The residents and visitors of Duluth sure know how to celebrate the holiday season. Bentleyville, the Christmas City Express (the North Shore Scenic Railway’s version of the Polar Express), Glensheen’s Christmas Tree event, and more.
But one event has been celebrated for decades, and this year will be its 65th season: The Christmas City Parade.
The Christmas City Parade started in 1958 to celebrate the start of the holiday shopping season and falls on the Friday before Thanksgiving. According to Explore Minnesota, the parade has around 70 floats representing local businesses and organizations, 20 bands and a dozen dance groups from Duluth and surrounding areas, local royalty, and includes Santa’s first stop to Duluth for the year.
The parade has become a long-standing tradition since its beginning, and one that many people count on to ring in the season. The only year the parade did not happen was in 1963 due to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The parade even took place during the pandemic, which was one of the few years the parade route changed. Normally, the route runs along Superior Street (starting at Fitger’s and ending at 5th Ave W.), but in 2020 the parade route moved to Harbor Street, which runs in front of the William Irvin ship. This change in route allowed local Duluth news station and event organizer Northern News Now (formerly Northland’s NewsCenter and KBJR 6 News) to film each float as it went by the station, to ensure that parade participants could safely social-distance. Some dance and band performances were filmed before the parade and added during the broadcast and online for extra precaution. 2020 was also the first year that no spectators were allowed to come in person—making the route change and live broadcasting even more important.
In normal years, spectators have the opportunity to brave the elements (wind, cold, and snow being the main ones) and watch the parade in person—which usually draws hundreds of people. According to Visit Duluth, the parade is the most attended public event in the northland. Many more spectators watch live on Northern News Now or live-stream online across Minnesota and even in other states. The station also replays the event on television throughout the holiday season and on Christmas Day.
But it’s not just the parade that draws people in. There is also a Christmas tree lighting ceremony, which is broadcast live by Northern News Now, that happens before the parade. Other fun activities include photo and coloring contests, publicly voted awards for best float, and even different parade themes or dedications.
In 2021, the parade was dedicated to essential workers due to their tireless work during the pandemic. The general public even had an opportunity to nominate an essential worker to be honored during the event.
In 2022, the parade was dedicated to David Tomassoni, who passed away earlier in the year after a battle with ALS. Tomassoni had served in the Minnesota Legislature for almost 20 years.
One other major piece of the parade tradition includes a song that is played during every parade called the “Christmas City Song.” In the early 1960s, the news station (now Northern News Now) reached out to singer and tv host Merv Griffin to produce a song exclusively for the parade. Griffin agreed and commissioned the song along with the NBC Orchestra. If you’re not familiar with the tune, you can listen to it on YouTube.
This year’s parade will take place on Friday, Nov. 17. Route details, streaming and broadcasting details, start time, and other information will be announced soon. You can learn more about the parade on Facebook at: ChristmasCityParade, or on the Northern News Now website at: bit.ly/christmas-city.