Holiday season begins with 87th annual parade

For most of the parade’s history, spectators only got one shot at watching the entertainment, like the band from this 1942 Concord Christmas Parade.
For most of the parade’s history, spectators only got one shot at watching the entertainment, like the band from this 1942 Concord Christmas Parade. Photos courtesy of Jim Ramseu

The rules are pretty straightforward for running the Concord Christmas Parade.

Keep the participants moving at a steady clip. If a beauty queen comes up and she’s not on the list, put her in anyway. No matter how cold it is outside, don’t let Santa Claus get liquored up, like that one time.

At 2:30 p.m. Nov. 21, around 40,000 residents of Cabarrus County will flock to Church and Union streets for the 87th version of the parade. In Concord, it’s the kickoff of the holiday season.

But while most spectators lined along the streets will hear the marching bands, see the waving beauty queens and admire the vintage cars that roll by, they probably won’t notice the careful orchestration by the half-dozen people who work behind the scenes to keep the parade a fun, smooth-running event.

That’s the way John Howard likes it. Howard, 72, has served on the parade committee since his early 20s.

“I probably have done it longer than anybody around,” said the Concord native, who’s known by the nickname “Big Daddy” around town. “The people involved in the parade are basically people just like myself. People that just enjoy doing it.”

Howard has worked both sides of the parade. He rode in it himself in 1949, though he doesn’t recall why. “I have no idea. I just remember my mother placing me up on a float,” he said. He also played his horn in it once as a member of the Concord High School Marching Band.

He likes to think it gives him an understanding of what needs to be done.

It’s been called one of the longest parades in North Carolina, and some years – like the time 270 units participated – it might have been just that.

“I can’t remember the reason we had it so big that year,” said Howard, who added that typically 150 units, around 4,500 people, make up the parade. “We don’t want to do that again. It was too long.”

There are rules. A parade doesn’t get to be 87 years old without them.

There’s only one Santa Claus allowed, and he rides the caboose of the parade. No politicians are invited, except those already elected. “This is not a political event. It’s the start of the holiday,” said Howard.

Over the years, Howard has tried a few ideas to swirl things up, like a peppermint stick along the 2.2-mile route.

“Some of it works. Some of it should never have been thought of,” he said.

Like the time he hired a man who promised to deliver a sleigh and five reindeer, but showed up at the parade’s start with a sleigh and five ponies with PVC pipe connected together to look like reindeer antlers.

Those are the kinds of mistakes they talk about in the post-parade meeting held in January. There’s always another shot next year.

“The whole idea is that we want to present the people of Cabarrus County with something that’s entertaining, that’s awesome, that’s got color and music and all the things you want to start your holiday season,” said Howard. “And we think we’ve been pretty successful with that.”

Lisa Thornton is a freelance writer:

Want to go?

Concord Christmas Parade, 2:30 p.m. Nov. 21. The route begins at the intersection of Lake Concord Road and Church Street, turns right onto Buffalo Avenue, then left down Union Street.