize to Cory's Cakes of San Juan for "Santa's Workshop."
The creation included gingerbread workshop, train, toys, Christmas trees and sleigh.
"We made the Santa, Mrs. Claus and the dancing elves out of sugar," explained bakery manager Diana Gonzalez. "We used ginger, frosting and candy. It's 99.98% edible!"
"We're really enjoying it. It's our first time out here. But we'll be back next year," she said.
Grant is counting on a return crowd and promising the University will top this year's success.
"Once again, we're going for bigger and better. We've got some ambitious plans in the works for next year."
Night of Lights is jointly sponsored by University, the City of Edinburg, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation and the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.