First, let me say here that I curse Tim Allen and Hollywood for causing people to forget how to properly spell Santa Claus. Okay, now that I’ve got that out of the way onto the meat!
Last night Nikki & I took the boys downtown to see this year’s iteration of our annual Santa Claus Parade. The boys had an okay time. It wasn’t a bad time, but it wasn’t great either. They enjoyed seeing the Jolly Old Fat Man at the end and enjoyed some of the music. What they didn’t enjoy was the long wait for it to begin, or once it did begin, the periods where the parade would stop for a length of time.
It seems to me that London’s version of this annual tradition is at a crossroads. It likely has been for a few years and will likely continue to be for more years to come as we all know this city is absolutely terrific at inaction. Our parade is in the middle of an identity crisis and the organizers need to step back and examine what they want the parade to be. They need to ask themselves if the purpose of the parade is for the children and families of the city or if the purpose of the parade is for businesses to advertise. As a father and not a business, my take on which side of the line they should land is pretty clear. I think it’s time for the organizers to reign in the over-advertising that permeated the parade from beginning to almost the end of the entire parade. Let’s get back to what the kids are looking for – entertaining floats, great music, and, of course, Santa!
Now please don’t get me wrong, I realize that it is important for businesses that are taking the time and money to even bother to put a float in the parade to receive some recognition. What I don’t want to see is a lead vehicle with a few Christmas lights on it with some type of vehicle wrap screaming out the company with some dinky little “float” behind it that is really nothing more than a wagon being pulled by a pick-up truck with a few kids and parents sitting on the wagon waving at the people on the street. The organizers need to limit the size and amount of advertising that goes onto each float. Companies are able to present their information on a sign that’s no larger than 2’x3′. One on each side of the float would be fine. There are some great local companies that participate in the parade like Palasad but all they do is stick their company-wrapped vehicle (along with aforementioned string of Christmas lights around the window) in the parade along with their mascot walking along handing out advertising fliers for the business. They don’t even stick a Santa hat on the mascot. Palasad isn’t the only company guilty of this – what exactly does Mr. Peanut have to do with Christmas? At least Club House Foods was giving away turkey gravy packets to parade-goers. No lead cars, no massive banners along 18-wheelers with nothing more than a Christmas tree (maybe) and kids and parents waving off the back of a flatbed. That’s not a float, that’s rolling advertising.
I love that the organizers come up with some theme each year. I don’t love how few entries actually embrace that theme. This year’s theme was “Christmas Around the World” and had the opportunity to not only entertain but also educate our fair city on how various countries celebrate Christmas. Sadly, there were about three floats that honoured the theme along with a couple groups of people walking along with flags of countries and what I presume was text that said “Merry Christmas” in that country’s native language. Again, this is where the organizers need to put their foot down and enforce adherence to the theme. Either that or make the decision to do away with themes completely. I’m not asking for floats equal in quality to what we’ll see in two weeks in the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade or what Disney Imagineers put forth in their holiday parade; I totally understand that these floats are being made by volunteers on an extremely limited budget. But I don’t think it’s out of line to ask the entrants to follow the theme of the parade. And, since I’m hacking away at tradition, I’ll take a swing or two at one of the perennial entrants in the parade – the Mocha Shriners. These guys do amazing work. They are all about the kids and that’s simply awesome. I still think it’s a shame that London didn’t land the Children’s Hospital back when it was in the running. And for the most part, I enjoy their annual efforts in the parade – the oriental band, the mini cars, etc. But then there’s the part I don’t quite get – the other stuff. One of the chapters had a terrific entry only to be followed by a pick-up truck towing a big trailer with their logo emblazoned upon the side. There may have been a wreath or two hung from the top of the trailer. Why is it there? We were very clearly aware who they were and what chapter they were from. If this truck was some type of necessary support vehicle then have it follow on a parallel street. Also, can someone tell me the purpose of the Love Bug Shriners’ entry? Six classic VW bugs, some of them with Christmas lights, some without. No cohesion.
The music was, as usual, amazing. Maybe not quite enough of it, but great regardless. There were three or four groups of performers that were dancing along to an actual person singing Christmas music (or, in the case of Bobnoxious’ annual entry, an entire band performing). The marching bands were great. As a band geek, I enjoy band music and have much respect for those that can not only play an instrument well but also walk in sync with others. I’d fall flat on my face, possibly causing a domino-like cascade of musicians.
The final group that make up our annual parade are the various services around the city – police, fire, ems, etc. I enjoy their participation as it gives them a chance to usually showcase some classic vehicles as well as the latest additions to their rolling stock. These men and women do a tough job for the city and deserve the recognition. Their presence and interaction with the parade-goers helps improve public relations and their respect in the community. Something certain departments are in desperate need of this year. (On a totally unrelated note I couldn’t help but notice that the police entry was nowhere near the Western University Cheerleader entry. Coincidence?). It was great to see the local firefighters in the parade right alongside the London Food Bank collecting food from the public. New this year was the London Middlesex EMS entry. Great to see them in it as well. The last city service I’m going to mention is one that has been travelling the streets of London every holiday season for as far back as I can remember – the London Transit Commission
Christmas Holiday Bus. Every year I’ve enjoyed the effort that someone goes to that ends up as our decorated bus. I also wonder how the city avoids being sued into the stone-age for copyright infringement but that’s beside the point. This year my enjoyment was shattered and nothing but dismay and embarrassment left in its place. Down the left side of the bus and along the back (also presumably along the right side as well) were the words Season,s Greetings. No, I didn’t make a typo there. Instead of an apostrophe there was a comma. How is this even possible???
Perhaps the biggest disappointment this year was the timing of the parade itself – on two levels. The organizers said the parade would be starting at 6pm. Now, for anyone that goes to these parades each year, we KNOW they never start on time – it’s usually about 6:10 or 6:15 when they finally turn onto Dundas. This year it seemed closer to about 6:45 or so. Why don’t the organizers change things up for the future and tell all participants to be ready to go at 5:00. If you aren’t there and ready to go at five then sorry for your troubles, hope you come back next year. That way it gives an hour to fix last minute snafus or minor order changes so that it can start on time. The other timing issue is on a wider scale. This year’s parade has drawn criticism for taking place before Remembrance Day. Personally speaking, I don’t understand how one thing has anything to do with the other. Will going to the parade cause me not to pause and remember the actions of my Grandfather and other Canadian military members on November 11th? I understand that people are saying its disrespectful. Again, I don’t understand how. Is it because we’re talking about Christmas before Remembrance Day? If that’s the case do these people upset with the parade boycott any store selling Christmas-themed merchandise before November 11th? Most stores now have Christmas merchandise up well before October 1st and are in full swing by November 1st. Here’s the thing – I TOTALLY get that it’s an individuals right to choose whether or not to support the parade. After all, it was the efforts of our military in WWI and WWII that secured those rights. It’s a divisive issue with both military and civilians on both sides of the issue. Fortunately, that’s what choice is all about. Personally, I appreciated the presence of the Canadian military in last night’s parade. It spoke volumes as to which side of the coin those members fall. That said, I do think the parade is too early. The only thing I can think is that the organizers are catering to the city malls as they traditionally don’t kick off their Santa appearances until after the parade. And the earlier they can get Santa out there, the more money they can rake in for overpriced pictures.
My thought is to shift the parade back two/three weeks so that it’s in line with the American Thanksgiving Weekend. Keep the parade on the Saturday, strip it down to what’s important and what the purpose of the parade is all about and bring the fun and enjoyment back. If I want to watch commercials I can get cable television for that.