Christmas celebrations continue Dec. 14 with the Benton Partnership's Dickens Christmas Festival, which kicks off at 2 p.m., and the lighted parade, which begins at 6 p.m. All events are family-friendly and offerings are free, except for the chili supper which is a fundraiser for a non-profit organization.

New to the festival in Holiday Square this year is ice skating, offered from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m., available free of charge, compliments of Benton Electric/TVA, CFSB (Community Financial Services Bank) and the Marshall County A&I Fair Board.

Benton Partnership President Elena Blevins said the 'iceless' skating rink, made of a synthetic plastic which mimics ice, will be set up on 11th Street between the Marshall County Courthouse and Benton City Hall (in court square). She said the rink is small enough that there will be a limit to how many people may enter at one time so participants will be limited to 30 minutes each; they will have 60 pairs of skates in varying sizes available for use.

The Little Dickens Craft Station at Benton City Hall was such a success last year they've brought it back again this year, Blevins said. Children are invited to make beaded candy canes which make for cute tree ornaments and holiday decorations.

Returning from a several-year hiatus is carriage rides from 2-5 p.m., compliments of Filbeck-Cann Funeral Home of Milner & Orr.

And a number of Christmas characters will return this year as well, Blevins said. Scrooge will be grumbling around Holiday Square and Dickens Alley and The Grinch will be up to no good while making his rounds; several other characters including those from the movie 'Frozen,' and Santa, will be available at Puckett's Jewelry for meet-and-greets and photo opportunities, beginning at 2 p.m.

Other events begininng at 2 p.m. include the traditional Cookies With Santa event at the Marshall County Republican Headquarters and the chili fundraiser at the Main Street Center for the Marshall County High School track and field team.

The traditional Country's Power Wheels Car Show begins at 4 p.m., parade participants begin lineup at 4:30 p.m. and Dickens Alley opens at 5 p.m.

Blevins said all the Dickens Alley fan-favorites will return this year including the whole hog, homemade bread and the sweet shoppe. She said Dickens Alley may reopen for a brief time following the parade, but the treats available in the alley are usually gobbled up quickly.

The lighted parade begins at 6 p.m., led by Grand Marshal Larry Whitt and his wife, Dawn.

Blevins said Whitt was nominated as this year's parade grand marshal because "he is always ready to help."

"Whether it's with the Rotary Club or through his catering business (Magic Valley), he just enjoys being everyone's grandpa and he's a great 'Marshall Countian' through and through. His great smile and witty humor doesn't make him a bad lunch date, either," she said. "We were excited to be able to honor Larry in this way."

The parade theme this year is: "Show Us Your Christmas Spirit." Blevins said Marshall County is a spirited community so she thought this might be a good opportunity to show that off.

The court square (Main and Poplar Streets between 11th and 12th Streets) will shut down to traffic just before 2 p.m. and will remain closed until 7:30 p.m. The traffic coming into Benton from Draffenville will be stopped at about 5:45 p.m. so the parade route may begin making its way up Main Street from the parking lot near Mediacom.

The parade participants will travel up Main Street toward the court square, take a left at 13th Street and swing back down Poplar Street until they reach the Marshall County Public Library.

Parking is available behind Puckett's and First Baptist Church as well as several other places through town near the court square. Blevins said parking on any of the roadways involving the parade and festival is strongly discouraged due to the vast number of pedestrians, and out of concern for their safety. Partipaicants should avoid parking along Main Street, Poplar Street or 10th-12th Streets.

For more information about the event or parade call 270-527-3717 or 270-527-3128 or visit The Benton Partnership's Facebook page where Blevins posts regular updates including the event map and schedule.