As winter approaches and the nights grow longer, Iowa becomes a beacon of festive cheer. Every corner of the state, from its bustling cities to its tranquil towns, transforms from ordinary streets into magical winter wonderlands. One of the most enchanting holiday traditions in Iowa is the lighted Christmas parade — a mesmerizing procession of floats, vehicles, and performers all adorned with twinkling lights. These parades mark the beginning of the holiday season. Dive into this list to discover the most dazzling lighted Christmas parades in Iowa and get ready to be swept up in the holiday spirit.
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What’s a lighted parade?
Christmas light parades are processions of vehicles, floats, and performers, decked out with brilliant, twinkling lights. The spectacle is not just about the display of lights but often incorporates music, dancing, and thematic decorations.
As night falls, the parade becomes a mesmerizing river of light, creating an almost magical atmosphere that evokes wonder among spectators of all ages. Christmas light parades also symbolize the spirit of community, as local groups and businesses come together to celebrate and spread holiday cheer.
Lighted Christmas parades in Iowa
Here are some of the Iowa towns who hold lighted Christmas parades annually:
- Annual Clarinda Christmas Parade is held Nov. 24, 2023, with more than 60 lighted floats and fire trucks, will be held in Clarinda.
- The Downtown Perry Lighted Parade is always the day after Thanksgiving. It starts at 7 p.m. on Nov. 24, 2023. The route starts at the corner of Second and Otley, heads east on Otley to Third Street, then north on Third to Pattee, turning left and left again to head south on Second Street through downtown.
- Parade of Lights is held Nov. 24, 2023 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in downtown Fort Madison. There will be more than 50 floats.
- Christmas Lighted Parade in Belmont is Nov. 24, 2023, starting at 6:30 p.m. with fireworks by 4G Pyrotechnics and Santa. The parade of lighted floats will travel down Main Street in Belmond from First Avenue to Fourth Avenue.
- Annual Holiday Lighted Parade in downtown Washington will be held Nov. 25, 2023, at 6:30 p.m.
- Downtown Boone kicks off the season with the Holiday Lighted Parade on Nov. 30, 2023 at 6 p.m. The 2023 theme is “We Believe.”
- Oskaloosa Main Street Annual Lighted Christmas Parade is Dec. 2, 2023, in Oskaloosa.
- The lighted parade held during the Winter Snowcial in Denison will be on Dec. 2, 2023.
- Bloomfield Main Street Lighted Parade is Dec. 2, 2023 in Bloomfield. It’s part of the weekend-long festivities, Hometown Christmas Celebration.
- The Lighted Parade and Spectacular Fireworks Finale in Clear Lake, is Dec. 2, 2023 starting at about 5 p.m. The parade begins at Eighth and Main streets and will travel down Main Avenue and North Lakeview Drive. The fireworks display will begin after the parade.
- The Lighted Parade during DeWitt’s Hometown Christmas is on Dec. 2, 2023, starting at 5 p.m. The route starts on South Sixth Avenue, travels North and ends at Lincoln Park to help light the big Christmas Tree.
- Christmas in the City Parade is Dec. 2, 2023, at 5:30 p.m. in Webster City.
- The annual lighted Christmas parade on Main Street in Coon Rapids is typically held the first Saturday in December.
- Annual Christmas Parade in Fairfield is Dec. 24, 2023, from 5 to 7 p.m. Santa leaves from the Iowa National Guard Armory and makes his way to Central Park, where he’ll meet with kids.
Holiday light displays in Iowa
- Jolly Holiday Lights at Outlets of Des Moines in Altoona. It runs Nov. 17 through Jan. 7, 2024 (it’s closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). It’s a 2.5-mile journey through more than a hundred twinkling light displays. Ticket prices vary by event, and the admission fee supports Make-A-Wish Iowa. Special events include the Jolly Holiday Lights 2023 Kickoff Ceremony on Nov. 17, Breakfast with Santa at the Outlets on Dec. 2, and Sip & Shop Night at the Outlets on Dec. 15. Train rides are $5.
- Lights will be up around Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs, Iowa starting Nov. 17, 2023, with Winterfest. Activities run from 6 to 8 p.m., including the lighting ceremony promptly at 6 p.m. The night includes Santa’s Workshop featuring Santa and Mrs. Claus, reindeer, face painting, ice sculpting, an outdoor movie, free hot cocoa, live music, and a storytime and craft inside the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. FREE
- Winter Wonderscape Holiday Light Show is held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5 to 8 p.m. in December each year at Reiman Gardens, 1407 University Blvd., Ames, Iowa.
Whether it’s a small town gathering or a grand urban event, lighted Christmas parades and light displays are a glowing testament to the warmth and hope that characterizes the holiday season.