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Saturday, December 16, 2006

CHRISTMAS STORY #6: I LOVE PARADES!

"Here comes Santa Claus,
Here comes Santa Claus,
Right down Santa Claus Lane!
Dasher and Dancer and all the Reindeer
Pulling on the reins...."

Ever since I was a little tot I’ve loved parades. Any kind of parades: Bagpipers with swirling kilts and tall bear-skin hats; pretty girls in short flounced skirts twirling batons; clowns and any kind of ethnic costumes, floats with extravagant decorations and beauty queens. Even military parades, especially if there are lots of good brass bands!

I’ve seen all sorts of parades, including the Mardis Gras in New Orleans, several P.N.E parades in Vancouver, parades with familiar Disney characters in Disneyland.
I remember participating in parades myself, when I was a child. In particular, on V.E. Day in my town in Ontario when they held a parade in which children were invited to join in, dressed in costumes. I remember marching in in my Brownie uniform, feeling very proud. One Christmas, we had a parade around the Sunday School at the annual Christmas Concert. My Mom made the costumes for all the children, crepe paper costumes of nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters. I think I was Peter Pan, one of my favourite story-book heroes.

The other weekend I went downtown to see the very first Santa Claus Parade held in Vancouver since the Depression. It was a cold morning, but at least not raining. I was supposed to meet friends in front of the Vancouver Hotel. But when I got downtown I was astounded to find thousands of people jamming the streets. I got as far as Howe Street and couldn’t get further. Standing there in the pressing crowd, everyone anticipating the arrival of the floats and especially Santa himself, I was transported back in time to other Christmas seasons, recalling the various celebrations I’d attended as a child.

One particular Christmas stood out in my memory: The year we went to Toronto to see the famous Santa Claus Parade.

My Grandpa worked for the CNR so we went to Toronto by train: Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, my little sister and me.( My father was overseas.) I was about 9 at the time and I still believed in Santa so this was to be one of the most exciting adventures of my life! Unfortunately though, the morning we were due to leave on our train trip, I was became ill. Hoping I’d recover by the time we reached Toronto, we went anyway.

I bore up the best I could but I still recall how horrible I felt, feverish, listless, nauseated and aching all over. By the time we reached Toronto I couldn’t have cared less about Santa or the parade. In fact, I can’t even remember if I saw the parade. But, to prove I was there, I do have a photo of me sitting on Santa’s knee looking totally miserable.

I enjoyed myself a little more at the Vancouver Santa Claus Parade, except it wasn’t too well organized, there were huge gaps between the participants and floats. The floats were not that spectacular. There were colourful Chinese dragon dancers and Indo-Canadian men and women dancing, a few clowns, some people collecting food for the food bank, other people throwing candies to the crowd, some high school bands (my favourite is still the pipe bands). People had to stand far too long in the cold late November weather waiting, waiting, waiting for Santa. The little children became tired and cranky and the parents restless and bored.

I eventually found a gap in the crowd and crossed the street, past the Art Gallery grounds to the Vancouver Hotel where I had arranged to meet my friends and their two little boys.
There were so many people sitting on the curb that although I searched everywhere I couldn’t find them. At this point the parade had been going on for a couple of hours and still no sign of Santa.

Then, a cheer arose from the crowd, and children’s voices chanted ‘SANTA! SANTA! SANTA!”
A series of floats came by decorated with passages from “T’was the Night Before Christmas” as a taped voice recited the age-old Christmas poem. Then, sure enough, there he was atop a big float, the jolly old fat guy in the red suit. Santa waved and called out “Merry Christmas” to the crowd as he passed by. Half frozen kiddies waved and called back at him.

I thought back to my childhood, and the thrill I always had when it was Christmas and there was a parade with Santa and his elves and the reindeer. But the one I still remember best is the little Santa Claus Parade we had at the church with fairy-tale characters pulled on wagon ‘floats’ by elves, all dressed in crepe paper costumes made lovingly by my Mother. And there was Jolly Old Santa Claus walking behind carrying his bag of presents, calling loudly “HO!HO!HO! MERRY CHRISTMAS, BOYS AND GIRLS!” For all of us kids, this was real Christmas ‘parade’ and we were part of the fantasy.
* * *
"Camels are snobbish
and sheep, unintelligent;
water buffaloes, neurasthenic -
Reindeer seem over-serious."
Marianne Moore 1887- 1972 "The Arctic Ox (or Goat)" 1959 st. 9

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