By OnMilwaukee Staff Writers   Published Nov 07, 2011 at 9:01 AM

The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival will light Downtown’s parks and streets for the 13th season during its switch-flipping ceremony, the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza, on Thursday, Nov. 17 at Pere Marquette Park. 

It’s, of course, the beginning of the Christmas and holiday season in Milwaukee.  The 98th lighting of the city/county Christmas tree will take place at Red Arrow Park just before the Holiday Lights kick off.  

The Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza begins with an "Art Is Everywhere" Fashion Show at 5:30 p.m., featuring apparel and gift ideas from Boutique B’lou, Boutique Larrieux, Brew City Beer Gear, Broadway Paper, Fred, George Watts & Son, Laacke & Joys, Lounge Boutique and Zita Bridal Salon.  

In addition to sporting winter fashions, Art Milwaukee has helped to pair models with local artists.  From vintage photography to personalized greeting card designs and paintings, a showcase of Milwaukee’s finest local artists will be displayed throughout each run.

After the runway, the Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival Kick-Off Extravaganza will power up the crowd with a non-stop holiday variety show beginning at 6 p.m.  Highlights include live music by Christopher’s Project, Pius XI High School’s Madrigal Choir, and Jenny Thiel; dancing by Anita’s Dance Center, Studio VIA, and Danceworks; plus a visit from Santa.

Special guests Mickey Mouse and Radio Disney AM 1640 will help flip the switch on downtown’s décor just before 6:30 p.m.  A fireworks display will then top off the night.

Free hot cocoa, coffee and cookies will be available while supplies last, compliments of Milwaukee Downtown, BID #21 and Starbucks.  Plus, following the big reveal, fest-goers are invited to tour downtown Milwaukee’s sights with free Jingle Bus rides.  Lighted scenes include "Community Spirit Park" at Cathedral Square Park, "Holiday Sweet Treats" at Pere Marquette Park and "Let Us Entertain You" at Zeidler Union Square.

The Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival will illuminate downtown parks and streets through Jan. 1, 2012.  After kick-off night, Jingle Bus rides will operate Thursdays through Sundays from The Shops of Grand Avenue for $1 per person.

As for the parade, it steps off on Saturday, November 19 at 9:30 a.m.  It’s the 85th annual version of the parade which has been produced by the DeGrace family for the past 50 years.