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Hollywood Christmas Parade 2019: Why It's Beloved & How To Avoid The Traffic

Santa Claus appears at the 73rd Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade on Nov. 28, 2004 in Hollywood. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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The Hollywood Christmas Parade is one of Hollywood's oldest traditions, with roots dating back to the 1920s. It's a chance for wonderment for all ages -- or for you to forget it's happening and be stuck on one side while trying to get across Hollywood Boulevard, if you're not careful. Every Sunday after Thanksgiving, Hollywood and Sunset boulevards shut down for a string of floats, balloons, celebrities, and performers of all kinds. (We're looking your way, Hollywood Stunt Kids.)


View of the Santa Claus Lane parade looking west on Hollywood Boulevard at Las Palmas on Nov. 24, 1945. (Howard Ballew, courtesy L.A. Public Library)

The idea for the parade goes back to Hollywood Chamber of Commerce head Colonel Harry Blaine. In 1928, Blaine tried to capitalize on the success of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and another Christmas parade being held in downtown Los Angeles, according to the Hollywood Property Owners Alliance.

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It started out by turning the shopping district along Hollywood Boulevard into Santa Claus Lane, with a parade featuring Santa himself. (It was in the midst of Prohibition, so the parade was probably a wild night on the town.) The first parade had Santa accompanied by Universal actress Jeannette Loff, heading down the street in a reindeer-drawn sleigh with a few floats. The parade then ran daily during the Christmas season, with a different movie star each night. You know, like those daily Disneyland parades, but to promote a variety of businesses, not just Disney.

Nearly a million people lined Hollywood Boulevard for the annual Santa Claus Lane Parade of Stars, Nov. 26, 1964. Here, singer Lauritz Melchior as Santa Claus brings the parade to a close. (Milt Fries, courtesy L.A. Public Library)

In 1931, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce turned it into an annual celebration. Celebrities would become a hallmark of the parade, with studios putting their stars out on the route to help generate publicity. Classic stars who participated included everyone from Bette Davis to Bob Hope. This year's grand marshal is Mario Lopez, so we guess that makes him the modern Bob Hope?

By the mid-1930s, as it grew, horse riding, drill teams, and bands were added. Gene Autry credited his 1946 appearance in the parade with inspiring him to write "Here Comes Santa Claus."

The parade has run fairly continuously, but it was suspended between 1942 and 1944 due to World War II, before reopening in 1945 with record attendance to a parade-starved post-war crowd.

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Joan Leslie, "sun goddess" of Southern California's All-Winter Sun Festival, and Santa Claus are shown on a rocket ship float in the Santa Claus Lane parade on Nov. 21, 1940. (Courtesy L.A. Public Library)

The parade itself appeared in 1951's Hollywood Story, with a scene filmed in the midst of the parade outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre.

Electrified Christmas trees used to line the parade -- but by 1956, fire marshals ruled that the wiring was unsafe. But crowds remained huge, with one estimate at the time saying that nearly a million people lined Hollywood Boulevard.

It was renamed the Hollywood Christmas Parade in 1978, also moving from Thanksgiving Eve to the Sunday after Thanksgiving.

Photo taken Nov. 26, 1939 shows the Grauman's Chinese Theatre and thousands of people who came to see Santa Claus and movie celebrities take part in the Christmas parade on Hollywood Boulevard. (ACME/AFP via Getty Images)
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The parade ran into troubles in the early 2000s, with an early 2000s NBC special about the show drawing low ratings. It stopped being broadcast due to rising production costs, and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decided in 2007 to cancel the parade.

But following protests and public disapproval, the city replaced the parade with the Hollywood Santa Parade. And by 2009, the classic name was back, with the event now being run by Associated Television.

"It's hard to believe it's been 10 years since we first decided to take on the parade," Associated Television's Jim Romanovich said at a parade press conference. "No one was really sure what to expect. Would it be accepted? Could we bring back the magic and the glory again?"

You can find out in person this Sunday, with the parade airing later on the CW, on cable, and elsewhere.


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Spongebob Squarepants appears at the 73rd Annual Hollywood Christmas Parade on Nov. 28, 2004 in Hollywood. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Traffic has long been an issue due to the parade. A caption on a 1964 photo from the L.A. Public Library's collection notes that traffic in and out of Hollywood was snarled until nearly midnight due to the parade, and those traffic issues remain.

The parade closes sections of Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard, and Vine Street, following a giant half-circle parade route.

"We've done this 88 times, so most residents are aware that the Sunday after Thanksgiving, there are going to be traffic inconveniences," City Councilman Mitch O'Farrell said at a press conference for the event.

The best way to avoid parade traffic, both for those attending and those trying to make their way around the parade: take the Metro, according to Parade press person Steve Moyer. He also advises planning ahead.

"If you can avoid the area, please avoid the area," L.A. Department of Transportation parking chief Devon Farfan said at a parade press conference.

If you do have to drive into Hollywood on Sunday night, Moyer advises allowing extra time to get there. If you're attending the parade itself, he suggests parking several blocks away, then walking over to the event. The parade officially suggests parking in the Hollywood and Highland shopping complex or other nearby public lots. Councilman O'Farrell also suggested carpooling in.

Farfan warned that there would be strict enforcement around the parade route, so be sure to read signs carefully. There will be around 700 temporary signs up in the area. They'll also have more than 100 traffic officers working the event this Sunday.

Parking restrictions begin overnight Friday night.


Los Angeles Mayor Fletcher Bowron and his wife Irene smile at the crowds as they are about to pass through the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Cahuenga Boulevard during the Santa Claus Lane Parade in 1947. (Lucille Stewart, courtesy L.A. Public Library)

The parade has weathered the storms over the years (usually metaphorical -- this is Southern California), remaining a Hollywood tradition.

Actor Leo Carrillo, in Spanish costume, rides his horse in the annual Santa Claus Lane Christmas parade in Hollywood. (Courtesy L.A. Public Library)

"It's the parade we all grew up with, and now it's the parade that your kids will one day say that they grew up with as well," Romanovich said.

Parade press person Moyer credits its longstanding success to the power of tradition and the family-friendly atmosphere.

"The pageantry, glitz and glamour of the parade are things that people around the world equate with Tinseltown," Moyer said in an email. He added that his favorite part of the parade each year is seeing the expressions on kids' faces as the parade passes by.

"Please come and bring your whole family, as this is the World Series of Christmas parades," Romanovich said. "This is a great event to get together, and remember community, and remember family."

The parade is this Sunday, Dec. 1, starting with a concert for grandstand ticket-holders at 5 p.m., followed by the parade itself at 6 p.m. You can line up along Hollywood Boulevard to see the parade for free. And it's going to be a cold evening, at least for Southern California, so make sure to bundle up.