ALBANY, Ga. -- When the bands set their cadence and the floats cruise down Pine Avenue Saturday, the Celebration of Lights Parade will mark its 20th year of bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to the families of Southwest Georgia.
With temperatures expected to reach a low of 43 and no rain in sight, Albany Water, Gas & Light Commission officials are expecting 40,000 people to line the streets downtown to take in the sights and sounds of the parade.
"While we'll always be rooted in Albany, we'd like to think that over the last 20 years we've grown into an event that is really more about Southwest Georgia," WG&L spokesperson Laurie Farkas said. "We get families here from all over the region and have participants that come from throughout Southwest Georgia, so this really is a regional event."
The theme for this year's parade was devised off the success of Director Tim Burton's remake of "Alice in Wonderland." "Through the Looking Glass" will feature the White Rabbit, the Red Queen, the Mad Hatter and many other characters from the Lewis Carroll classic.
While the event will likely carry an overall sense of whimsy and joy that inherently comes from combining "Alice in Wonderland" and the region's largest Christmas parade, it will also feature a somber moment when the family of John Slappey, an outdoorsman who went missing while duck hunting and was later found dead in the Apalachicola River, flips the switch to light the city's official Christmas tree and kick off the parade.
"We've invited Mr. Slappey's family, and his 2-year-old daughter Sawyer will light the tree in remembrance of her father," Farkas said.
This year's parade will feature more than 100 participants, ranging from cars, bands and floats to two large "Macy-style" balloons, Farkas said.
The parade is traditionally held the first Saturday in December, and organizers work with community groups and sponsors year-round to plan the massive event.
While the crowd is focused on the floats snaking their way through the streets of downtown, they likely won't notice the horde of volunteers and public safety officials buzzing around to make sure things go off without a hitch.
Farkas said that in addition to WG&L, the city of Albany and the Dougherty County Commission, volunteers from the Georgia Defense League, the local Ham Radio Club and the U.S. Marine Corps will all be contributing to the event in some way, shape or form.
"We just wouldn't be able to do it if it weren't for these people," Farkas said.
The parade will start at 6 p.m. with pre-parade performances set to begin at 5 p.m., she said.