For a few hours last Saturday, Waterbury’s 12th annual River of Light Parade filled the city center with light and joy.
The snowy streets were filled with participants holding their handmade lanterns and spectators lined the sidewalks to admire the sights and sounds. As light snow fell, people carrying their lighted lanterns created a lighted river stretching from the start of the State Office complex to Dac Rowe Park at the north end of Main Street.
The parade was led by Sambatucada, an almost entirely volunteer group that performs Afro-Cuban rhythms from Brazil. “We have a few surprises. We have several groups, we have Sambatucada and Brass Balagan and they are wonderful and fun,” said Sarah-Lee Terrat, one of the event organizers. “We have Santa Claus at the back of the parade, who is a young man who always wanted to be Santa Claus in a parade. He has special needs and it’s like the dream of a lifetime to do that.”
That young man was Finbar Ciappara who was the inspiration for this year’s theme “What Brings You Joy?” He and his sleigh were surrounded by a cable TV camera crew filming footage of what might be featured on a future show that would include his experience with Santa Claus. He was accompanied by his mother, Suki Ciappara, his sister Rose, and several others in elf costumes.
The parade theme allowed for a variety of designs unique to each lantern maker. There was a lotus flower, jellyfish, pictures depicting the seasons of Vermont, people on a beach, a jar of pickles and many more.
“This is my sixth lantern,” said Leslie Berger who made the pickle jar lantern which she jokingly said looked more like pickles in a shower. “I’ve always loved pickles and thought I would do something fun, weird, and whimsical and I was licensed to do it with this very open theme.”
Berger is a seasoned participant, but others were new to the parade such as Erin Swift and her son Winter Swift who have lived in Duxbury for two years. Last year their first River of Light was a drive-thru event due to the pandemic. “It’s good to come and see friends, meet people and see families and children here. I have a feeling this is such a great community event, ”said Erin Swift.
Winter was excited about the parade and the opportunity to be a part of it. “I think it’s a very creative idea, like my mom said she brings people together. It’s a day when people can just create, ”said Winter.
As they walked down Main Street, the procession took about 30 minutes to reach Dac Rowe Park as participants smiled, danced to orchestras and greeted friends they passed in the crowd.
When Santa Fin arrived on his big red sleigh, cheers and chants filled the air. “I just see Santa Claus up there so happy and the snow all around him and everyone is cheering for him. It was so beautiful,” his mother Suki said.