Community members welcomed the return of the Austin Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting Festival on Dec. 3, a year after the event was canceled due to the pandemic.

The Austin Chamber of Commerce and the 15th Police District has hosted the event since 2011. The event was designed as a way to unite the community and celebrate the year’s accomplishments. This year’s parade processed down Madison Street from Unity Fellowship Baptist Church, 305 N. Cicero Ave., to 15th police district station, 5701 W. Madison St., where the tree lighting ceremony took place.

The ceremony featured a performance by the Austin Community Choir, a clothes giveaway and speeches by local elected officials. Dreezy Claus, a Black Santa Claus character played by high school behavior interventionist Andre Russell, led the parade and greeted the kids during the tree lighting.

In the lead-up to the event, Austin Chamber of Commerce executive director Tina Augustus said that organizers and volunteers were excited to see the event return.

“There’s a lot of enthusiasm behind it,” she said. “We have quite a few volunteers behind it, and we have a nice parade line-up.”

After the event wrapped up, Augustus said that she was glad that the weather was warm compared to 2019, and that she was pleased with the attendance.

Russell has been performing as Dreezy Claus professionally since 2018. According to his personal Facebook page, this was the first time he took part in a West Side event. As the parade approached the station, Russell shook kids’ hands, chatted with them and posed for pictures.

“It’s my first time over here, and I’m blessed to be here,” he said.

Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th) whose ward includes the police station and about half of the Austin portion of the Madison Street corridor, said that Augustus deserved credit for pulling the event off.

“Let’s give a big shout-out to Tina Augustus, because if she didn’t put this together, we wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Augustus, in turn, gave credit to the members of the organizing committee, which included representatives from many nonprofits that took part in the parade.

State Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), who served as the tree lighting emcee, said that she was pleased to see Russell take part in the event and that she was “very happy” with both the parade and the tree lighting.

“The spirit has been bright,” she said. “We are rejoining and we’re loving each other.”

Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) Commissioner Barbara McGowan, who lives in Austin, echoed Lilly’s sentiment.

“I want to commend all of you for standing here, listening to us talk, “she said. “I want to thank you for coming out and making us look good.”

State Senate President Don Harmon (39th) said that “Christmas doesn’t start until the Austin Christmas tree gets lit.”

15th District Commander Andre Parham thanked several of his predecessors for making the event happen, saying that he was proud to be part of that tradition.

“It’s such a blessing to see everyone out here,” he said. “It warms my heart to be here and warms my heart to be part of it.”

Diamond Garner, who came to the tree lighting with her daughter, said that she has lived in Austin for seven years but that this was her first time attending the event.

It’s nice to be able to gather and talk to our neighbors,” she said.

CONTACT: igorst3@hotmail.com