Not even the bitter cold can keep southern Minnesotans from their holiday lights.
For the second straight year, Mankato's Sibley Park is festooned with a million LED lights of all colors, but the magic moment — the one where a switch is flipped and everyone goes "ooh" and "ahh" — had to wait until the parade passed through.
Several dozen floats, trailers, tractors, trucks and cars idled through the park through a tunnel of warmly bundled onlookers who weren't about to let a 17-degree evening keep them from their fun.
Seth and Laura Consore arrived pushing a stroller with a couple of younglings, including one packed so tightly into a pink snow suit that her limbs were jutting out to the sides. They were told by a more than a few folks on their walk into the park that the little one resembled Randy from "A Christmas Story" (Ralphie's little brother.)
The family came last year.
"And it was the perfect night," Laura said.
This year, for the parade, was a bit colder than their visit last year. But that didn't matter.
"It's Minnesota," Seth said. "If you're gonna live here, you gotta be willing to do a few things outside in the winter."
Few spectators were doing more to keep warm than Shelly Harbes of Albert Lea. Amid the many sporting Columbia jackets and ski caps, Harbes stood out with her off-white down comforter, draped around her like she was the queen of snows.
After experiencing the lights last year, a return trip was a must.
"We were here last year and it was so fantastic," said Harbes, who came with her husband Rick, an amateur holiday lights artist himself.
"We light up our house," Rick said, "and put up a dozen blow ups."
Local economic impact watchers will delight in the fact that the Harbes come to Mankato often to shop, but this year, in addition to visiting their family and joining their passel of grandkids along the parade route, they dropped a few hundred dollars at area retailers.
"Our city has nothing like this," she said. "It's such a great place to shop."
No one took their parade watching as seriously as Sheri and Bob Olson of Mankato.
They arrived early — roughly 3:40 p.m. — and found a parking spot right on the parade route. And they weren't the first ones. Sheri said there were already people looking for good seats, and workers putting out cones. What the Olsons did perfectly was vehicle selection. Bob rigged the back of his pickup with a wood plank propped up near the cab. With the truck running and heat building up in the cab, they simply slid open the sliding rear window and bathed in the wonder of car heater heat.
When asked why she came to the parade and to see the lights, Sheri couldn't quite put her finger on what makes it special. But she's knows it's there. Kind of like Santa.
"There's just something it brings out in everyone," she said. "Just a good feeling."
After the parade was over and the vehicles pulled away, a countdown commenced. When it hit "one!" the switch was flipped and the lights that everyone was waiting to see came one. Skaters glided across the skating rink, cold kids bustled into the concession stand for hot cocoas.
And you would have had to be a true Scrooge or major Grinch to not smile at least a little.
A photo gallery can be found at mankatofreepress.com.