Parade of Lights

Andy Monserud

Colorfully lit floats, cars, bikes and horses lined up along Boyer Avenue on Saturday in preparation for Walla Walla’s 19th-annual holiday Macy’s Parade of Lights. Put on each year by the Downtown Walla Walla foundation, the parade starts just west of the Whitman campus at the intersection of Boyer and Palouse, making it a popular study break for Whitman students.

The parade featured 60 moving entries from various businesses and organizations around Walla Walla. Organizers awarded prizes for the best floats in six categories as well as a Mayor’s Choice award, a Best Lighted Entry award and a Holiday Spirit award that serves as a catch-all for entries that do not fit into any particular category. This year, those awards went to

“The Holiday Spirit award is just for someone who shows holiday spirit and comes regardless of category,” said Gina Grant Bull, Events and Public Relations Manager for the Downtown Walla Walla Foundation. Grant has run the parade for the past two years.

Photo by Annabelle Marcovici
Photo by Annabelle Marcovici

The Parade of Lights began in 1996, and at the time was sponsored by College Place’s Inland Cellular. Macy’s took the lead in sponsoring the parade in the early 2000’s, and has sponsored it ever since. At the time, the parade had two notable rules: participants could hand out candy or other favors but not throw it, and no float could feature Santa Claus.

Since then, the rule on distributing candy and trinkets has tightened for safety reasons. The crowds and darkness of the parade make it too easy for marchers to get lost in the crowds or accidentally injure others.

“It’s 100% a safety issue,” Bull said. “It’s the only nighttime parade, everything’s with lights, it’s hard to see spectators, so there’s no handing out of any kind.”

The Santa rule came into existence because the parade organizers placed Santa on the final float in the parade, a practice that continues today. Bull says that the rule is intended to keep Santa novel and build suspense.

“There can be references to Santa– Macy’s this year had Mrs. Claus waiting for Santa to return– but there can be no Santa on your float,” Bull said.

Senior Laura Neff has gone to the parade every year since she came to Whitman. This year, she and two friends went downtown to get coffee and dinner before camping out on Main Street to wait for the parade. She has a few favorites, including the Baker Boyer Ducky Derby’s distinctive duck float.

“There’s this really big inflatable duck wearing sunglasses, and if I remember correctly, its first appearance was last year, so I definitely looked for it this year,” Neff said. “Which is funny, because it’s one of the only things not holiday- or Christmas-related in the parade, and I can’t even tell you what it’s an advertisement for.”

Neff, who grew up near Sacramento, enjoys the parade’s small-town charm.

“I just love it because I didn’t grow up in a small town, and so I didn’t really experience small-town traditions when I grew up,” Neff said. “It’s just another reason I love Walla Walla. It’s the small-town community; everybody goes out to see it, everyone knows it’s kind of hokey and kitschy, but it’s a really…fun tradition that I have enjoyed taking part in.”

Bull enjoys running the parade for many of the same reasons, but notes that people from outside of Walla Walla also come to town for the parade.

“People come for [the Walla Walla Wine Alliance’s] holiday barrel tasting, so it’s a big thing for people from out of town as well,” Bull said. “It’s really a cool, family-friendly tradition. We’ve got people who come from the tri-cities, who come from Pullman– it’s just a great small-town tradition. I love it.”

In the past, the parade has drawn Whitman volunteers to help with setup, and Bull hopes to revive that tradition. She had help this year from two Whitman students: senior Ashley Hansack and junior Josephine Adamski. Both work with the foundation. In earlier years, the parade’s volunteer base also benefited from a close connection to the school: Bull’s predecessor was the women’s tennis coach at Whitman, and would often recruit volunteers. In recent years, that has declined.

Bull is hopeful that Whitman students might become more involved in the parade in other ways as well.

“We would love a Whitman float,” she said. “Walla Walla Community College has a float, and we would love to have a Whitman College float.”