On a day when shoppers nationwide flocked to stores to buy discounted holiday presents, Ashland's Festival of Light parade Friday focused instead on giving and recycling.

On a day when shoppers nationwide flocked to stores to buy discounted holiday presents, Ashland's Festival of Light parade Friday focused instead on giving and recycling.

During the 18th annual parade, Ashland Boy Scouts held Charlie Brown-esque pine trees, decked with flashing lights, and danced in a circle to promote the troop's Christmas tree recycling on Jan. 8.

Artists with the Lithia Artisans Market marched in penguin costumes made of papier maché to bring attention to the arts and handmade holiday gifts.

And 9-year-old Tella Morris, her hair braided upward and tied in a heart above her head, handed out books to children as part of her family's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" float.

"This is the awesomest parade ever," she said, dancing in her Cindy Lou Who costume to a rendition of "You're a Mean One. Mr. Grinch," by Ashland's Dayton Dean & the River Kings.

"Instead of sitting in a wagon doing princess waves, I get to hand out books. I feel like I'm kind of looking funny to the kids, but I'm glad I'm bringing laughter to them."

Tella's mother, Shannon Morris, helped devise the Grinch float to promote reading and support children with special needs, through the Council for Exceptional Children and Southern Oregon University's masters in special education program.

"I wanted my kids to learn what it means to give," said Morris, who is enrolled in the master's program. "We're trying to focus not on tangible items but on the joy of giving. It's not all about getting presents under the tree."

Charlee Tudor, 7, said she was excited to receive a book while watching the parade.

"It's really fun because I can read," said the second-grader, who learned to read about two years ago.

Charlee's mother, Christie Tudor, said she was pleased to see the parade entries focusing on the spirit of the season.

"It seems like the parade is focusing on the meaning of Christmas, which is nice for a change — it's not just consumerism," she said.

As darkness descended over downtown, the parade came to an end on Water Street and Santa emerged from his sleigh to mount the stairs to a balcony overlooking the thousands gathered in the plaza. Leading the crowd in a countdown, he switched on more than a million lights strung on buildings and trees.

"It's pretty," said Camille Ellis, 9, who was perched on her father, Todd Ellis', shoulders. "It makes me feel like Christmas."

The Ellis family attends the parade every year to mark the official start of their holiday season, he said.

While the parade got many in the holiday spirit, Ashland High School junior Julian Jones,16, who was dressed as an elf, said he wasn't too excited.

"I'm a Grinch," he said, "because I've been in this parade for like six years. But I guess I probably do enjoy marching with the trees, because I know we're doing good things."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.