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Tonight's lighting ceremony on North Union Street has weathered several transformations this century but is still considered the official start of the holiday season.

And, it is likely to continue to grow as a traditional community gathering for this small city.

Many residents recall the garlands that were draped overhead, forming the original sparkling Santa Claus Lane along North Union Street.

That ritual lighting was abandoned in the 1960s when electrical connections became outdated and the tinsel grew tarnished. City officials were reluctant to spend the money on new decorations.

Many of the 25,000 people expected to participate in the festivities this year recall one resident's efforts the day after each Thanksgiving to create magic on his roof by handing out toys and posing with a life-sized sleigh and reindeer.

That practice ended several years ago when his home was torn down to make way for an expansion of the hospital complex.

This year is the 13th celebration since Santa Claus Lane festivities were reignited in 1986.

The Greater Olean Chamber of Commerce and other organizers plan to outdo the efforts of previous years with a number of new displays adding to the illuminating spectacle.

The new displays are part of the "visions of sugarplums" scene for the ceremony, which will be held in the Lincoln Park area at the center of the city and the south end of the parade route.

There's a gingerbread house, a candy-cane juggling snowman, tumbling gingerbread man, the Good Ship Lollipop and a candy-cane forest.

There will be a performance of the Bend Brass Ensemble at Blue Bird Square at 6:30 p.m. Then, at 7 p.m., the Santa Claus Lane parade will proceed south on North Union Street in front of the Olean Center Mall.

The streets and the parks will be illuminated simultaneously as the parade and its 32 floats, led by Mayor James P. Griffin, the grand marshal, and the Olean High School Marching Band, reach parade's end at Lincoln Park.

Toys through the Toys for Tots program and non-perishable food items will be collected for the needy and local food pantries along the parade route.

Children along the route will hand letters to Santa to Postal Service letter carriers riding a postal truck in the parade procession.

The event will kick off a host of holiday activities throughout the month of December.

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