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IDA, Mich. — December is just around the corner, and with it comes the Christmas in Ida Festival and Parade of Lights, the annual event that for a weekend makes this quiet place the biggest community in Monroe County.
This year marks the festival’s 30th anniversary. It starts Friday with a 7 p.m. concert at St. Joseph Catholic Church with the Michigan Opera Theater Children’s Chorus and wraps up at 2 p.m. Sunday at Ida High School with a performance of Christmas music by Ida High School’s bands.
A lot happens in between, not the least of which is the popular Parade of Lights, a luminous, 2½-hour procession with 120-plus floats and other entries that attracts nearly 40,000 visitors. It starts at 7 p.m. Saturday. Parade entries hail from Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada, and bear thousands of lights as they follow the route through Ida.
Dale Zorn, the sole surviving co-founder of the festival, recalled that 30 years ago, the parade consisted of “a fire truck, the high school band, and Santa’s elves on a pony wagon.”
Mr. Zorn, a Republican, just won re-election to a second term in the state House, where he represents the 56th District. The festival began with a simple idea, he said.
“We wanted to showcase Ida in such a way as to show what small-town America is,” he explained.
The festival has grown to include what organizers believe is Monroe County’s largest craft show, which has expanded so much that it overflows into three venues: Ida schools, Prince of Peace Lutheran Church Hall, and heated tents downtown. More than 150 crafters and vendors will offer merchandise for sale.
An abundance of performers will entertain; all shows are free.
The headliner will be country music’s Little Texas, which has sold more than 3 million albums, been nominated for a Grammy, and performed with Clint Black, Travis Tritt, and Trisha Yearwood. The band plays at 5:15 p.m. Saturday in the township parking lot.
Performing at 3:30 p.m. in the same spot will be the pop band Savvy, which has its own HBO show, The Wannabees. The band blends hip-hop and pop while delivering positive messages.
Other draws Saturday are Santa’s Zoo, downtown from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Children’s Lunch with Santa, in St. Joseph’s church hall from 11:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with free tickets available at the Ida Public Library; Christmas Stories with Mrs. Claus, at 10:30 a.m. at the library; and Holiday Hounds on Parade, downtown at 2:15 p.m.
Demonstrations of ice and wood carving are planned, and the much-visited and photographed creche at the Catholic church will return. Appearing with the Holiday Hounds will be crime dog McGruff, and his nephew Scruffy, courtesy of the Monroe County sheriff’s and prosecutor’s offices, with assistance from Bedford Public Schools students.
The Holiday Hounds Royalty will be crowned Saturday afternoon and have pride of place on their own float in the parade. Judging the hounds will be Amy Bacarella, president of the Alliance for Spay-Neuter and Pet Rescue, Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Michael Weipert, and Miss Monroe County 2012 KT Marie Maviglia and her dog, Chloe.
Mr. Zorn said most of the money raised at the festival is used to pay for the event, although the sponsor, the Ida Civic Club, has used some funds for scholarships. He said he expects to see many visitors from past festivals.
“People keep coming back year after year because there are so many things for a family to do,” he said.