Let There Be Lights!
Santa is taking a quick break from making his naughty or nice list again this year, so he can attend Kauai’s legendary Lights on Rice Parade Friday (Dec. 2). He’s not the only one who’ll be lit up festively with multicolored lights and creative Christmas décor that night —some 60 groups will make the trek down Rice Street in celebration of the holiday season.
“It’s one of the events that happens on Kauai that brings the island together,” says Addison Bulosan, who is part of the team organizing this year’s event. “It’s a huge thing.”
Not only does the parade generate massive crowds with people lining up chairs to reserve their spots as early as dawn, but also, for most participants, being part of festivities is serious business. Giant floats festooned with palm trees and wreaths, trucks decked out in gobs of adornments, and people in colorful attire presenting legions of candy to onlookers are just some of the highlights that make this small-town event so monumental.
“Everybody has such pride in creating their works of art,” says Lani Nagao, who calls herself one of the elves on the parade committee with Bulosan.
Some creative groups, including Kauai Filipino Community Council, have marched in the parade every year. In fact, they are among the few who have been involved since the parade’s inception in the early 2000s.
The event initially was launched by a small group of residents, including Dennis Fujimoto of The Garden Island. After learning the venue that hosted a former ice skating rink for keiki every year would no longer be available, they knew something had to be done.
“Because it left this big void for the kids,” explains Eileen Winters, aka “head honcho” of the Lights on Rice Parade organization team. “There was nothing special for the kids at the holiday time.”
That inaugural parade was made up of about nine groups who journeyed approximately two blocks.
Now, it is sponsored by Rotary Club of Kauai, currently hosts around 60 groups with more than 3,000 participants and draws some 13,000 spectators.
“We want to grow it too, that’s the fun part,” says Bulosan. “We want it to be bigger.”
The parade almost ceased to exist at one point. When Winters heard from Fujimoto about six years ago that the parade might no longer be feasible, she was troubled. She knew she had to do something about it so, as a member of Rotary Club of Kauai, she suggested the group take over. Thankfully, she says, there was no resistance. Members shadowed the original organizers during the 2010 parade and took it over entirely the following year.
Now, Winters is proudly known as the “parade lady,” and rightfully so — her jovial demeanor is a perfect fit for leading such a joyous celebration.
“I love Christmas and kids,” she says with a hearty laugh.
The first year she began leading the parade’s organization committee, there were about 400 participants. Now, some 300 people from Wilcox Memorial Hospital alone make up just one group.
“It’s pulling more of the community together because, as we get more people in the parade, it’s involving more family and friends, and everybody’s got to come and watch them,” says Winters. “It’s a good, positive, honest event for kids.”
Nagao wholeheartedly agrees. What she loves most about the celebration is the collaboration among different members of the community who help make it all happen, including East Kauai Lions Club and Kauai Boy Scouts of America, who work behind the scenes and contribute their assistance in ways like directing the floats and picking up trash.
Lights on Rice Parade also has become one of Rotary Club of Kauai’s largest fundraisers. To participate, a donation of $100 is suggested to all groups, and any proceeds that remain after parade costs are filtered back into the community.
Bulosan, Nagao and Winters look forward to the creativity that will abound at this year’s festivities. Winters says some new groups will be participating, including about 20-30 women who started a group just so they could be in the parade: North Shore Friends Trash Can Brigade is a drill team that uses trash cans for music.
The holiday trio also is looking forward to seeing some of their favorite classic displays, including Kalaheo Elementary School’s Sunshine Express, as well as the grand floats by Kauai Island Utility Cooperative and Pacific Missile Range Facility.
“People work on this all year-round,” says Winters.
She sincerely hopes that all kids (and kids-at-heart) will continue getting a kick out of the traditional holiday display for many years to come.
Friday’s Lights on Rice Parade starts at 6:30 p.m. at Vidinha Stadium and ends at the Historic County Building. Visit lightsonrice.org for more information.