East Lyme - The 25th annual Light Parade marched through downtown Niantic Saturday evening with holiday music, bright floats and the cheers of parade-goers lining the streets.
Thousands gathered on Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue on the chilly night to watch the event featuring an array of floats from firetrucks to pirate ships.
The evening began with seven white fireworks in a row that etched the clear night sky in honor of the fallen of Pearl Harbor. Saturday marked the 72nd anniversary of the bombing.
World War II veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor Floyd Welch, the parade's grand marshal and a town resident, waved at parade-goers, who cheered as his white van passed them. An ice-sculpture submarine also in honor of those in the armed forces followed.
The East Lyme High School Viking Marching Band twirled flags down the street and played instruments decked out with lights. Rudolph in a plane rose above the crowds in one float. Shrek and other characters wheeled around on tricycles, which represented just a few acts among many others during the festive event.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Niantic resident Mike Fenton, who has been attending the parade for 12 years. "Every year it keeps getting better."
This year's event, the 25th anniversary, was held on a Saturday to attract more people and allow them to stay out later to enjoy the floats on a weekend evening, organizers have said. WinterFest, a tradition that began in 2011, preceded the parade with events, including a chili and chowder cook-off.
The town also decided to allow the floats to stay on Main Street after the event so people could get close-up looks at them.
Sarah Bernardson, an educator at the Children's Museum of Southeastern Connecticut, said she kept hearing people talk about the parade, and she knew she had to see it for herself. So for the first time this year, she attended and brought her two sons, Josh, 2, and Nate, 5.
She said her sons loved the floats, especially all the Christmas lights and music.
"I think it's kind of a unique Christmas tradition," she said. "I've never heard of anything like it."
One float winding through the parade was a giant, lit-up Thomas the Tank Engine float.
The float has been in the parade before but did not participate last year. Pete Doherty, construction manager at Yankee Remodeler, the company that built the float, said the company participates not for the float competition but to see the lit-up faces of children as the float travels down Main Street.
Five people built the Thomas float years ago for the Niantic parade. His team decided on Monday to check on the float, which was in a New London storage area that was flooded during Superstorm Sandy last year. The float was not damaged, and the company decided to bring it back for another year.
Chad Buhler, whose relative is Paul Cushing, owner of Pro Tek Auto, helped build a 50-foot Peter Pan themed pirate ship float, built on top of a Ford van. The Pro Tek Auto float, whose features were synchronized to music, included telescoping masts and 1,000 lights.