The Christmas season got its unofficial start in Baltimore this past weekend with the Mayor’s Christmas Parade. Sure, the monument lighting was a few days prior, but this parade really gets me in the mood for the holidays. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours, the parade did not disappoint—with a couple of exceptions. I missed the Latino dance troupes and the Buffalo Soldiers and I’m hoping that they’ll be back next year and that the warm temperatures will also return. By now, if you have not experienced this parade firsthand, you are wondering why this parade is so special? In all of my parade-watching experience, it is the one that delights the most.
As a small girl, my older cousin Emily took me to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and I remember being most enthralled with just being there. To watch this parade on television now is beyond dull—it’s too polished, too produced. There’s just no edge to it. And, isn’t that what you want in a parade—a little edginess? The other parade of my youth was the Dairy Princess Parade held the first weekend in June each year in my hometown of Canton, NY. The Dairy Princess Parade lacked in almost all production value. I haven’t been in years, but the general gist of the parade was a celebration of the local dairy industry. A big-rig Kraft truck drives up Canton’s Main Street as part of the parade. Children are pelted with Kraft caramels. But that’s not the only attraction—there are the fire and police departments from municipalities in the area and some groups representing the U.S. military. The last year that I went, 1999—I was surprised to see the inclusion of a steel drum band (they came in from Canada) and a local chapter of PFLAG proudly walking up the street waving their rainbow flags. Of course, the parade’s star is the Dairy Princess herself along with her court. The farmer’s daughter is elevated to celebrity if only for the day.
The Mayor’s Christmas Parade is a spin-off of the small town parade. It has the beauty pageant winners and the local firefighters and veterans’ groups. It has high school marching bands. It even has Santa Claus as any good Christmas parade should. But this parade is backed by an enormous helping of irony, self-aware and otherwise. And, that is what makes it so special.
The first year that I encountered the parade was the best of all because it was so unexpected. In fact, we didn’t even know that there was a parade there that day—we just stumbled upon it. It was an exceptionally warm December day so there was no need for a jacket. The parade opened up with the shrill sounds of a steam calliope as it made its way down 36th Street (a.k.a. The Avenue). There was a Harley riding Santa, a gigantic cross riding down the street, and Boumis—lots and lots of Boumis, wearing their Shriner’s caps, or dressed as clowns, or riding magic carpets, or ATV vehicles. The most memorable float that year was the POW-MIA float which is so absent from many other Christmas parades. This float portrayed a vignette of a soldier being held prisoner in a makeshift jail while a woman in a rice paddy hat aimed a rifle at him from overhead. There was Underdog Lady. There was also the Boumi Shriner’s child burn victim float in which a real, live Shriner stood behind the wheelchair of a fake boy whose head and legs were wrapped in bandages. The parade ends with Santa in his sleigh, but not that year. That year, the scantily clad Hooters Girls brought up the rear, so to speak.
I wish that every year, the parade could be just that good. It’s a tough act to follow and even tougher if there was snow or frigid temperatures to contend with. But this year—the weather cooperated—and the major components were there. Lest one think that it’s just an opportunity to make fun of the people in the parade—whether it be the strange group of furry mascot wannabes, or the overweight tuba player who really shouldn’t wear white polyester, or the girl on the manger float who was clearly NOT amused—it doesn’t matter. It’s how we get ourselves in the spirit of the holidays!
By the by, the biggest hits at the parade were these guys--who cleaned up after the horses. Now, that's the toughest job in show business!