Christmas parade, visits with Santa draw people to Downtown Benton

In keeping with years past, the Saline County Christmas Parade drew thousands of spectators Tuesday night.
More than a hundred entries took part in the parade that was based on the theme "Angels."
Though the lights at the courthouse have been turned on each evening for about two weeks, the parade signals the official start of the county's Celebration of Lights.
At the start of the procession, the courthouse remained dark. But shortly after 6 p.m. Natalie Pasierby, a fifth-grader at Hill Farm Elementary School, flipped the switch that turned the shadowy scene into a lighted winter wonderland.
On hand to observe the special moment with Natalie were Ned Perme, chief meteorologist for KATV-Channel 7, and Saline County Judge Lanny Fite. The lighting ceremony was broadcast live on KATV.
Natalie was chosen for the honor based on winning an essay contest open to fifth-graders throughout the county. The essay topic was "Why do we call Christmas the most wonderful time of the year?"
Lisa Baldwin coordinated the parade for the sponsoring organization, Downtown Benton.
Baldwin said winners were named among the float entries in the event.
Taking the first-place honor was Cross Bar Cowboy Church, which included a covered wagon and horses.
A unit from Saline County 4-H Clubs finished second and New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church's float was ranked third.
The first-place entry receives a $100 cash prize plus a trophy and the second- and third-place finishers receive trophies.
At the start of the parade, Baldwin noted that the parade had drawn around 150 entries, which included marching bands from Benton and Bryant high schools; several floats; beauty queens; antique and classic cars from Dixie Car Club; clowns; motorcycle units; marching units; equestrian units; and cotton candy vendors.
Following the parade, Santa and Mrs. Claus were available to visit with children and pose for photos.