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Christmas Festival Entertains Crowd
Riverbank residents turned out in force with a crowd estimated at 3,000 to watch the city's first nighttime Christmas parade this past Saturday. The nighttime, lighted parade to officially kick off the holiday season - even before the leftover Thanksgiving turkey was finished - featured a marching band, floats from schools, churches, businesses and non-profit organizations, vintage autos, walking groups, politicians, a pageant queen and a variety of sights.

The Nov. 26 Christmas Festival, played out through chilly conditions but with no rain to dampen the day, also featured a crafts fair, stage entertainment by Rachel Renae and other musicians, lighting of the Community Christmas Tree at the Plaza del Rio and a long line of children wanting to talk to Santa Claus, who arrived as part of the parade.

Sparkling with lights, the parade was an entertaining piece of the festival in addition to the music and holiday shopping opportunities at the crafts fair. The lighting of the tree fell to Santa Claus after dark, and after an initial malfunction, the lights were lit to add to the colorful ambiance of the evening.

First place winners in the parade by category were:

Specialty group, color guard - Riverbank High Naval Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps

Floats and walking group - Golden River Girl Scouts

Floats, non-profit - Ohana 4-H

Floats, business - Hometown Buffet

Floats, church - New Life Church

Floats, school - Riverbank High Stagecraft

Walking group - Karate For Kids

Motorcycle Club - River Rats

Vintage Auto - Carlos Torres with his 1937 Chevy

Late Model Auto - Setliff Brothers with a 2008 Freightliner

For equestrian entries, first place (in various categories) went to:

Melanie Overby and her horse Athena; Santa's helpers from Omga's Ranch; River Oak 4-H Horse Group; Los Amigos del Sol, the dancing horses; Connie Hawkins of Itsy Bitsy Ranch; Dave Bricknell of Sweet Horse Ranch; Tiffany Wilmoth of Riverbank; Royalty Elaine Spotswood.

While Scott Pettit of Karate For Kids was master of ceremonies and did the announcing, the parade judges were Stephanie Munoz-Jakobs of Curves and Karen Bickford of Designs by Karen with Alice Lawellin of Manteca handling the equestrian judging.

Special guest of honor and riding in the parade was Alan Sanchez of the television Channel 31 show Good Day Sacramento.

Naming the parade winners just before the Christmas tree lighting. Pettit also announced Yari's Beauty Salon won the prize for the best downtown business lights and Jose Zamora on Eighth Street was top in the citywide contest for the best decorated yard and house exterior.

"Go east on Santa Fe, right onto Eighth Street and it's on your left. Very bright," said Pettit, directing his listeners to the winning residential light show.

Parade grand marshals were 2010 Citizen of the Year Ric McGinnis and Youth of the Year Monica Perez.

Politicians riding in the parade included Riverbank Mayor Virginia Madueno, City Councilmember Jesse James White, Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen and Jose Hernandez, who is a NASA astronaut from Fresno and a candidate for California's new 10th Congressional District.

Pageant queens included Miss Riverbank 2012 Stephanie Korkis, Miss 2012 California State Queen Ashley Edwards, Riverbank Fiesta Queen Barbara Verduzco and Miss Ripon 2011 Taylor Ray.