23rd Annual Parade of Lights

Lighted parade floats, above, head east on Pennington during the 23rd Annual Parade of Lights.

Downtown Tucson will be merry and bright this holiday season. 

This year, the 25th annual Parade of Lights and Festival has moved from mid-December to the Saturday after Thanksgiving — Nov. 30. 

"Santa called and told us he was coming to town early," says Kathleen Eriksen, the CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership with a laugh, adding that moving the parade to Thanksgiving weekend eliminates conflict with other large, community events. 

"In many communities, what they do is have the parade right after Thanksgiving," she says. Plus, University of Arizona students are still in town and an early parade gives people more time to experience the other holiday festivities planned for downtown this year. And there are a lot. 

Like the outdoor ice rink, which, if all goes according to schedule, should open on Friday, Nov. 29, say city officials. 

The rink will be at 45 N. Fifth Ave. (next to the MLK Apartments) and is presented by Rio Nuevo and the City of Tucson. It will be open until Jan. 5. Skating costs $15 for adults and $10 for kids 12-and-under and includes skates, according to the city's website

Saturday — the day of the parade — is also Small Business Saturday. Ride the streetcar for free and shop at local businesses on Fourth Avenue, downtown and in the Mercado district. This also means you can park outside downtown and ride the streetcar in for the parade. 

Throughout the holiday season, downtown will be lit up with lights wrapped tightly around about 150 trees and strung along building roof lines. Local businesses are competing in a window-decorating competition and a giant Christmas tree will preside over Jácome Plaza. Also, there will be a 10-foot-tall, lit-up ornament that you can walk through in the plaza. 

Festivities preceding the parade start at 4:30 p.m. with live entertainment. The tree-lighting ceremony follows at 5:30 p.m. and the parade begins at 6:30 p.m., starting near Stone and Toole avenues. Go here for the complete route. After the parade, catch Santa Pachita, a local Latin-fusion band performing in the plaza. 

One thing to note this year: There will be no snow in Jácome Plaza. So save your cold-weather fantasies for the ice rink. 

As part of the Downtown Tucson Partnership's five weeks of Desert Nights Downtown Lights, you catch a Christmas movie in Jácome Plaza three Friday evenings in December at 7 p.m. 

You can also visit Santa on weekends at Miracle on Congress Street starting Nov. 29. Stop by to do crafts and sip holiday-inspired cocktails. Santa will also be making an appearance at Hotel Congress' tree-lighting ceremony on Nov. 30. 

"Downtown is transformed for the holidays..." Eriksen says. "It's very magical, very romantic, very festive." 


If you go

Parade of Lights and Festival

What: The 25th annual Parade of Lights and Festival includes bright lights and live entertainment.

When: Saturday, Nov. 30. Festivities start at 4:30 p.m. Parade begins at 6:30 p.m. 

Where: Jácome Plaza, 101 N. Stone Ave. 

Cost: Free

More info: Go here

Outdoor ice rink 

What: An outdoor downtown ice rink will open through the holiday season. 

When: If construction goes according to plan, the rink should open on Friday, Nov. 29 and remain open through Jan. 5. 

Cost: $15 for adults; $10 for kids 12 and under; skates included

More info: Go here

Miracle on Congress Street

What: Visit Santa and do crafts at this holiday popup. 

When: Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays starting Nov. 29 through Sunday, Dec. 22; 4-10 p.m. Fridays, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays 


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Cost: Free

More info: Go here

Santa Claus is Coming to Congress

What: Visit with Santa and watch the tree-lighting ceremony at Hotel Congress.

When: Saturday, Nov. 30, 4-6 p.m. 

Where: Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress Street

Cost: Free, but get tickets online

More info: Go here

Friday Food, Fun and Flix

What: Food vendors will serve hot chocolate and popcorn. Catch "Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas" on Dec. 6, "Elf" on Dec. 13 and "Home Alone 2: Lost in New York" on Dec. 20. 

When: Fridays, Dec. 6, 13 and 20 at 7 p.m. 

Where: Jácome Plaza

Cost: Free

More info: Go here