There are a lot of Fort Myers, Florida families anticipating Sunday afternoon, February 13, 2011 when they participate in the 65th Edison Festival of Light Junior Parade. All year long families have been building floats, planning themes, practicing music and preparing young ones for their role on a bright, sunny Sunday afternoon in February.
Any one who has grown up in Fort Myers, Florida has probably been involved in the Edison Festival of Light Junior Parade, formerly the Edison Pageant of Light Baby Parade, to honor Thomas Alva Edison on his birthday. Held the second Sunday of February, it is for the children of the community and features children on floats, in marching bands, riding bicycles, being pulled in wagons by perspiring parents or older siblings, and on foot with their brownie, cubs, boy scout or girl scout troops, dance troupes, school and church clubs, daycare or families. Children dance, march, play instruments, ride bicycles, wave from floats, sing and give candy and other small tokens to the children watching from the sidelines.
With foot races before, and awards ceremonies after, this day is all about the children, many of them second, third and even fourth generation participants. The Junior Court consisting of pages, dukes and duchesses, princes and princesses and the Junior King and Queen of Edisonia come from families long involved in the pageant activities through the building of floats and participating in the parade.
I grew up in Fort Myers, Florida, and the Edison Festival Junior Parade was always a highlight of the year. I began by marching with my brownie troupe when I was five. All decked out in my little brown uniform, with my pins and ribbons proudly attached to my sash, I waved enthusiastically to all of the people lining the sidewalks, enthusiastically waving back.
Some years, I was one of the spectators, eyes sparkling, excitedly yelling out the names of the children I recognized, thrilled when they spotted me and waved straight at me! The cadence of the drums echoing off the surrounding buildings as the marching bands went past in a swirl of music was instrumental in my desire to play drums someday myself.
When I was 10, I finally got to be on a float. It was for the United Telephone Service, where my stepfather worked, and only children of employees were allowed to participate. The theme was about the telephone company in the past, present and future, and I was the old-fashioned telephone operator, wearing a long dress with my hair pinned up in to a bun. The girl in the present was across from me in a mini skirt, and the future girl was in the middle, high up in a space ship! It was so exciting, standing, waving and smiling. The float was a good one, too, and later won Best of Show, which meant we were eligible to participate in the nighttime Grand Edison Festival of Light Parade on the following Saturday, a great honor.
In high school, I played percussion in the marching band, the only girl in the county at the time who played drums in a high school band. All dressed up in my uniform, with my long hair hanging down in braids, I enjoyed hearing small children suddenly yell, “Look, it’s a GIRL playing that drum!!!” as I marched by.
After I was married, I cheered my brother on, as he walked or rode his bicycle in the elaborate costumes my mother would make for him. My husband began helping organize the bands and getting them in their places in the lineup. One of my favorite parade memories is when I was sitting in our family station wagon nearby, with our two small sons playing in the back while I watched my husband work. Suddenly a small military band surrounded our car, then began practicing one of their songs while they waited to join in the parade. The boys were thrilled and quite frankly, I was pretty delighted myself.
The Edison Festival of Light Junior Parade, sponsored by Century Link, will be held once again on Sunday, February 13, 2011 at 2:30 p.m. The junior parade, much shorter than the nighttime Grand Parade a week later, begins at First and Hendry right after the Junior Fun Run, for children from fifth grade down. The Junior Coronation will take place immediately following the parade, around 4:00 p.m.
People come from around the country and beyond to participate in the Edison Festival activities, but the Junior Parade, is at heart a Fort Myers, Florida family tradition.
Edison Festival of Light, Junior Events