For twenty-five years, as the winter holidays begin, the Celebration of Lights Parade has been lighting up the City of Poughkeepsie, and this year was no exception. On Friday, November 30, more than a thousand locals gathered to watch an array of floats, from holiday-themed trucks to displays that celebrate the rich history of the Hudson Valley.
Poughkeepsie resident Helen Douglas was especially excited to see the replica of the famed Mary Powell steamboat, which was designed by Andres San Millan, the artistic director of the Cocoon Theatre in Rhinebeck. “I don’t usually come out to these things, but I needed to see this,” she said. “Seeing the spirit of the city as it came by was amazing.”
The steamboat, once known as the “Queen of the Hudson,” was famously raved about by Walt Whitman and President Ulysses S. Grant in its heyday as she regularly sailed to and from New York City in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
San Millan was just as enthralled as the spectators with the experience of taking the float from Main Street to Poughkeepsie’s Dongan Square Park. “It was a truly memorable experience,” he said. “I heard from one man who told me seeing the boat was the highlight of his life.”
A more thought-provoking display that commemorated the area’s history came when puppeteer Amy Trompetter brought out her Sojourner Truth puppet. The puppet was originally shown in a play entitled Truth at Rosendale’s Redwing Blackbird Theater, which she founded, as well as in a race-themed exhibit in Poughkeepsie’s Cuneen Hackett Arts Center, which had its own display at the parade.
Trompetter wanted to bring a message of togetherness to the parade by showcasing the hometown roots of an icon of the abolitionist movement. Truth was born in Rifton, a small town in Ulster County. “We are honoring her heritage as a way of making us more inclusive,” she said. “[Sojourner Truth] had the courage to cross the line, and taking this puppet across Poughkeepsie means that we can only go further.”
Even with the nods to the area’s rich history, the parade was resplendent with holiday cheer. Local businesses stepped up to show off their holiday spirit by decorating trucks with Christmas decorations. Matt’s Used Auto Parts in Hyde Park brought out a lit up truck with candy canes, a plastic Christmas tree, and a wreath. Grocery store chain Adams’ Fairacre Farms had a more understated truck display that wowed the crowd nonetheless. The pièce de résistance came, however, when Santa Claus rode around in a truck sponsored by the Poughkeepsie Fire Department to officially kick off the holiday season.
Hannah Long, a local who is new to the City of Poughkeepsie, loved every minute of watching her first parade here. “Anything that gets the community together and has flashing lights and loud music is very needed in Poughkeepsie,” she said.
The parade was was made possible by a collaboration among the City of Poughkeepsie, the Poughkeepsie River District Business Association, the Bardavon 1869 Opera House, and the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park.