In the early 1900s, Eaton's chain of department stores launched the first Santa Claus Parade in Toronto. Other North American department stores took notice and soon there was a swell of parading Christmas cheer fast on the heels of Thanksgiving ushering in the holiday shopping season. The parade masters appealed to the masses, but the target audience was really the children. Giant helium balloons, nursery rhyme characters, bands and enormous paper mache heads made merry in the streets. The elaborate show culminated in the arrival of Santa wheedling promises of good behaviour from all the children in exchange for gift requests and candy.
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Take a page from the old masters' parade book and include well-known characters from nursery rhymes. Mother Goose, Little Jack Horner, Old King Cole, Little Bo Peep, Jack and Jill, the Old Woman Who Lived In a Shoe and Three Blind Mice win applause as perennial favourites for children and adults alike. March some characters between floats. Bo Peep and especially the mice work well here as their antics bring peals of laughter from the crowd. Place other characters, such as the old woman, atop elaborate floats. Group several characters on one float and situate Mother Goose in the centre.
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Serenade the crowd with a sampling of traditional holiday music. Before the addition of marching bands, old-fashioned parades carried their band musicians on floats. Take inventory of the musical talents in your community and capture the holiday joy with a variety of possibilities. Reach out to local clubs and organisations for both ideas and participants. Most would enjoy the opportunity to showcase their talent in the parade. Carolers, string quartets, handbell choirs or the Little Drummer Boy accompanied by carolers create fond memories for viewers and entertainers alike.
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Deck the floats with boughs of holly and other Christmas beauties. The display of a giant Christmas tree with all the trimmings or several smaller ones delights all and adds to the festivities. Increase interest and anticipation by having a tree trimming contest or a wreath contest with all entries displayed on a float. Contact garden clubs or other organisations that may be interested in helping out with the float and judging the contest.
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Enchant the crowd with a focused theme and include several elements which relate to one another. Toyland with giant rag dolls, a jack-in-the-box, blocks and wooden soldiers elicit memories from Christmases past. A winter wonderland theme might include Frosty the Snowman, Jack Frost, giant snow flakes or even a yeti in a Santa hat. And don't forget the gingerbread house. Match it up with Candy Cane Lane where gingerbread children live and play. More challenging floats may entice deep wells of creative energy such as The Twelve Days of Christmas or the Nutcracker Suite. Look to memories, songs and poetry for inspiration.
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Finish off your old-fashioned parade with the time-honoured tradition of having Santa arrive at last. It's not time for the reindeer to appear before Christmas Eve, so let Santa visit with his elves hard at work painting, hammering and testing toys. Unless your Santa will be taking requests personally, consider adding elves to walk along with giant baskets and collect letters to Santa from the children in the crowd. Follow up with some candy or small toys dispersed to the parade goers and a "Merry Christmas" cheer.