Christmas parades, which have become an important part of the holiday season in America, had their humble beginnings not in the country’s enormous metropoli like New York, but rather in Peoria, Illinois. It was in this unlikely small city that the country’s first recorded Christmas took place in 1887. Even more oddly, this first parade in Peoria was not meant to be a holiday procession, but rather a celebration for the construction of a new bridge. It actually featured a flotilla of boats down the river. However, the parade took place during the holiday season and had a Christmas theme, and was well received by local residents.
The next year the parade was back by popular demand. When construction on the Upper Free Bridge was completed, another parade was organized, this time with bands and entertainers marching across the bridge. This second procession in 1888 was even more popular than the first one, and is counted as the first official Christmas parade in American history. Another year later, the parade was held once again, this time under the sponsorship of the Schipper and Block Department Store.
The parade of 1889 cemented the Peoria Christmas Parade as a permanent fixture of the holiday season. It was in this year that the first floats appeared, along with circus wagons, fireworks and live animals, including reindeer. It was also the first time the Santa Claus appeared live in the parade. In 1958 the Peoria parade, by then entitled the Santa Claus Parade, made its first television appearance. Well over a century after its inception, the Peoria Santa Claus Parade is still going strong as a major holiday tradition in Illinois. While the Upper Free Bridge is long gone, its legacy is assured thanks to its association with Peoria’s Christmas festivities.
The Peoria Santa Claus Parade usually takes on the Friday following Thanksgiving. The route of the parade winds through downtown Peoria, centering on Main Street, and usually kicks off at 10:15am. There is no cost for admission. Web: http://www.peoriaevents.com/events/santa-parade.html (official website of Peoria Special Events)